Stepping Stone, the Dartmouth-based non-profit that supports sex workers in Nova Scotia, was honoured with an award from the Human Rights Commission of Nova Scotia.

Alex MacDonnell, the executive director at Stepping Stone, accepted the award on behalf of Stepping Stone at a ceremony in Halifax on Friday. MacDonnell said she accepting the award was a chance to teach others about sex work and how Stepping Stone supports its clients.

“I think it’s amazing because sex work is such a taboo topic and I feel like this is a move in the right direction in trying to eliminate the stigma,” MacDonnell said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner Friday afternoon.

“The more that I get out there and speak and talk about what we do, it’ll help reduce the stigma around sex work and get people talking a little more about it.”

According to a press release, the awards are presented by the commission each year to “recognize the important work of community organizers, grassroots advocates, activists, researchers, educators, and others who demonstrate a commitment to advancing human rights through their work.”

A grey two-story house with a wheelchair ramp out front. A few shrubs decorate the front yard
Stepping Stone’s new home in north end Dartmouth. Photo: Suzanne Rent

In early October, Stepping Stone moved into a new building in north Dartmouth. Clients are now visiting the drop-in centre and taking part in programs that opened on Monday.

“We received really positive feedback [from the clients],” MacDonnell said. “The fact that we’re all under one roof now, so if they need to see any of the staff, they can go upstairs or down and we can meet them. The last time we were at two different locations, so that wasn’t accessible. They are so excited. They feel like it’s theirs. They’re very proud of the space.”

MacDonnell said recent programs included a massage clinic, a vaccine clinic, and Christmas crafts. She said they’re now getting ready for their holiday party.

New space ‘put Stepping Stone on the map’

MacDonnell said the new space has also meant a chance to teach others about sex work and what Stepping Stone does.

“A lot of people have reached out and it kind of put Stepping Stone on the map,” MacDonnell said. “There’s a lot more recognition.”

MacDonnell said for 2023, she’d like to get funding for the transition housing on the second floor of the new building. That housing will be for clients who face barriers accessing housing elsewhere.

“Once we’re settled in here, probably after the Christmas party, that’ll be my biggest push, to get that up and running,” she said.

MacDonnell said more work still needs to be done to educate others about Stepping Stone and sex work in general.

“Just even me speaking today, a lot of people came up to me afterward and said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you existed,’ or ‘Thank you for existing.’ Just starting those conversations, I think, will help reduce the stigma around sex work.”

Other winners of the awards included Daniel N. Paul who received the inaugural Wel-lukwen Award; a group of students from Northumberland Regional High School in Alma, Pictou County, who were honoured for their work to provide free food, clothing and school supplies through a program called The Karma Closet; journalist Michael Tutton for his reporting on issues affecting people with disabilities; and Terena Francis for her work to on education and advocacy on issues of importance to Mi’kmaq culture.

Carolann Wright received an award named after the late Burnley Allan (Rocky) Jones in recognition work around social justice and economic prosperity for people of African descent.

A white woman with chin length auburn hair and blue eyes, wearing a bright blue sweater

Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent

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