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Porn Stars Flock to Tucson Sex Fest

November 15, 2002

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Dancers, porn stars and gigolos were here for a festival aimed at destigmatizing the sex industry and removing some of the shame associated with those who work in it.

``It’s educational, community-building, an attempt to take the silence away. Sex workers are marginalized. This is about unheard voices,″ said Juliana Piccillo, co-director of the 2002 Sex Worker Arts Festival, which started Thursday and continues through Sunday at various locations.

Besides applause, the festival, which includes documentary films about the sex worker industry, poetry, dance, photography and music, is drawing criticism.

At issue is a $2,700 grant from the Tucson/Pima Arts Council that the festival is using, plus the fact that two festival sessions take place on University of Arizona property.

``Universities make judgments on what to discuss everyday _ it’s called curriculum; this trash has no place in one of our state’s universities,″ said House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, in a prepared statement.

Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix, said the fact that the festival was being held at the university was a problem for lawmakers who are having to explain budget cuts to constituents.

``I’m concerned about taxpayer resources going for it,″ Martin said Thursday during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in Phoenix. ``They’re using facilities and facilities cost money.″

Martin added: ``It really puts us legislators in a bind. It’s not that these things can’t happen. It’s just why do they have to happen on campus.″

The event isn’t just drawing negative attention from Arizonans.

The national Cybercast News Service published a story Thursday on the Internet titled ``University hosts sex festival activities.″ Fox News’ ``The O’Reilly Factor″ debated the use of tax dollars for the event Thursday night.

UA spokeswoman Sharon Kha heard plenty of public concern about the event. But the university is not a sponsor, and it does not censor what people say on its property, she said.

``There is no basis for us to prevent dialogue from occurring,″ she said.

An event at the UA that took place Thursday was titled ``Sex Slaves: The Truth About Trafficking.″ The forum included as speakers social worker and former exotic dancer Dawn Passar, and global sex-work activist Carol Leigh, who has worked as a prostitute, artist and activist in the San Francisco area for 20 years.

A citizens panel of the Tucson/Pima Arts Council on May 13 approved giving the sex festival $2,700 in grant money. The money comes from a blend of public and private funding, according to Wanda Poindexter, who is the public relations and marketing director for the local arts council. None of the citizen panel members could be reached for comment Thursday.

Kym Cutter, a Tucson poet who helped organize the event, said that although not all the sessions involve art, the event as a whole does precisely what art is intended to do: challenge.

``Anytime sex deviates from the norm it makes people uncomfortable. I can’t think of anything in society that’s judged more harshly,″ she said. ``Art challenges and it is all about free expression.″

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