Its mission is to "amplify" the voices of these people through storytelling and the media, as well as to fight for legislative action to ensure protections and fight discrimination. The majority of sex workers are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, according to Ray. She said she is not sure why, but speculates it may be societal discrimination.
"A lot of LGBT people have challenges accessing mainstream jobs, particularly when they are younger and they enter the sex trade before they have gotten job skills. They have had altercations with family and need to get out and make a living."
It's a hot-button issue for transgender workers, who fight against the perception that "the only thing they do is sell sex," said Ray. "But trans women, especially, lack access to jobs and legal protections."
One of RedUP's recent initiatives in New York State was to back a ban on the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution in legal cases. Police are allowed to use as evidence in court the fact that a defendant on prostitution charges was carrying condoms at the time of arrest.
"We worked with a coalition of people to help produce research that showed this was a public health crisis," said Ray. "People are often profiled as sex workers for carrying condoms. ...The condom bill seriously affects sexual health. It keeps people from protecting themselves."
Ray said RedUP doesn't expect prostitution to be legalized any time soon -- though laws vary from state to state -- but she is more concerned about existing laws that create barriers for people to access justice.
"Most sex workers," she said, "never speak to their legislators."
For sex workers like Anna, putting her own experiences into words has been the beginning of writing a longer memoir about her years in the trade. For the last 18 months, she has been out of the sex business and works as a community organizer.
But RedUP's work has inspired her.
"It really empowered me to connect with other folks in the community," Anna said. "It meant a lot developing my voice as a writer and as an activist to tell my personal story. It meant a lot professionally and artistically."