Letting prostitutes keep condoms is a brave stance

There is a new bill floating around the Legislature that would bar prosecutors and the police from confiscating condoms from “sex workers” (also known as prostitutes). Prosecutors use the seized condoms as evidence against the prostitutes. Obviously, if sex workers use condoms, both they and their clients are protected from disease. The idea that the police are confiscating the condoms and/or using them as evidence in convicting prostitutes seems ludicrous when we know that the condoms are actually protecting people. Prostitution in any form is the world’s oldest profession. It will be around long after we are gone. You don’t have to be in the Secret Service to understand this truth. Naturally, many law enforcement professionals are against changing the law. If they are convicting prostitutes, they don’t want anything standing in their way, even the public’s health.

There is a political subtext to all of this and it comes down to control of the New York State Senate by the Republicans or Democrats. Right now, just a few measly votes are needed for the Democrats to take control of the Senate. The Democrats did such a bad job of running their house after they took control a few years back that lots of people were left thinking that the state was better off without them. Maybe that’s why they were kicked out. They ignored the secret of New York politics which is, if you don’t have the middle class — they vote big time — you can’t win. In fact, one can surmise that one of the reasons why so many of us, based on the evidence, think that Governor Cuomo prefers to work with the Republicans rather than the Democrats in the Senate is that the Senate Democrats are far more progressive than Cuomo. This is a governor who goes where the votes are. He doesn’t deviate from that. His father was known for doing the opposite and in the end, it probably cost him his last reelection effort. Just Google, “Mario Cuomo death penalty.”

The middle class doesn’t appear to think or care that much about sex workers. That’s why, when Senator Velmanette Montgomery stood up to defend the utterly defensible condom bill, she made a point of saying that, “We are not endorsing prostitution.” She went on to say, “It is simply the fact that over 100,000 people right now are infected with HIV and AIDS in New York City.” Sometimes doing the right thing flies in the face of good electoral politics. My bet is that the Senate Republicans see Democratic Senator Montgomery’s bill as an early Christmas present. In fact, one has to look no further than to Senator Montgomery’s insistence that she and her conference were not “endorsing prostitution.” When you suggest that you are not doing something, you lead the reader, viewer or listener, to the conclusion that you are doing something. In other words, rather than deny something, you are probably better off keeping your mouth shut.

Let posterity record that in this case, I believe the senator is correct. Forbidding the seizure of condoms from sex workers is courageous because it is the right thing to do even if it isn’t the politically expedient thing to do. In fact, instead of moving to the middle to get more middle class votes, this bill risks alienating a crucial voting bloc. If just one life can be saved by encouraging the use of condoms, this bill will be worth it. Sometimes, you just have to do what is right and not political. I am waiting to hear Governor Cuomo’s position on this. Just remember, though, that I am not endorsing prostitution.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/23/12

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