Written by Michael Burtch, HIV & Harm Reduction Program Manager
On World Aids Day we’re proud to address the unique needs of male-identified sex workers, a group comprising approximately 20-25% of the industry in Canada. Despite such significant presence and engagement in sex work, this community has been historically overlooked in sex work research, advocacy and scholarship. Exploring the experiences, needs and issues faced by male-identified sex workers, and specifically male-identified sex workers living at the intersections of historically marginalized identities, is an important element of our HIV and Harm Reduction Programming.
At Maggie’s our work and history is informed by the work of people like Danny Cockerline, founder of the Prostitutes Safe Sex Project in 1988. Danny and PSSP Organizers worked to challenge the stigma and moral panic Toronto Police, City Council and surrounding communities held towards sex workers- particularly LGBTQ sex workers at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Our commitment to sex worker justice, public health frameworks and inclusivity is exemplified across all our programming, particularly within the 'HIV & Harm Reduction Program' and 'Ballroom Empowerment Project.' Through these initiatives, we actively strive to connect with and support male-identified sex workers in asserting their human, social, and labor rights within the industry. Our endeavors extend beyond the immediate challenges these sex workers face, encompassing issues such as stigma, criminalization, and the complexities tied to their various intersectional identities. By addressing these multifaceted concerns, we aim to create a supportive environment that fosters resilience and well-being.
In Ontario, the impact of HIV remains pronounced among men who have sex with men, constituting 61% of HIV diagnoses. While male sex workers demonstrate higher rates of practicing safer sex and awareness of their HIV status compared to the general population, crucial gaps persist. Comprehensive sex education, access to free safer sex and harm reduction tools, assistance with HIV criminalization fears, and links to care in the event of seroconversion remain essential components of their well-being.
This year, we proudly continued our collaborative efforts:
Contributing to the 'Public Health, Risk, and HIV' study, which explores the experiences of people living with HIV in their interactions with public health officials.
We played a central role in the Dalhousie University's SHaG Lab study on the use of technologies by male-identified sex workers to enhance their safety.
Ongoing participation in events such as the 32nd Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research underscored our success in distributing HIV self-testing kits to sex workers in the Greater Toronto Area.
Collaboration with the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform on a constitutional challenge of the 'Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act,'
Active involvement in the TOMQ coalition: a coalition enabling male sex workers to connect, share knowledge, stories, safety tips, news, and general information online, enhancing their safety and maximizing their experiences in the industry.
Supporting in the construction and rollout of the 'Like Any Other Job' campaign by the Gay Men's Sexual Health Alliance on International Whores' Day.
While these initiatives represent just a fraction of our extensive efforts, they exemplify Maggie's dedication to eradicating HIV within our lifetime. By collaborating, advocating, and innovating, we stand united in supporting the invaluable work performed by our service users.
Michael Burtch is the HIV & Harm Reduction Program Manager at Maggie's Toronto Sex Workers Action Project coordinating outreach and engagement efforts for LGBTQ2S sex workers and representing Maggies across networks and coalitions for