By Luisa Bider and Lee Long Hui
Members of the sex industry including escorts, strippers, activists and authors, won awards at the 23rd Sexual Freedom Awards in Hackney last Wednesday.
Healthcare and human rights activist Dan Glass was awarded Activist of the Year at the 23rd Sexual Freedom Awards on Wednesday. He founded the London edition of the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), an organisation which seeks to improve the lives of those living with AIDS.
The Sexual Freedom Awards promote excellence in sexual performance and services – and acknowledge pioneers in the sexuality field in nine different categories. Winners took home hand-made golden flying penis trophies. The awards were held at the Hackney Showroom in Stoke Newington.
Delivering his award speech, Dan Glass thanked ACT UP and those who went took to the streets almost 30 years ago to protest against the slow pharmaceutical approval process which led to the AIDS pandemic.
Glass said: “With World AIDS day coming up this Friday, the struggle continues. Thanks to ACT UP and everyone who is working to protect the National Health Service.”
ACT UP was founded in New York in 1987. It is an international advocacy group committed to ending the AIDS pandemic. The group held a mass demonstration in 1988. The thousand-strong crowd shut down the United States’ Food and Drug Administration headquarters at the time. Demonstrators demanded that the authority speed-up the drug approval process.
ACT UP London has been catalysing healthcare and sex-positive programmes as well as protecting the National Health Service.
Glass also founded “Queer Tours of London”, an organisation which seeks to raise awareness and acceptance for LGBTQI+ rights by organising tours and events revolving around historical and political issues.
The other nominee in the Activist of the Year award category was Basis Yorkshire, which is a charity organisation aiming to ensure sex workers are able to access to services that address their safety, health and information needs in a non-judgemental way.
The proceeds from the event will be used to fund Outsider Trust, a charity that supports disabled people in their sexual freedom and expression.
Ten awards were handed out at the ceremony. There were two categories that produced two winners: Journalist and sex educator Alix Fox and historian Kate Lister both won the award for Publicist of the Year.
Delivering her speech, Fox thanked those who were willing to be interviewed to share their story to make her work a success. “My work wouldn’t exist unless other people invested the trust in me to represent them,” she said. “And sometimes exposing your private lives, especially on a big platform to the Mainstream Media a terrifying thing to do. It’s very worthwhile thing to do because of advances education and understanding.”
Meanwhile, Matt-at-Lotus and Rosie Enorah Heart shared the honour of winning the sexual service provider of the year award.
Matt, who retired after 24 years in the sex industry, expressed his proudness for being a sex worker, which he claims to be “a profession in its right”.
“Sex work is one of the oldest professions, and still, we are often not acknowledged and respected for having a career. I believe that these awards are fantastic (in acknowledging the sex workers),” he said.
The Ally of the year award went to activist Amanda Gay Love, while performer Ellie Mason, who has learning and physical disabilities, won the performance Artist of the Year award.
The winner of the Lifetime Achievement award was awarded to writer and poet John Constable, better-known as “John Crow”, the urban shaman of Crossbones.
Constable founded the Friends of Crossbones in 1996 to raise the awareness of its historical, cultural and spiritual importance. Crossbone is a post-medieval disused burial ground in Southwark, which was the last resting place historically for the Winchester Geese, the women who worked in the brothels of the Liberty of the Clink. Constable had already won the Campaigner of the Year award at the 2011 Erotic Awards ceremony for his work at Crossbones.
The Event of the Year award was won by the London Porn Film Festival. Cocoa Butter Club, an organisation promotes performers of colour in cabaret, won the Pioneer of the Year award.
The winner of the Somatic Sex Educator of the Year award was Ruby May, and stripper Tequila Rose won the award for Stripper of the Year.
In between award presentations, there were performances which included striptease, poetry and sword swallowing.