In December, 1995, the Sex Workers' Alliance of Toronto lost one of its most eccentric members. Danny Cockerline, a founder of the Prostitutes' Safe Sex Project (PSSP) and of many other projects, was 35 when he died. He leaves behind a colourful career in the sex biz and in prostitute activism. A freelancer, he ran his own ad in the Toronto Yellow Pages -- and, like so many enthusiastic earners, had to tone down the original wording before the Yellow Pages would accept his listing. As a member of CORP (Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes), he was part of an effort to decriminalize prostitution in Canada's Supreme Court -- an optimistic bid that nearly succeeded.
A Canadian prostitute who
When I met Danny, he was taking a break from Canada, and he had embarked on a voyage that would take him to New York, London, Melbourne, Sydney and many other points on the map. Wherever he went, he seemed to find a brothel or a sex magazine that would provide him with business. When he got to Bangkok, he sent me a postcard saying that "the world's prostitution capital" was "so cheap, I feel like an imperialist pig!"
When a split occurred in CORP, two spokespeople -- Valerie Scott and Alexandre Highcrest -- left, taking the CORP name with them, and Danny became a member of SWAT (Sex Workers Alliance of Toronto). He was active in CASH (Coalition Advocating Safer Hustling) and he raised a few eyebrows (including my own) with his confrontational antics at the first CASH conference. In Toronto's NOW Magazine, Gerald Hannon described Danny as "an outrageous presence at sex-workers conferences and AIDS conferences the world over." At one AIDS conference, Danny and Valerie Scott made a simple statement about AIDS by soliciting the other participants -- lecturers, researchers, and others -- offering them "safe sex for sale." While Danny was one of our movements' more innovative and accomplished political hacks, he didn't just toe the party line. When I sent him a copy of a satirical attack on a group of spiritually inclined hookers (referred to as the "New Age Old Bags") he wrote to tell me that he "loved it" -- and spared me the lectures about ageism.
Still, Danny believed firmly in political solutions -- whether addressing the problems of prostitutes or of a nation. When we first met, he told me about his mother's French-Canadian ancestry. Naturally, our conversation turned to Quebec. Danny's response was a surprise. He told me that if the province of Ontario (where he was born) could separate from the rest of Canada, "we would be a powerhouse of a nation because we wouldn't have all those other provinces to support." In December, Danny enacted a similarly unexpected secession, and left us all -- voluntarily. But his contributions, which are countless, remain.