Carol Leigh

Carol Leigh has been working as a prostitute, activist and an artist in the Bay Area for more than thirty years. Since the late seventies, she has written and performed political satire as "Scarlot Harlot," and produced work in a variety of genres on women's issues including work based on her experience in San Francisco massage parlors. Leigh is one of the "mothers" of the sex workers' rights movement in the US and internationally- in fact, she coined the term "sex work" in the late seventies. Last Gasp released Leigh's book, Unrepentant Whore: The Collected Work of Scarlot Harlot in Spring 2004, available at your local bookstore or at In 2006 Leigh received a prestigious grant from the Creative Work Fund for the Sex Worker Media Library in collaboration with the Center for Sex and Culture. Since 1999 she has directed the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival, collaborating for many years with Erica Fabulous and Laure McElroy.

Carol Leigh is a long time spokesperson for COYOTE, the sex worker rights organization, founded by Margo St. James. For several years Leigh coordinated a street outreach project through the Coalition on Prostitution, providing condoms, and health and safety information to street workers in San Francisco. She co-founded BAY SWAN, Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network, organizing sex worker rights advocates employed as outreach workers at various agencies. She founded Trafficking Policy Research Project which compiles information about 'the Effects of U.S. Trafficking Laws and Policies.' She is webmistress BAYSWAN'S Prostitutes' Education Network Website, which features some of the most extensive information about sex workers' rights and issues on the web (English). Leigh volunteered at the HIV Prevention Project (needle exchange) in the women's site food program for several years. As a founding member of ACT UP (in San Francisco), Leigh organized a campaign against mandatory HIV testing of prostitutes. She was seated on the San Francisco Board of Supervisor's Task Force on Prostitution representing San Francisco's Commission on the Status of Women. As a member of SWOP, she was one of the authors of Measure Q, Berkeley's Ballot Initiative to Decrminalize Prostitution and was treasurer for Yes on Prop, a San Francisco ballot measure for decriminalization. She has worked with community groups as a consultant regarding sex workers' rights in Hungary, in Taiwan, Hong Kong and in South Africa.

The Adventures of Scarlot Harlot, Leigh's one-woman play, was featured at The National Festival of Women's Theater in Santa Cruz in 1983. For three decades Leigh has performed at clubs, theaters, rallies and other venues including the Miss Haight Ashbury Beauty Pageant at the Great American Music Hall, the COYOTE Hooker's Ball, the former Holy City Zoo and many more. Leigh recently returned from a performance art tour of the United States as part of the Sex Workers Art Show tour. ( She was part of the Sex Worker Art Show Tour (2002-2006), which visits 26 cities in the US. For the past several years Leigh has traveled internationally, performing at arts festivals including Venice's Biennale 2001, and Taiwan's cultural festival "100 Years of Legal Prostitution."

Carol Leigh has been producing video since 1985. Leigh was trained in a variety of media, attending Boston University's Master's program in Creative Writing (the semester that Anne Sexton committed suicide) where she began her artistic career as a poet. She studied painting and design at Lake Placid Art School and Monserrat in New York. Trained at Tucson, Arizona's Community Television, Leigh produced an award winning weekly public access TV show for over ten years. In the 90s Leigh won numerous awards for her work, which features a range of genres including guerrilla documentary, narratives, comedy, industrials and music videos. She has produced promotional videos for Bay Area community service organizations including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Needle Exchange and Women's Positive Legal Action Network. She was a recipient of funding awards from ART MATTERS, the FILM ARTS FOUNDATION and Video Databank's LYNN BLUMENTHAL MEMORIAL FUND.

Carol Leigh AKA Scarlot Harlot received numerous awards for her video documentaries on women's issues and gay/lesbian issues, including three awards from Visions of US at the American Film Institute. Leigh is the director and founder of the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Video Festival. In 1999 Leigh co-directed Annie Sprinkle's Herstory of Porn, which premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. She directed many erotic videos or 'feminist porn' for House O' Chicks and for Erospirit Reasearch. Leigh's video, BLIND EYE TO JUSTICE: HIV+ Women in California Prisons narrated by Angela Davis won Best Documentary winner at the Black International Cinema in Berlin. Leigh currently curates and directs the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Video Festival ( Leigh taught digital video production at the International Center for Digital Art, Center for Electronic Arts and other art schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Over 100 articles have been published by or about Leigh/Harlot in books, newspapers and magazines. She has appeared on THE ROSEANNE SHOW, DONAHUE, NIGHTLINE, ACCESS AMERICA, GERALDO and numerous other national and international TV and radio shows. She is a contributor to several anthologies including Uncontrollable Bodies: Testimonies of Identity and Culture, Bay Press 1994; Gauntlet, Issue #7 (Guest Editor-In Defense of Prostitution); Policing Public Sex (South End Press, 1996); Sex Work (Cleis Press, 1987), and Whores and Other Feminists (Routlegde, 1997).


Annie Sprinkle's Amazing World of Orgasm

2004, 53:00 minutes, colour, English

Critical Writing

We Are All Living With AIDS
by Catherine Saalfield.
News with a View: Video Witnesses Festival of New Journalism
by Janet Sorenson. Afterimage, May 1991, v. 18, no. 10.
Videos Offer New Perspectives
by Elizabeth Licata. The Buffalo News, Feb. 19, 1991.