On Thursday, February 13, This Ain’t Hollywood is hosting the Red Umbrella Cabaret, an evening of entertainment in support of SWAP (Sex Workers’ Action Program) Hamilton. Featuring drag and burlesque performances, live music, and dance, the event is curated by the Hamilton Burlesque Society and Queer Outta Hamilton.
We chatted with Jelena Vermilion, co-chair and educational director of SWAP Hamilton about what you can expect from the Red Umbrella Cabaret and about the important work SWAP Hamilton is doing to support sex workers.
This event, in support of SWAP, is curated by Hamilton Burlesque Society and Queer Outta Hamilton. Can you tell me a little bit about how the event came to be?
You bet! I met Cadence Machry (Hamilton Burlesque Society) and James Diemert (Queer Outta Hamilton; commonly known as “James Dee”) in the community over a year ago before SWAP was officially formed. In learning a bit about Cadence’s role in the reformation of the Hamilton Burlesque By-Laws, I knew early on that I wanted to collaborate with her. With James, They are a well-known and deeply respected activist and community member whose claim to fame is throwing amazing Queer-centric parties and events in Hamilton. In knowing this and in becoming friends with them, I asked if we could all work together. They readily agreed, as we all have a similar vision when it comes to supporting and representing sex workers in any municipality. They are both incredible producers and we are so grateful to be co-producing this event with them.
The event is called the Red Umbrella Cabaret. Can you tell me a little bit about how this title and why a red umbrella is a symbol of sex workers’ rights movements.
For sure. Via Wikipedia: “The red umbrella symbol was first used by sex workers in Venice, Italy in 2001. Slovenian artist Tadej Pogacar collaborated with sex workers to create the “Prostitute Pavilion” and CODE: RED art installation for the 49th Venice Biennale of Art. Sex workers also held a street demonstration, the Red Umbrellas March, to protest inhumane work conditions and human rights abuses.
The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) adopted the red umbrella as a symbol of resistance to discrimination in 2005. A corresponding march was organised as the closing event to the European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration conference, held in Brussels, Belgium, at which almost 200 participants appeared.”
The Red Umbrella Cabaret will feature drag performances by Hexe Noire, Salmon Ella and Charlize Angel, burlesque performances by Hamilton Burlesque Society, live music by Easily Discouraged & Baby Drayton, and dance numbers by Mahasti from The Bellydance Emporium. Why else should people consider spending Thursday night at This Ain’t Hollywood?
Yes! We will be having The Board Chair Ellie Ade Kur of Maggie’s: Toronto (one of the oldest sex workers’ rights organizations in Canada) come to speak alongside Jelena Vermilion, an award-winning transsexual pornstar and the Co-Chair and Educational Director of SWAP Hamilton. Additionally, we will have some other amazing local organizations present and tabling, such as: SACHA, Vagabond Saints Tattoos, The AIDS Network, and Grenfell Ministries. Lastly, we will have on-theme merchandise such as: posters (11″ x 17″), 18 different pin-back buttons (58mm), sex worker prayer candles, zines, themed mugs, DVDs, patches, and stickers available for purchase through the night to show your support.
Some of our readers won’t be familiar with Sex Workers’ Action Program Hamilton. What can you tell me about SWAP and the work you’re doing in the Hamilton community? What impact might proceeds from this event have?
SWAP began a bit over a year ago with a small core group, and has now grown to twenty volunteer members, including people with lived experience, public health workers, social workers, faith community representatives, and stakeholders who have joined together to assist and support people working in the sex trade industry. SWAP is well connected to larger networks as part of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects. We do encourage folks to check out our website www.SWAPHamilton.com as well our Social media pages (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter @/SWAPHamilton).
A core tenet of SWAP is that people involved in the sex trade experience the damaging impact of discrimination, societal stigma, violence, crime, criminalization, and poverty. SWAP Hamilton recognizes the importance of the community working together to support sex workers. The main focus of SWAP Hamilton will be to provide outreach support to street-involved workers, those entering or leaving the industry, and including victims of trafficking. We provide Advocacy (such as lobbying politicians or social anti-stigma campaigns), Outreach (such as distributing our harm reduction packages and referring clients to appropriate services), and Education (such as professional trainings and workshops that we provide organizations, businesses, to learn about and affirm the rights of sex workers).
The proceeds of this event will directly be put towards supplies to continue distributing our Harm Reduction Outreach packages. Over the last six months we have distributed 27 bags, and will continue with this program. Other ways the proceeds will benefit SWAP Hamilton is in upkeep of the overhead for our website operating costs, business costs like printing or for the labour to produce these events. Lastly, funds will also be allocated to provide honorariums to local sex workers who participate in data collection with us in the forthcoming years.
We are really excited to throw this event for the community and to have fun while supporting a great cause.