In my senior year of college, before joining Manhattan’s Irving Trust Company for the year before starting law school, I interviewed at a life and health insurance company to sell financial services. as a hopefully unnecessary backup to the jobs that truly interested me. The interviewer, a likable man, all excitedly told me how one of their newer sales agents was on the right track to developing clients and referrals by joining the Kiwanis Club and some organization where business people regularly met and referred customers to each other.
Here I was in this interview with my eyes glazing over, in exciting Boston in one of the city’s most interesting neighborhoods. Yes, if one wants his or her product or services to sell, s/he needs to get the word out about the product or services, but I was convinced that it can be done without needing to attend boring or unimaginative versions of Water Buffalo meetings in the shadow of the Grand Poobah. Living in a major city area like Washington, D.C. — even though its population is dwarfed by the remaining five major cities of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco — I am blessed with being nearby social activities that are infinitely more interesting than long anticipating and then attending the annual Water Buffalo baked bean-eating and flatulence contest.
One shining example of a great and interesting D.C. area cause is Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, a twenty-year old group that started out with a harm reduction model for sex workers, including taking the HIPS van to street sex workers with condoms, sexually transmitted disease information, snacks, drinks and an empathetic ear, and recently added a major project of needle exchange for intravenous drug users, to reduce the risk of spreading disease through sharing needles used to inject illegal drugs.
I first learned about HIPS in 2002, when I had lunch with HIPS’s then board chair Holly Flowers, then a Washington, D.C., area lawyer whose practice included services to those in the sex industry, after someone in the industry made mention of Holly as a bird of a professional feather. I started doing legal work for members of the adult entertainment industry over a dozen years ago — including adult video stores, strip club/exotic cabarets, and adult websites — when I hit upon the sex and adult entertainment industry as a great way to overlap my longtime love of criminal defense and First Amendment/free expression defense.
One day in 1999, my now former law partner Jay Marks and I were talking at the end of the day how I might start to get clients from the adult entertainment industry. Jay had great idea: "Why don’t you call Dr. Phil Goode?," the nickname for Phil Guye, whose local company provided strippers for parties, and who was covered a little over a year earlier in a lengthy Washington City Paper article. Within minutes, I found Phil’s company in the yellow pages (before Google was as reliable as today to make the yellow pages obsolete), and he answered on my first call. When I told Phil that I was interested in meeting people in the adult entertainment industry, he suggested I give a call to former adult film actor Bill Margold, then a board member of the Free Speech Coalition, the main trade association for the adult entertainment industry. Claiming that "God created man/William Margold created himself," Bill told me about a soon upcoming fundraising party for the Free Speech Coalition that he had arranged in Atlantic City. I went, and this fundraising party turned out to be just part of a much larger event, which was the annual and later defunct East Coast Video Show (VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED, image-wise, before opening the foregoing link, posted by my creatively brilliant brothers Scott Huffines and Tom Warner).
Over one quarter of the floor space of the ECVS was occupied by the adult film industry, complete with adult film stars to meet and be photographed with. One can still go to Vegas for such shows, and in Spring 2013 Atlantic City hosted the EXXXOTICA adult industry show. I quickly learned that the competition was low in the Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland area for adult entertainment lawyers. In fact, when at the time I joined the First Amendment Lawyers Association — which includes many of the nation’s best First Amendment defense lawyers, and plenty who represent the adult industry — I was among no more than a handful of members from those states. In quick succession, I started getting adult entertainment clients, I became in 1991 the founding president of the Free Speech Coalition’s then-new and first state chapter, covering Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. I got interviewed many times in print and on camera about adult entertainment. I soon found myself being interviewed, as well, many times on camera and in print on criminal defense and civil liberties. My comfort in front of the microphone and camera has been enhanced by performing onstage (and once on local television) n the trumpet from ages ten to nineteen with various bands and appearing on dozens of call-in radio shows on our law firm-sponsored program that my former law partner Jay started, called "Legalmente Hablando/Legally Speaking"
My main law practice focus for over a decade has been criminal defense and remains so. At the same time, a great thing about defending members of the adult entertainment industry is that — without ignoring important discussions about the extent to which plenty, but certainly not all, of adult entertainment degrades women and appeals to prejudice — it is a way to defend free expression under the First Amendment, and a way to support the right of consenting adults to be left alone.
Now back to Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive. I have had plenty of complaints about the District of Columbia government, including the property tax office employee who told me to send him the documentation I claimed overbilled me for my property tax, but then told me when I called to follow up: "How can I get any work done if I read such mail?" However, I am blown away that the D.C. government has repeatedly provided funding for HIPS’s work, and that numerous D.C. City Council members supported last night’s HIPS twentieth anniversary celebration.
I joined the HIPS Board for 2002-2004, feeling that this was a much more useful investment of my time than the hundreds of other non-profit boards, because HIPS treats sex workers as humans, and HIPS’s work is also in line with my belief in ending the criminalization of prostitution and with my strong belief in leaving consenting adults alone.
HIPS is still going strong, and recently took over a needle exchange program that another organization previously handled. This reinvigorates my love of HIPS and my deep thanks to its executive director Cyndee Clay, who has been with the group for over a decade.
Now that I live and work in Fairfax, Virginia, it is a hike to go to Washington, D.C., for a weeknight reception, but last night’s HIPS twentieth anniversary celebration was worth it. I drove for ten minutes before finding a parking spot (where there are no paid parking lots or garages). I was stunned to see a beyond standing room only crowd during the speeches at the Josephine Butler Parks Center, which is on one of the city’ steepest hills, on the east side of Meridian/Malcolm X Park, which has huge fountains that feed one into the other, not to be missed when visiting the city.
The audience mainly consisted of people in business and reception attire who could fit right in at a government agency, law firm or large corporation. I saw some people dressed more relaxed and some funky, and at least two men in dresses in this audience that seemed roundly to believe in adults’ right to pursue their own sexuality. Regardless of one’s sexual lifestyle, when we protect the rights of consenting adults to be left alone, we protect our own rights to be left alone in our own lives.
HIPS’s sex worker clientele includes women, men and transgendered people. The featured speaker at the twentieth anniversary celebration was Laverne Cox (photographed by me here), who is an accomplished actress who is transgendered and speaks out for transgendered people. I regret that I arrived after Laverne spoke, but was told by an audience member that she spoke of being sent to therapy by her parents about Laverne’s sexuality.
HIPS is among the most worthy organization that you can donate your money to and see it go immediately to worthy work. Please join me in giving to HIPS.