Equality Has No Specific Gender or Sexual Orientation

The Pride Rally was an unforgettable experience that has made me view love in a completely different way. Despite being heterosexual, I have always been an advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community. Going to the pride rally this past weekend has opened my eyes about how love should be encouraged no matter the sex of the individuals who share the love. At the rally, I was surrounded by people who were supportive and not afraid to speak up about what they feel is right, true activists. Not only was the LGBTQ community acknowledged during the rally, but the speakers also were sure to express their gratitude towards the heterosexuals who came to show support.

Attending the pride rally was one of the first times I have truly felt welcomed and appreciated at an event in New York City. Love and positivity filled the atmosphere. One phrase that was said various times during the rally was, “love is love” and I have never understood the true meaning of that phrase until being at the rally, surrounded by people who weren’t afraid to show love for one another. One of the most memorable speakers at the rally shared his story while sending an important message to everyone in the audience. He openly admitted to being HIV Positive, showing that he was not afraid to share something very personal with audience members at the rally because he viewed everyone as his family. He mentioned that everyone in the LGBTQ community is in the fight for equality together and no one is ever alone or should have to fear not being accepted. This speaker embodied “pride” in every aspect of the word.

The rally was also meaningful because the LGBTQ community is fighting the same fight as women. Similarly to the LGBTQ community, the women’s movement encourages equality, support, and an end to discrimination. Just as the LGBTQ community wants people to recognize their love is no different from the love of heterosexual couples, women want society to understand that we are no different from men and should have the same opportunities.

I am glad to have been given the chance to march in the NYC pride parade with my non-profit organization, Hollaback. As I march I will hold my head high as a young woman and as an individual who understands that “love is love.” Gender and sexual orientation should never limit the rights that an individual has in society.

Do What You Love and Love Who You Love!

Earlier this week, Ada surprised us with front row tickets to see this funny woman:

Amy Poehler was a member of the SNL cast from 2001-2008, stars in NBC’s Parks & Recreation, and has earned for four Emmy nominations and one Golden Globe nominations.

It was such a treat to hear her talk, and our seats weren’t too bad either! Amy was incredibly hilarious and down-to-earth. My favorite piece of advice that she shared with the young audience members was to “do what you love.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that expression… and it never gets old. Working full business days has reminded me of how much time is invested at the workplace, and how important it is to find a career that I am passionate about. So, hopefully I can narrow down my passions during the next couple of months in NYC. I guess that’s what this summer is all about!

The following afternoon, the Moxies took a trip to NYC’s Gay Pride Rally. We watched in an amphitheater on the Hudson River, surrounded by rainbow flags and food booths. I had never been immersed in an environment with so much freedom to express his and her sexual orientation. It was certainly liberating, however, I couldn’t help but remember the LGBT attitudes of Duke University’s home state. A little more than a month ago, North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman. With that recent policy decision in mind, I mourned for the suppressed LGBT community in North Carolina.

So, to add on to Ms. Poehler’s commentary on life; “do what you love and love who you love!” Both ambitions require courage, ambition, and trueness of self. But, at the end of the day, I think that it is a happy and healthy goal.

 

Reproduction, Reproduction.

The term “reproductive justice” has been all the rage lately. Throughout the media, you can hear people speaking for or against women’s possession over their bodies. After visiting Choices on Friday, an ambulatory surgery center that provides gynecological care, prenatal care, and yes, abortions, I was all on board the reproductive justice train.

I mean, with Merle Hoffman speaking of her experiences, how could you not be on board? After reading SisterSong’s definition of reproductive justice however, I had to rethink my experience at Choices as well as discussions being held about women’s control of their reproduction. It seems to me that reproductive justice is something essential to black feminism and minority women’s lives in general. And although Ms. Hoffman is not a minority, her clinic and her work deals with minority women, making it more than gynecology but a form of reproductive justice. SisterSong links women’s oppression to their reproduction. As their website states, “Reproductive Justice addresses the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities that we have to control our reproductive destiny.” Inequality of opportunities has much more to do with reproduction than Roe vs. Wade. It’s about access. Access to birth control, gynecologists, condoms. That’s why Choices is so crucial. Not only was it located in the community of these women (as well as a major stop on public transportation), but it also provided them with on the spot Medicaid. Now women, young women, without insurance are able to go to the doctor and learn about safe sex, measures to take to ensure their health, and if necessary, receive an abortion.

