A Safe Place For Sex Workers: The Red Umbrella Project

By Randi Newton

The sex industry and the people who work in it have always been a mysterious territory difficult for those outside of it to truly understand and grasp.

Sex workers can range from Strippers, Peep Show Girls, Phone Sex Operators, Escorts, Fetish Models, and Dominatrixes.   What the majority of the world seems to forget is that behind their alluring and seductive positions, each one of those workers is an individual.   A human being (yes, just like those of you reading this right now) who’s entitled to the same rights and privileges as anyone else.   Even though what they do for a living is radically different from the normal.

Sex workers often feel isolated from others in society. Until recently, there wasn’t an accessible support network for them to turn to.

That was until Audacia Ray came along.

Audacia Ray photo by Stacie Joy.

When Audacia started working in the sex industry in New York City, she had no idea it would lead to something amazing called The Red Umbrella Project.

Originally getting into the industry for the same reason almost everyone does, the money, she soon became truly interested in many different aspects of it.

“I was intrigued by the whole thing and wanted to explore it. I had several different jobs…modeling, foot fetish work, and escorting, but the thing that really worked for me was body work,” Audacia said.

Audacia drifted in and out of the industry, as many sex workers do.   The financial benefits are extremely difficult to give up.   There was no moment where she chose to quit cold turkey, but when the space she was sharing with several other women was no longer available and they relocated, Audacia stayed in New York and continued to work.   She found it more stressful without that support system.

As a talented writer, in 2004 she began blogging about sexuality and culture.   Then moved on to produce both audio and video podcasts for the Village Voice.   Then she discovered a project that she immediately became interested in.   $pread Magazine, a publication for and by sex workers.   It was considered a supportive and informative magazine that educates those not familiar with the industry.

Photo courtesy of Carmen Lucas.

“After sending lots of annoying emails to the editors, I started helping put the magazine together and eventually became an executive editor. While working alongside the other sex workers collaborating on the project, it became so obvious to me that media - both making media ourselves and dealing with mainstream media - is a critical site of resistance for people in the sex trades.”   During her time at $pread, Audacia taught a 'journalism for sex workers' workshop, and then that became the Speak Up! Media Training - an intensive, weekend long media training that she does alongside another $pread editor for almost five years now. In 2010   they added a legislative advocacy training to teach sex workers how to speak with elected officials.   Around the same time Audacia also began hosting the Red Umbrella Diaries.   A monthly storytelling event at Happy Ending, a popular lounge in New York City. When a friend, suggested she thought these were all part of the same project. Audacia looked into founding a nonprofit organization. ”With a lot of help, I've been doing just that. It's a slow process to get all the legal ducks in a row, but the programs are growing and flourishing.”   $pread soon went out of print, but everything else things kept falling into place with putting together the non-profit. The Red Umbrella Project was officially created.   Audacia now works with a team of four other committed individuals that are passionate about the program, and former sex workers themselves.   Things keep growing , and more opportunities are popping up.

Audacia photo courtesy of See-ming Lee

“We have two different programs within RedUP -our creative programs fall under the Red Umbrella Diaries Program and then we have the Speak Up! Media and Advocacy Program. With our creative program, this spring we're doing some awesome collaborations, including offering an improvisation storytelling class at Housing Works' Trans Women's Evening Program, which starts in February. We'll also be channeling a lot of our energy toward doing advocacy training and support work this spring. We'll be doing several advocacy trainings in preparation for a lobby day in Albany, New York. During that we'll advocate to pass a bill that would prevent police and prosecutors from using condoms as evidence of prostitution. Our first advanced level media training is scheduled for April, too. And we're also planning to produce some media, including a guide to media tactics and skills as well as a few projects to support the advocacy work.” Again, this quote is a little long. Since most of it is factual - not emotion or opinion - this is the kind of thing you can describe in your own words and pull out the most interesting quotes to support your words.

When I asked Audacia what she felt was the biggest accomplishment The Red Umbrella Project , her response was simple and powerful.

“I don't think I can pick out any one accomplishment, especially because I strive to do more and be better at it every day,” Audacia said

And she is.


For more information on The Red Umbrella Project, and how to get involved.   Visit their site at www.redumbrellaproject.org




Randi Newton lives between New York and Los Angeles.   She's been published on Jezebel, Gawker, XoJane, TheFix and is a regular contributor on  TheGloss.com.   Follow her on Twitter @WorldOfRandi and visit her blog  www.worldofrandi.com.   She enjoys coffee, dry shampoo, and long walks on the beach.