A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
The US DHS website describes how it came into existence:
‘Eleven days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was appointed as the first Director of the Office of Homeland Security in the White House. The office oversaw and coordinated a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard the country against terrorism and respond to any future attacks.
‘With the passage of the Homeland Security Act by Congress in November 2002, the Department of Homeland Security formally came into being as a stand-alone, Cabinet-level department to further coordinate and unify national homeland security efforts, opening its doors on March 1, 2003.’
In recent days, you could be forgiven for thinking that ‘the terrorists’ have changed tactics. Bombs for dildos, atrocities for blow jobs, and random attacks for an overnight ‘boyfriend experience’. One day, you’re plotting how to kill ‘the infidels’ and the next you’re popping on a new cock ring and installing a Magnum Douche Kit to your home shower. Perhaps.
As the New York Times (along with many US outlets) reported, earlier this week, the DHS raided the US headquarters of Rentboy.com and arrested the Chief Executive and several employees. The site – like many in the UK and beyond – charges male escorts/sex workers to post profiles and then the client makes direct contact with the sex worker.
The website has been tremendously successful, apparently generating $10 million in sales since 2010. The site is well known – also supporting the Hookies Awards – an annual international escorts awards evening and party. This is not a business or organisation that has been hiding in the shadows.
The raid will have significant consequences for those arrested, but closing down the site has also meant that many sex workers who use the site as a primary or additional source to generate income have suddenly had that source of income cut off.
There are immediate, life-changing consequences for so many as a result of this governmental and law-enforcement intervention. In focussing on the moral, theoretical and academic arguments which inevitably revolve around the limits of state power, first amendment rights and so on, we should not forget that human beings are involved. Mortgage payments will be missed, bills unpaid, bellies unfed, dependents unsupported.
It is however staggering that this has happened now, why not sooner? Why at all? If this is what the DHS does when they have a Democrat as President – when Obama is in the White House – what on earth would another candidate do? Would Hillary Clinton – a lifelong feminist campaigner – continue the stance if elected as a Democrat President? What of the Republicans? Those well known supporters of queer and sex-positive causes. This isn’t just a legal issue. It’s political.
It’s also political for queer activists. For too long, our focus has been on same-sex marriage, wedding fairs and aping our hetero counterparts. Those battles were important and it’s a positive step that same-sex couples on both sides of the Atlantic have same-same marriage rights, but this rights agenda has come at the expense of a sex-rights agenda. Rent boys are precisely the kind of ‘bad queers’ that are excluded from this agenda. If only they’d sort their lives out, if only they’d settle down with a nice guy. Just don’t call him ‘Daddy’.
It’s also socio-legal. Just what the heck is the Department of Homeland Security doing raiding these guys? Why is the Federal Government now going after these folks? Who benefits from this exercise of state power? Who suffers? First Amendment right issues are real, and in the same week when the Second Amendment seems unquestioned even after a broadcaster and her cameraman are gunned down on live television, a little defence of first amendment rights seems a reasonable request.
The Rentboy.com raid brings into sharp focus the debates that still need to be had. The fights that still need to be won. They are legal, they are political, they are social, they are real, and they are already affecting real lives. This raid was wrong and you need to join the voices speaking up and saying so.