Reproductive justice, while tied to women of color, affects all women in the end. Minority women are not the only ones getting abortions out there. Battered women, poor women, white women. We all deserve the rights to control our own bodies, we all deserve the right to determine our own futures and for some of us, our uteri are the first step. We have the right to provide our children with the life they deserve. At Third Wave Foundation, we take it a step further and ask what can we do for the LGBTQ community. Queer women, trans-people all deserve these reproductive rights. Rights to receive hormones, to feel comfortable with their bodies while at the doctor. How can we move reproductive justice away from being solely about traditional women and make it encompass the human, regardless of gender?

Fun Things:

Rep. Gwen Moore discusses how reproductive justice affects black children:

“SO, who here’s had an abortion?”

Sunny is a rising junior working at Hollaback, which combats street harassment locally and globally.

Silence.
“Well, I have.”

In part, that’s why Merle Hoffman is so inspiring.  Clearly a brilliant businessperson, she’s brazenly passionate about her work, and unafraid of encountering opposition, but she also, deeply, personally knows what she’s talking about.  From the start, she shocked us into wondering why we were so shocked—if one third of women in America have abortions sometime in their lives, why don’t we ever talk about it like this?

Headed to Choices, I didn’t know what to expect.  I definitely identify as pro-choice, but thinking about abortion as a theoretical issue is vastly different from visiting a clinic, or thinking about abortion in your own life.  I’ve never been involved in advocating for reproductive rights, or even felt comfortable enough with my knowledge on the issue to contribute much of an opinion.

But listening to Merle talk about it, it just made sense— a woman should be able to choose when, if ever, she wants to have a child.  Abortion is legal, and a woman should be able to access her reproductive rights regardless of which state she lives in or her financial situation.

The national conversation on abortion has been especially rough in the past year—from personhood laws, to bans limiting the abortion timeframe, to the Georgia state senator’s comparison of pregnant women to pregnant livestock.  For many women, the right to abortion is threatened by cost and local access to a provider.  That’s why Merle has dedicated her life to this clinic, which provides counseling and reproductive health services (both pre-natal care and abortion services) to ensure that all women, including Medicare recipients, have access to their right to choose.

Although Hollaback has chosen to avoid taking a stance on politicized topics like abortion, I do see a connection with the way Merle was so open about her experience.  Hollaback is all about gaining the courage to speak out, break the silence on something that is a big part of so many women’s lives.

 

The Power in Choices

           Everyday we make choices whether we want to or not.  Sometimes we have really great options to choose from and other times we aren’t so lucky.  But everyone has options and everyone gets to choose for themselves.  In America today there is one choice women have that is very controversial–abortion.

            In the South when someone begins to discuss abortion the conversation always turns into a religious argument.  Having been raised in this environment it was really difficult for me to completely understand what was good or bad about abortion.  But on Friday our cohort spent an afternoon with Merle Hoffman at the Choices Clinic, and for the first time I walked away from a conversation about abortion feeling like I really understood what the fight was over.  You see, people try to make  a religious argument that is wrapped up solely in the fact that you are ending the potential life, but what they don’t discuss is why a woman shouldn’t have the right to make that choice for herself.  At the end of the day, this fight is over power.

            Who has the ability to make life and death decisions?  Capital punishment and sending troops to war are two times in which the government is making a life and death decision for  individuals.  Who makes up a majority of the government? Men.  Now don’t get me wrong I appreciate the government and the work they do and I’m not a man hater, BUT it does seem a little hypocritical to allow themselves to make life or death decisions and not the rest of the world, especially on such personal matters like a woman’s pregnancy.  And also who are they, men, to make such strong choices when a woman’s life, body, and state of being are at risk.  Do they know what it is like to be pregnant?  I don’t think so. While I don’t know what it is like yet, I do know that I’m not ready to be a mother and I feel like there are many girls who feel the same way.  So why can’t we choose what is right or wrong for us?

            While this is a fight over power and giving women the right to have a choice, there is also a greater struggle–the stigma surrounding having or not having an abortion.  In today’s society a young girl can’t win, if she gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion people will judge her or if she decides to go through with the pregnancy she is also judged.  Was it not just a decade or two ago that women and men were getting married in their teens?  Having a child at 20 was not uncommon, so why now is it?  Who are we to judge another for something that may not have been in their control.  Today we are fortunate to have multiple contraceptive techniques, but sometimes mistakes or accidents happen.  I believe it is time to focus on prevention.  Okay, pro-life people, so you don’t want to give women the choice of having an abortion, so then focus on preventative measures because the fact of the matter is my generation is sexually active and I don’t see that changing for future generations.  If abortions can’t be an option, give young women some chance to prevent ever needing to go there, help make contraceptive measures more openly available.

