When the Department of Homeland Security and the New York City police raided the Manhattan offices of Rentboy.com on August 25, they arrested seven people on charges of promoting illegal prostitution. Since then, the response from the LGBT community has been strong, with many organizations, including Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center calling for the decriminalization of sex work.
Following a "Labor of Love" protest at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco on September 5, a group of protesters met in West Hollywood on Saturday at the intersection of La Cienega and Santa Monica boulevards and marched to The Abbey, the area's most famous gay bar, with signs and fliers. The protest was organized by Danny Cruz, who advertised on Rentboy.com and has come out in strong support of the site and its CEO, Jeffrey Hurant, 50, who was among the seven people arrested.
"[Jeffrey Hurant], the CEO, said to me personally, 'These guys you work around in the escort industry, they're not your competition, they're your colleagues. You should know that, you should reach out them, you should keep each other safe,'" Cruz said. "Losing [Rentboy.com] means losing a big piece of that harm reduction community." Hurant has defended the site, saying it did "good things for good people."
One of the protesters, J. D. Daniels, has lived in Hollywood for over 17 years. "My purpose to come out here along with everybody else is to fight for the cause and show our support for Rentboy employees," he said. "They didn't do anything wrong, they didn't hurt anybody."
Jeremy, a Los Angeles resident who carried a sign that read 'Sex Can Heal! Unity In Consent & Exchange,' said, "I think there's a greater ethical issue of free will and consent. If you are engaging in a consensual interaction with someone where the terms are clear and both are willing, then there is nothing immoral or unethical about it."
Prominent LGBT figures including gay writer and activist Dan Savage, porn stars and escorts Dirk Caber and his fiance Jesse Jackman, and James Michael Nichols, deputy editor of Gay Voices at Huffington Post, have made similar statements. "Who exactly is the victim of escorting?" Caber writes on his blog. "Is it the escort, who has entered into the arrangement of his (or her) own will and on his terms? Has he somehow been forced into the seraglio, indentured as a sex slave? Or is he an entrepreneur, who identifies a resource he has, and has entered into a business venture to share this resource with a public who has something to offer in return?"
Cruz viewed Rentboy as one of the safest venues to work in, and believes decriminalization will help stop "a cycle of violence" that many sex workers find themselves in. "Criminalizing sex work does nothing to address poverty, access to jobs or access to housing," he said. "You get arrested for prostitution, now you have a record and it's harder for you to get employment, harder for you to find housing, and you end up back on the streets and back into sex work."