The 14th Amendment & the Personhood of Sex Workers
Known as the Civil Rights or Reconstruction Amendments to Black Political Scientists and people who study the constitution, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments protected the personhood and citizenship of newly freed Black people from southern enslavement in the United States. I want to spend some time looking at the 14th Amendment specifically.
As you can tell by the current news coverage, there’s a lot going on with abortion and trans rights in areas of the South, specifically, areas of the Deep South, where white-right-wing-cis-hetero-christian bodies and ideologies continue to rule with authority. So much so, that they have begun to challenge the legitimacy of rights solidified under the Constitution. We must be on the lookout for more of this behavior during this election year and beyond, as conservatives have gained control of our Supreme Court of the United States.
Added to the Constitution in 1868, five years after The Emancipation Proclamation and immediately post Civil War, so many of the rights that I enjoy as a free and queer Black woman arebecause of the 14th Amendment.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, I suggest that you sit and study the 14th Amendment, especially as it relates to this episode and the critical rights being slowly retracted via legislation in the South. Because to challenge parts of the laws substantiated by the 14th Amendment, for example abortion access, would also give legitimacy to challenging other laws substantiated by the 14th Amendment.
According to Cornell Law, “The Fourteenth Amendment addresses many aspects of citizenship and the rights of citizens. The most commonly used – and frequently litigated – phrase in the amendment is “equal protection of the laws.” This amendment figures prominently in a wide variety of landmark cases, including Brown v. Board of Education (which was about racial discrimination), Roe v. Wade (which was about reproductive rights), Bush v. Gore (election recounts), Reed v. Reed (gender discrimination), and University of California v. Bakke (racial quotas in education). A threat to the 14th Amendment is a threat to all of the rights you and I gained through these cases, and more.
There are 5 Sections in the 14th Amendment. The first referred to here is Section 1 and it reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Dear sex workers, NO state shall make or enforce ANY LAW which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens in the United States, nor shall any state deprive us life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny us equal protection of the laws. I say to you on this day, if you have been denied housing, liberty, freedom, or equal protection because you are a sex worker, it is my opinion as a political scientist that you have been denied your constitutional rights. I also want to emphasize here, Dear Black Sex Worker, the 14th Amendment was specifically fought for and created for the protection of our ancestors as human beings, instead of as listed property.
As sex workers and as citizens we have a right to push back on ANY and all laws placing a wedge between us and our personhood. We do that when we vote, when we organize, and when we strategize on what can keep us and our community safe. We would do well to see to it that America lives up to the true meaning of its creed – to all of its citizens – and be unapologetic about it!