It was a brutal murder, a dark nether-narrative of a film like The Crying Game. Except when Shawn Wilson figured out that cross-dressing prostitute Robert "Tiny" Gibson was actually a man, he didn't curl into emotional conflict about his own sexuality. He stabbed Tiny 25 times until he was dead.
"[He] was just this big teddy bear guy," says Candye Kane, local blues diva and former sex worker herself, who was a close friend of Gibson. "[He] was full of love and worked tirelessly for charities in San Diego like PAWS-Pets Are Wonderful Support-it's a group for people who have terminal illnesses to get comfort from animals. He was really active in AIDS walk.
"I didn't know he was turning tricks on the side. I just knew he was a wonderful person who would come dressed in drag to my shows and I'd pull him on the stage to sing with me and take him on the road occasionally. To hear that he was killed in such a gruesome way, that really freaked me out."
Kane is talking about one of the more personal motivations for hosting the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The event is to raise awareness for the violence against sex workers, and urge that legislators decriminalize sex work.
"There are a lot of public health issues that could be addressed by addressing the prostitution issue," Kane says. "The spread of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases is one of them. But also just the safety of women."
One of the recent cases that Kane points to is that of the Green River Killer-Gary Leon Ridgway-who confessed this year to the murders of 48 women in the Seattle area. During his confession, Ridgway stated:
"I wanted to kill as many women I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could. I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."
"It is unconscionable to think that Americans would continue to back laws that would allow murderers to violate prostitutes in this way," says Robyn Few, executive director of Sex Workers Outreach Project. "Sex workers should not continue to be treated as second-class citizens. Unequal protection under the law allows people to think and operate like the Green River killer. It is time for these laws to change."
For Kane, a former porn star and model who retired from the business 17 years ago, the issue hits home.
"There were times on 42nd street in New York when I was 18 years old being a stripper that I left the strip joint at 3 a.m.," she recalls. "There'd be guys waiting outside for you and they'd follow you to the hotel. I was fairly lucky because I was glib and able to talk my way out of situations. But I just didn't come across the Green River Killer."
Kane believes that victimless acts between two consenting adults should not be considered a crime. First and foremost, she is concerned with the safety of women who choose, or are forced into, prostitution-either through drug or money problems. But, as a homeowner in Oceanside herself, she has a practical take on the issue.
"People... don't want to see hookers walking on the streets," she says. "But until we do something about prostitution and our laws and decriminalize it, there are going to be streetwalkers. If there were safe houses for prostitutes to go to, they wouldn't be walking on the streets where little Jimmy and Suzie are walking to school.
"As a homeowner, I don't really want to see prostitutes walking down the street in front of the car wash. I want to see them have their own house where they can go and be safe."
Kane says that she's disappointed that California, long thought a progressive state, has not yet sanctioned gay marriages. There is still hope for the state to be a "maverick," she believes, and the decriminalization of sex work is a move whose time has passed.
"In states where prostitution is not legal," she says, "prostitutes are harassed by the police and coerced into giving free sex to avoid tickets. And sometimes they're forced into giving free sex to avoid tickets and they're still booked."
At her event, Kane will hold an open mic for people to speak about the subject, as well as hold a candle vigil for the victims of sex work-related violence. There will also be a petition to sign, which encourages legislators to decriminalize prostitution.
"I think if we decriminalize prostitution, we could clean up the streets, find out who's working because they're addicted to drugs, find out who's under age, find out who's a runaway. And not only that, but generate some income for our bankrupt state of California."The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers happens at 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 in Balboa Park (at the southeast corner of Laurel and 6th Ave.). For more info, visit www.swop-usa.org.