“The idea of running for office and being a politician kind of makes me throw up in my mouth a little,” admits Alexandra Hunt with a sheepish grin. It’s an unorthodox take from a woman currently running for Congress to represent Pennsylvania’s 3rd district (PA-03). Then again, unorthodox is kind of her brand.
Since announcing her candidacy as the first known former sex worker to run for Congress last February, Hunt, 28, has become recognised by the public as a “former stripper” and “trauma survivor”, identifiers that harken back to Hunt’s decade-old stint as a dancer to help put herself through college at the University of Richmond.
Suffice to say, however, she’s made relative peace with being regarded as such – even poking fun at the often puritanical sensationalism of it all via “Elect Hoes” merchandise and a series of expository TikToks. For Hunt, it’s not so much a scarlet letter as it is a way to connect with people who keenly understand that existing in the current US landscape is more expensive than ever – from skyrocketing costs in education to healthcare to housing – and quite simply, sex work in all of its varying forms has become more common as a result.
“Political consultants and advisers are worried how my past could be used against me and I understand that,” says Hunt. “There have been so many insults and assumptions about my character because of it, but at the end of the day, that just means I know what it means to struggle to survive and be dehumanised by politicians and policy, so I can relate to folks through those means.”
Like many progressives currently making a play for elected office, the former public health researcher, community organiser and New York native has long considered herself politically engaged despite a lack of political aspirations. Inspired by what she considers government inaction surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, Hunt, who was working as a data manager at a biopharmaceutical company at the time, decided no amount of organising within her community would match the reach or resources an elected official would have.
“When the pandemic first struck, I would drive by the nearest food distribution site and see these enormous lines that would wrap for miles down the street. I realised then how food insecure the people of Philadelphia are and how many people did not have the means to combat this crisis. No one was coming to help us, and that’s when I kind of went, ‘what are you waiting for?’”
Thus far, Hunt has been critical of the Democratic establishment, and judging by the overall lack of support from anyone on that side of the aisle at the moment, one might assume they’ve taken notice. Make no mistake, her race hasn’t been an entirely lonely one.
Running on a medicare for all, criminal justice reform, environmental justice platform, Hunt is quick to mention the support she’s received from fellow progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders’s staffers, sex workers and constituents in her own backyard – though some of them, she says, have a bit of trouble looking her in the eye. But Hunt’s increasing interest and mounting encouragement haven’t come without sacrifice.
“Housing justice groups, prison abolition groups, disabled folks are all within the campaign and our growing movement. They’re not always the people with money so they get overlooked, but having their support and involvement has been really important to me. But with every action and revolution, there’s an equal and opposite reaction and counter-revolution.”
In December, Hunt left her day job after she discovered she’d long been underpaid for her position, and just before she announced her campaign, she was asked to leave her role as a coach in a recreational soccer organisation after raising concerns about inappropriate behaviour on the part of fellow staff.
Though her notability as the “former stripper” candidate has garnered Hunt more attention than the average first-time candidate for Congress, with every step is a lingering anticipation of her past being used against her by her opponent, incumbent Rep Dwight Evans, who has served in the house since 2016, and a new fear that after the race is said and done, repercussions from her transparency will be left.
“I don’t plan on being a career politician. Will I be marginalised in society for being so vocal about this? I think that is a very real possibility.”
That said, no backlash is enough for Hunt to turn back now. Too much is at stake, especially for those who most identify with her and depend on policy changes informed by her past work. Amid an enduring, evolving pandemic and little legal protection for those in the sex industry, it’s sex workers who are seriously suffering from a lack of representation in elected office.
‘Will I be marginalised in society for being so vocal about this? I think that is a very real possibility’
(Alexandra Hunt campaign)
“Repealing Fosta/Sesta, laws that have severe repercussions as it pertains to the safety of sex workers online, must be done to allow sex workers online to conduct their business and assess whether they want to meet with a client. There’s also a need to get sex workers out of prisons, to provide expunctions and to prevent discrimination from banks and credit cards,” explains Hunt. “Sex workers are running their own small businesses and that needs to be respected by implementing policy to protect them from harm as well as predatory banks and credit card companies.”
For reasons thought to be due to redistricting, the date of the primary election has yet to be announced. As the primary race continues to tighten, Hunt is sure to get continued interest in her background, for better and perhaps for worse. Of the Democratic Party, it will be revealing who backs Hunt, who doesn’t, and who remains silent.
But more broadly, this race might just be an indicator of where many voters land on truly supporting and sustaining safer, fairer sex work and women working to destigmatise sex in American politics like Hunt and before her, Katie Hill who was forced to resign from Congress following a nude photo leak. Despite all of this, one thing is certain: she knows where she stands.
“I really hope that this race will slam down some doors, bias and stigma against sex workers, and that in the future, if someone who’s running for elected office has a nude photo leaked, the same protections that powerful people so often enjoy the benefits of, will be extended to those on the ground who can’t guard against the repercussions of just living a messy, ordinary life.”