Over 700 people accused of selling or soliciting sex for money were wiped from the sex offender registry in Louisiana last night after a historic settlement to beat back the state's archaic 'Crimes Against Nature' laws.
The development marked a huge victory for sex workers, members of the LGBTQ community, poor people, and women, who disproportionately bore the brunt of a law that slapped heavy punishments on accused sex workers.
"Yesterday when I heard, I was so excited. This was a grassroots, queer-led, effort. People were screaming for change, and they won," declared Deon Haywood, executive director of New Orleans-based Women with a Vision.
Louisiana's Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS), was created in the late 1800s to criminalize sexual devience, and today targets the selling of oral or anal sex for a fee.
Before 2011, police had full discretion over whether to charge accused sex workers with prostitution, which results in a misdemeanor, or CANS, which mandates registration as a sex offender.
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In practice — and particularly in New Orleans, whose police department is currently under a federal consent decree for discriminatory practices — that has meant the disproportionate charging of people of color and LGBT people for “crimes against nature.” The Department of Justice report on discrimination in the New Orleans Police Department noted that “in particular, transgender women complained that NOPD officers improperly target and arrest them for prostitution, sometimes fabricating evidence of solicitation for compensation. Moreover, transgender residents reported that officers are likelier, because of their gender identity, to charge them under the state’s ‘crimes against nature’ statute — a statute whose history reflects anti-LGBT sentiment.”
"There is a thing called guilty of walking while transgender," explained Haywood.
The Center for Constitutional Rights explains that sex offender status heavily penalizes already marginal communities.
People affected by this law have been barred from homeless shelters, physically threatened, and refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities. As in the earlier case, all plaintiffs in this action proceeded anonymously for fear of retaliation.
A federal judge last year ruled that forcing people convicted of CANS to register as sex offenders violates their constitutional rights. Yet, when hundreds remained on the registry after this federal ruling, community organizations worked with the affected community and lawyers to file the class action lawsuit that was settled last was settled last night.
Community groups explain that the victory was won by people directly affected by the law. "This case would move forward by people standing in their truth and sharing their stories," explains Deon Haywood, whose organizatin takes on issues of Sex Worker Rights, Drug Policy Reform, HIV Positive Women’s Advocacy, and Reproductive Justice outreach, according to their website.
"We did something people said we couldn't do," says Haywood. "They said we couldn't organize the population represented in this case. They said we couldn't win because of who we were. People say change doesn't happen in the south. But it just did."