LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Invisibility, exclusion and stigma: LGBTQI sex workers

sex work
LGBTI sex workers

Tina Kolos Orban, Vice President of Transvanilla Transgender Association, Hungary

Many of us might be wondering what we can do for the rights of sex workers ( and how we can support their fight) when we, ourselves, are not sex workers.

At Transvanilla, we do have sex workers in our membership and in our close communities, but unfortunately none hold leadership positions. In addition, we have no policy nor official opinion on the matter.

Sometimes this makes us wonder about how we can speak out on sex worker’s issues. So when trying to raise the issue, our starting point was to do what we would expect trans allies to do: we turned to the only NGO in Hungary led by and for sex workers: the Association of Hungarian Sex Workers (SZEXE).

SZEXE has never ever been invited to discussions at LGBT events, not even when sex work was discussed. At Budapest Pride, the topic has specifically been discussed in the past years, but without those who were talked about. Only abolitionist feminists were allowed to raise their voices.

In 2016, we asked SZEXE what they thought about a joint event at Budapest Pride and they suggested to organise a workshop and discuss how to improve the general situation of LGBT sex workers in Hungary. We invited Amnesty International Hungary (AI by then had just published their policy on sex work), Transgender Europe (working on their own sex work policy by that time) and the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe.

Transvanilla applied with these partners and first our application was accepted. After ten days though, we got informed that Pride organisers had changed their mind and decided to reject our workshop proposal.

We were told that our workshop had been banned because of how we define sex work and got an offer to discuss this after the Pride ends. We refused to hold an other workshop on trans and parenting that had been accepted by the organisers and canceled all our activities at Pride events. If we are not allowed to talk about sex worker issues, we will not talk about parenting issues.

As a response, SZEXE organised a different roundtable discussion with its international partner organisations on ’sex work and activism’ with the participation of sex workers from Hungary and abroad. The event symbolically took place right before the official Budapest Pride opening. It primarily focused on the situation of LGBT sex workers; the majority of panelists themselves were male or trans sex workers. The event was hosted by the Association of Hungarian Women and no one from LGBT NGOs  attended or supported us.

Our guiding principles were “nothing about them without them” and taking the struggle as our own we did what we had to do to “leave no one behind”.

Tina Kolos Orban is vice president of Transvanilla Transgender Association, a Hungarian advocacy organization for trans, gender nonconforming and intersex people. You can learn more about their work at or follow them on Twitter @transvanilla