Let’s Talk About Sex!

sistersong-lets-talk-about-sexThat wasn’t just to get your attention, y’all. The title of the day-long workshop I went to before the Sexual Freedom Summit officially began was “Let’s Talk About Sex; Love, Legislation, and Leadership Institute.”

*Yes, months later, I’m finally writing about it!

The workshop was led by Monica Simpson, the Executive Director of SisterSong, the Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.  I had previously seen her speak at CLPP, and she has this aura that just radiates love and positivity. Aside from that, she’s also a ridiculously amazing activist.

To start off, SisterSong is absolutely amazing. This is the organization that coined the term reproductive justice” which is more inclusive and acknowledges the massive amount of intersectionality that can be overlooked when we merely talk about reproductive rights. The bare bones definition is about our rights as women to have kids, not have kids, and to parent the kids we have. The women at SisterSong put it best:

 “One of the key problems addressed by Reproductive Justice is the isolation of abortion from other social justice issues that concern communities of color: issues of economic justice, the environment, immigrants’ rights, disability rights, discrimination based on race and sexual orientation, and a host of other community-centered concerns. These issues directly affect an individual woman’s decision-making process. By shifting the focus to reproductive oppression—the control and exploitation of women, girls, and individuals through our bodies, sexuality, labor, and reproduction—rather than a narrow focus on protecting the legal right to abortion, SisterSong is developing a more inclusive vision of how to build a new movement.”

This workshop examined different efforts in the movement, figuring out where we were personally in our leadership/activist journey, and discussing how to go forward.

One of the panelists for this workshop, and the Keynote speaker for the conference was Carmen Vasquez, an LGBT activist. She quoted Ivy Young who said “I what I do because I have a profound love for people who deserve more than they’ve got.” And I guess that sums up everything. It can get so hard to read about the bat shit crazy stuff the other side is doing, and even experience it on a first hand basis, but we have to keep fighting! Always! I read a quote somewhere about fighting for equality that said something like “don’t forget, you aren’t in the outcome department, you’re in the footwork department.”

While a lot was discussed over the 8 hour session, I want to focus on the theme of religion, which came up a lot.

To be sure, there is an interesting relationship between reproductive rights issues and religion, and it is a knee jerk reaction to assume that folks on this side of the movement aren’t religious. Interestingly enough, the majority of the people on the panel throughout the day identified as Christians. Three of them really stuck out to me.

One woman, Marietta works as a sexual health educator who does a lot of her outreach work in churches. She was a very cool lady, and in her introduction she called herself a “3rd generation agitator,” which resonated with me. She discussed different instances of butting heads with various pastors or priests who called what she was doing sinful. “How can you expect folks to make healthy choices when you use unhealthy rationale to tell them it isn’t okay?” People are sexual beings, and teaching that a natural part of life is inherently shameful is just wrong and, obviously, ineffective.

I was surprised to see that two people from the Unitarian Universalist Association were speaking. The first was named Jess (great name) and she informed us that reproductive justice was the UAA’s specific issue they were putting at the forefront of their social justice work. Next, we heard from a minister named Rob. After my personal experience with religious institutions and everything I’ve seen done against women’s rights in the name of religion, I can’t help but tense up when I see a man with the clergy collar. It immediately makes me think of repression. So, hearing a guy in that collar talk about how important it is that we respect the life and conscience of a woman when it comes to her reproductive life was insanely gratifying.

He noted that for  so much of what we care about, the main opposition we receive is motivated by religion. “We NEED people to know that there are religious institutions that are on our side.” He said that more people of faith need to call liars out that use religion as a tool to keep people down. This is definitely true. When I get into discussions with my dad (who was actually in the seminary for a number of years) who is pro-choice, he’s noted that it is in spite of being Catholic, because it’s just what he thinks is right. I’ve tried to remind him that there ARE groups out there, Catholics for Choice and Faith Aloud to name a couple that actually use the bible itself for arguments that support a woman’s right to an abortion. People need to know that they aren’t going against their faith by being pro-choice.

The last thing I noted from him was his criticism of the movement itself. He compared our fight right now to the game whack-a-mole, and he wasn’t wrong. In so many states there are various bills and restrictions and different ad campaigns that pop up, and simply jumping from incident to incident isn’t enough. “We need to change the game altogether.”