Henri June Bynx is a co-founder of the Ishtar Collective based out of Montpelier and Burlington, Vermont. Henri is an outspoken advocate for the rights of marginalized Vermonters, specifically speaking to the experiences of and dangers posed to adult consensual sex workers by our current legislature and culture.
Sex work has long been vilified and perceived as a dirty or morally incorrect line of work, and this stigma continues to impact the safety of working conditions for sex workers worldwide. Sex work happens regardless of whether laws restrict it or not, and where it is made illegal, sex workers are less able to protect themselves and are subject to higher rates of violence. While arguing for the repeal of Montpelier ordinances restricting sex work, Bynx said: “Members of your community who engage in consensual sex work are asking to be recognized as human beings. We are not trying to evangelize our industry.” (Bynx, 2022). Henri, who uses she/they pronouns, takes a bold position in identifying herself as a sex worker and advocating for the rights of others and improved working conditions across the state and the nation.
[Online photo]. (2021). https://www.ishtarcollective.org/
“I think it’s fair to say almost no one wants disruption. I think that what almost everyone does want is something better. And the art of disruption, then, is to be able to figure out what the likely path is to get you from here to that better place with the least amount of appropriate fallout.” (Raz, 2014, January 17)
In their work with the Ishtar Collective, Bynx works to provide free organic food for marginalized Vermonters by growing it themselves, along with the help of many others within the collective. This allows the Ishtar Collective to provide vegetables to the free Montpelier Community Fridge and to Another Way, a drop-in center also serving low-income and marginalized Vermonters.
Ishtar has plans to expand the ways in which food from the garden can be distributed as production increases over the following years, including home delivery for those with limited mobility. The Ishtar Collective not only benefits those in need of healthy food, but also provides direct support to survivors of sex trafficking. Founded in 2020 by Bynx and J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly, the collective has grown in membership over the years.
“[T]he first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself. It takes guts to stand out like that. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader. …If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to stand up and join in.” (Sivers, 2010, February.)
[Online photo]. (2021). https://www.ishtarcollective.org/
Sadly, the dangers facing marginalized Vermonters like those who keep the Collective going are very real, and these threats take their toll.
Since founding the Ishtar Collective in 2020, we have been forced to memorialize the lives of two members, whose deaths were preventable. The tragedy of losing them begs us to question how we can do better….I am not being hyperbolic when I say that upholding and endorsing oppressive language is constructive to a death warrant when it pertains to marginalized peoples. (Bynx, 2022)
What strikes me about Henri June Bynx as a leader is that they are working not only from the ground up as a marginalized Vermonter themselves, but are also affecting positive change laterally toward those who are facing different challenges in the same place. This allows for the breaking down of barriers that otherwise separate us from creating collective power, such as harmful stereotypes and community isolation. When we begin to dismantle false divisions created by ignorance, we open ourselves to the opportunity for greater satisfaction as community members. According to the Women’s Theological Center (n.d.), “What most of us tend to notice about oppression is the effect on bodies and minds. The effect on the spirit is often overlooked.” The community work that the Ishtar Collective is doing clearly holds whole-person wellness in high regard, from the care with which vegetables are grown to the advocacy for good working conditions.
Henri is the kind of leader who can inspire with action and words because they are passionate about the work that they do. This brings to mind transformational leadership: “These leaders tend to be emotionally intelligent, energetic, and passionate. They are not only committed to helping the organization achieve its goals, but also to helping group members fulfill their potential.” (Cherry, 2019, May 20). Also a musician, it is no surprise that Bynx is a compelling writer and speaker, a skill undoubtedly honed through practice.
Bynx performs with Lavendula, “a femme-led folk trio [who]…started as a weekend busking band for a farmer’s market, but have since branched out to share our melodies and incantations beyond our Saturday ritual.” (Lavendula, 2022)
“There’s a nonsense belief which is that leaders have this glib George Clooney-like or even Adolf Hitler-like affect to them – and that you need to have that in order to lead, that charisma leads to leadership. But in fact, in all my research, the opposite is true. Charisma doesn’t cause you to become a leader. Being a leader makes you charismatic.” (Raz, 2014, January 17)
There are times when a leader is asked to step up, but there are many more opportunities for concerned community members to become leaders when they notice a problem, and develop leadership skills through the act of learning and solving the problem. It is helpful to have an abundance of resources, but many skills can be creatively applied to effect positive change. Issa Nyaphaga detailed for us his experience growing up under religious oppression, and then dedicating his adult life to improving conditions in his homeland and the world through art:
“For me, power is not only when you have a lot of money, or when you have a gun in your hand. Or when you can make laws to marginalize other people. …I believe in power of love. Power to create. Power to organize. Power to transform. In fact, art has become my source of power to impact the world. In my journey toward the world, I do not only use body painting for myself, I share it with the rest of society.” (Nyaphaga, 2018, January 30)
I look forward to seeing what the Ishtar Collective continues to accomplish in the coming years. I believe that Henri’s work within this organization will be a great benefit to Vermont and will help to move our culture toward one of improved community relations beyond what we have considered possible in this state, as well as better support for marginalized Vermonters.
Bynx, H. (2022, May 23). Henri June Bynx: Amending Burlington charter is a big first step. VT Digger. https://vtdigger.org/2022/05/23/henri-june-bynx-amending-burlington-charter-is-a-big-first-step/
Cherry, K. (2019, May 20). Leadership styles and frameworks you should know. https://www.verywellmind.com/leadership-styles-279531
Lavendula. (2022). Dirty old town [Song]. On Lavendula. BandCamp. https://lavendula.bandcamp.com/releases
Mann, R. (2022, August 25). Montpelier city council repeals sex work measures. WCAX. https://www.wcax.com/2022/08/26/montpelier-city-council-repeals-ordinances-banning-prostitution/
Nyaphaga, I. (2018, Jan. 30). A lifelong struggle for freedom of expression [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/gr9aj_LV3I8
Raz, G. (Host). (2014, January 17). Seth Godin: Can ordinary people become leaders? [Radio broadcast]. NPR. http://www.npr.org/2014/01/17/261096538/can-ordinary-people-become-leaders
Sivers, D. (2010, February). Derek Sivers: How to start a movement [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en
Women’s Theological Center. (n.d.). What Is spiritual leadership?https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qyGbkg8E_j78dtPTzCtHfrmkRBavzl0g/view
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APA cite in text as: (Pierce, 2022)
APA cite in full References as: Pierce, K. (2022). Henri June Bynx & Free Food from Your Local Sex Workers. Vermont Psychology. https://wp.me/p4elXk-Or
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Kensi Pierce is, formally, a passionate student of psychology and naturalist studies, grown in New England. They aspire to cultivate deep and meaningful relationships both interpersonally and between their many areas of interest, believing that human people thrive in tandem with a thriving environment. Kensi’s learning career was built on the unconventional grounds of homeschooling, which informs their desire to learn from diverse sources. They often think about how our bodies are collectives of millions of organisms.