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//Tiera Brown holds up her homemade sign at SlutWalk on Sept. 19. Photo by Polina Saran | polinasarana@gmail.com

SlutWalk Denver once again graced the streets with femmes in pleaser high heels and pasties this year, despite pandemic hurdles and the increased presence of right-wing militia in the city. 

The march and rally began in 2011 in Toronto, Canada after a police officer suggested women “should avoid dressing like sluts” to prevent sexual assault. Since then, the movement has grown globally with thousands of participants each year calling for an end to rape culture and slut-shaming. 

“SlutWalk was an international movement where every SlutWalk happened in 2011, simultaneously,” said Becky Taha’Blu, a Denver organizer since 2016. “It debunked the fact that women can’t organize.”

Taha’Blu and fellow organizer Siren Sixxxkiller are part of SlutWalk’s collective organizing group. In the years since the two joined the team, they’ve turned their focus toward including sex workers and Indigenous women in the conversation. Taha’Blu has hands-on experience in the Black sex worker community. Sixxxkiller, herself a member of the Cherokee tribe, has worked with the organizers of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. 

“One of the things that SlutWalk was first [criticized for] was they didn’t have enough women of color represented in their organizing,” Taha’Blu said. “So we also put a stop to that and made sure that people of color, trans people, sex workers, missing and murdered indigenous women, and people that are disabled or might be wheelchair-bound are represented.”

In an effort to ensure representation of those who are disabled, this year the organization incorporated a “Slut Roll” campaign, which encouraged participants to march on skateboards, rollerskates, bikes and wheelchairs. 

“We just wanted to call attention to the fact that SlutWalk is ableist language,” Sixxxkiller said. “It’s always been called SlutWalk, we’re not going to really change the name. But we wanted to do a ‘come roll with your favorite sluts’ campaign this year to make it more inclusive, to reach out to people who might be coming on wheels and wheelchairs.”

One of the core messages of the 2020 SlutWalk is the decriminalization of sex work, a goal Tiera Brown has also been working toward with Black Sex Workers of Colorado. Brown founded the group shortly after the Pride Liberation March in June. 

This year was also personally significant for her as it was the first she’s attended as an out sex worker. The march also came just days after six Party for Liberation and Socialism – Denver protesters were arrested for participating in or organizing rallies in Aurora over the summer. 

“[SlutWalk] means a lot at this point,” Brown said. “It just gives me that platform to be in community with other people that at least respect us. That mean[s] a lot, especially with what’s been going on in the past couple of days, it’s been heavy, so I really look forward to being out here today to be in community with them.”

However, the event didn’t go off without a hitch. Attendance was lower than years past, with the pandemic still in full swing. Two other major rallies took place at the State Capitol and at a Planned Parenthood in Aurora. One protester reportedly hit a car with their fist at one stop along the way. The behavior was quickly reprimanded by organizers.

Protests during the last few weeks have had the added complication of armed right-wing militias making an appearance. The protests on Saturday were no exception, as Twitter was alight with warnings about the so-called Pencil Dick Brigade crashing the memorial and moving on to interfere with the SlutWalk. Organizers of the march changed their original ending location from the Capitol to Cheeseman Park due to the potential danger. The online threats stood in contrast to prior marches. Taha’Blu said they’ve only come across a single counter-protester at a previous year’s march.

Despite the complications, the mood was still positive by the end of the night. Under the dim light of Cheeseman Park, Taha’Blu employed her megaphone to arrange return rides for any protester that left their car at the City of Takayama Park, where the march started. The self-identified sluts continued chanting, waving homemade signs and laughing even as they left the park. 

SlutWalk may appear like a niche movement reserved for sex workers or sexual assault survivors. However, Sixxxkiller made it clear that anyone is welcome as long as their views on body autonomy and consent culture align with that of the movement. 

“We all deserve to be in on this fight,” she said.

//Video by Polina Saran | polinasarana@gmail.com