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Trans Activist Karina Samala: Sex Work 'Should Be Legalized'

Karina Samala: Sex Work 'Should Be Legalized'

"Mother" Karina Samala talks about her 25+ years of fighting and advocating for trans people in Los Angeles. 

A fixture in the Los Angeles LGBTQ community, Katrina Samala has been fighting and advocating for trans people for over 25 years. She's earned the nickname "Mother" from her work on the street with people engaged in survival sex work and was instrumental in helping the LAPD to create guidelines to protect and take violence against trans people seriously.

On this week's episode of LGBTQ&A, Karina talks about her years of activism, helping to establish The Transgender Health Program at St. John's, and why we need to decriminalize sex work.

LGBTQ&A is The Advocate's weekly interview podcast that documents modern queer and trans history. Read highlights from the interview here, or listen to the full podcast interview on the audio player below.

Karina Samala on the need to legalize sex work:
When I go to my meetings with LAPD, I don't even call it prostitution, I call it survival sex. To most of them, that's what it is. They are thrown out on the streets. They're so young, they don't have any means, and these guys that approach them, they want to give them money for those things. They are the ones pursuing these girls.

I've said it in front of law enforcement people, even chiefs and everybody else when I talk to them. To me, it should be legalized.

Everybody uses sex to get what they want from their partners. Husband and wives use sex to get what they want. Husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends use sex to get what they want from their partners. What's wrong with two consenting adults having sex in private? What's wrong with that?

On doing outreach to sex workers in Hollywood:
It started way, way back. I used to drive. I never walked. I used to drive down Santa Monica Boulevard and reach out to the girls. I'd give them condoms. I talked to them, ask them questions. It was an outreach for me, especially if I was doing an event or pageant. I'd recruit them off the streets.

So many girls are on the streets say I've changed their lives because of that. I approached them and mentored them. That really helped a lot, the community at the time.

On creating chosen families and the nickname "Mother":
Community members come up to me for help, when they get in trouble, with boyfriend problems. They come with so many problems because the guys are afraid of me because they know of my connection with law enforcement. And when they get in trouble with the law, I go to court with them and visit them in jail and find out what's wrong and what's happened. For family problems, I go to their houses.

Even grandmothers are calling me Mother Karina. It's a big honor and I like that. I feel really good when they say that and I really try to let them know that we need our chosen families. We have to have our chosen families, our brothers and sisters out there that can help us with this journey that we're having.

On helping to establish The Transgender Health Program at St. John's:
Jim Mangia, the CEO is a really, really good supporter of our community. When I was doing my outreach, a lot of the girls out there didn't have insurance and would get their medications out on the streets, injections and stuff like that, and they'd get in trouble.

I approached him and asked him if he could take those girls because they don't have insurance and they need medical help. I brought them in there and they treated them, gave them free medication, and everything else.

So my next step, I sat him down and talked him into opening up a transgender health clinic, and now they have the biggest transgender health service in the country. That's how they started.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Subscribe and listen to the full podcast interview on LGBTQ&A.

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