‘Glory holes’ guidance around safe sex during pandemic not a joke, says sex worker

Click to play video: 'B.C. reports 30 new cases of COVID-19, one additional death'
B.C. reports 30 new cases of COVID-19, one additional death
WATCH: B.C. reports 30 new cases of COVID-19, one additional death – Jul 23, 2020

Guidance from the B.C. Center for Disease Control around safe sex during the pandemic has gone viral in the past few days for its usage of the term “glory holes” — prompting laughs on social media.

‘Glory hole’ is a colloquial term used for a wall with a hole cut in it, to facilitate sexual contact between partners without direct physical contact.

But one of the people who helped write those guidelines says it’s not a joke, especially for sex workers.

“Because we’re addressing it in an adult manner in association to the pandemic of people dying, getting sick and getting ill, we don’t see the big joke,” sex workers’ advocate Velvet Steele told Global News.

“People are so offended about it but then again it’s always just the people who are so nervous to talk about sex.”

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Steele, who also works as a sex worker, said the guidelines were written as a way to help sex workers who have been excluded from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and who have to continue working if they want to put food on the table.

“We’re taking this seriously, because people are being cut out of their livelihoods,” she said.

“They don’t have the same kind of income to look after themselves, to pay their bills, rent, mortgage, whatever else they’re doing.”

Steele said sex workers, who were feeling anxious about continuing their work in the midst of a pandemic where key public health messaging has centered around keeping a physical distance from others, came to her and other advocates looking for guidance.

The guidelines weren’t written specifically for the BC CDC, but Steele said she’s glad they ended up there — and said there’s no point in dancing around the issue with vague terminology.

But she said the response to the usage of the term “glory holes” online has been immature.

She pointed out that other industries and sectors have all received guidance on how to up their cleaning and safety measures in the face of COVID-19.

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“I equate it to the situation of hair salons, for example. In those industries, it’s no different when it comes to sex work,” Steele said.

‘People are cleaning up and sanitizing between clients. But the level of management in between clients has been upped.”

Steele said sex workers and advocates had to come up with their own guidance, however. She said the industry has always pushed the envelope on conversations surrounding public health — pointing to efforts by sex workers to de-stigmatize the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

“Sex workers have always been at the forefront of developing safer sex protocols and guidelines,” she said.

“They’ve also been brought to the table by a lot of health centers in regards to analyzing and seeing what’s going on. They know what it’s like doing the work they do.”

Steele said sex workers have been consistently marginalized, and prevented from regulating their industry.

She’s pushing for the federal Liberal government to repeal the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which criminalizes the purchase of sex, but which does not criminalize the act of offering sex in exchange for money.

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Steele said that act prevents sex workers from having a seat at the table and from pushing for regulations and laws that would protect them.

And she said it’s likely contributed to the fact that sex workers are excluded right now from the CERB.

She wants the federal government to extend those benefits to everybody who needs them.

“Sex work is work,” she said.

“So they should be taken care of, they should be looked after. They’re also citizens of this country.”

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