            I believe we have spent too many years fighting this battle from a religious lens; it is time to move beyond this and look at the reality of the situation.  Young people are sexually active, and if we don’t allow women to have choices there are going to be a lot of children in this world being raised in environments no child should ever have to experience.  Stop the religious bickering and look at the facts, this world is a scary place even when growing up in a happy household- imagine having to grow up in a household where it is clear you were never wanted and you are just a burden to your parent(s).  In many ways I think the availability of abortion and contraceptive options can decrease the amount of violence in this world, whether it is domestic or not.

            A choice–that is all I’m asking for.  Give me and the rest of women the ability to make choices for ourselves.  Give us power to deem what is right and wrong for our bodies and state of being.  I understand that in having an abortion we end the potential for a life, but allow me to make that decision for myself because nobody understands where I am mentally and physically better than I do.  All I’m asking is for power over my own body.  In choices, we have power.

 

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-??

Colleen is a rising junior interning at Legal Momentum for the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) in Manhattan. NJEP educates judges about gender inequities in the courts and the ways in which gender bias factor into civil, family, juvenile, and criminal law, and how to prevent it.

I feel in conflict with two very important identity markers—my Roman Catholic religion and my identity as a feminist. There is this war raging on about abortion both in my head and in the world around me. ­­As I trekked on the subway down to Queens on Friday afternoon, I was silenced by the unexpected.  I was on my way to Choices, a women’s health clinic that provides abortion services.  My little knowledge about abortion clinics included the HBO episode of Girls, when Hannah, Marnie, and Shoshanna are waiting for hours in the abortion clinic after Jessa decides to have an abortion, although Jessa is too frightened to go to the clinic herself.  Abortion is something rarely talked about, rarely portrayed in the media because it is considered ‘too controversial.’  It is as if there are only two polar sides of the argument…but what about the grey area in between the two extremes? Can I be religious and pro-choice? Can I be a feminist and pro-life?

Upon first arriving to the clinic, I felt a lump at the back of my throat and I was too squeamish to stand still.  My eyes wandered around the room to see patients waiting with their children seated by their side, a loved one holding their hand, or a few were sitting solitary and alone.  For some reason I had not thought about seeing actual patients, and my mind flooded with thoughts of how these women might be feeling, of what their stories were.  We were escorted back to Merle Hoffman’s office, the woman who created the whole clinic with her own personal funds, not wanting to accept money from anyone so that she could keep her vision of Choices intact.

As we settled around the table, Merle asked us expectantly, “So who here has ever had an abortion?” Silence. I felt my mind imploding, thinking, did she really just ask us that question? Is she expecting someone to divulge on such a personal subject as if she was asking who wanted a piece of gum? After the shock of the question subdued, I realized that Merle was making a political statement, whose paradigm is to drag the concept of abortion out of the deepest, darkest, dustiest corner of the closet.  In her question, Merle was normalizing the term abortion, putting it on equal footing with other types of procedures, such as a root canal or Lasik eye surgery.  She was erasing some of the stigma by repeatedly using the word ‘abortion’ and in doing so, desensitizing us to it.

We also took a tour of the clinic.  Walking around, I felt like I was invading the most intimate details of these women’s lives.  I even examined a surgery room, imagining how frightened, alone and scared I would feel with my legs on those stirrups, gripping the hand of an employee that I had just met.  I think most importantly, Merle showed me that women’s health clinics are all about providing women with choices. Like Shoshanna, Marnie, and Hannah in Girls, I learned that women’s health clinics support women in the right to choose how they want their future to pan out, through pre-natal care, ob/gyn services, and most obviously, abortions.  We came upon one of the surgeons, and it was a true out-of-body experience to hear about the unnaturalness of the abortion process in removing the uterine lining.  It seemed so barbaric to have to then search the tissue for the embryo, to be shipped off to some lab as if it were a science experiment. Although my mind wanted to defend women in their right to choose, my heart was telling me that this procedure felt wrong.

The whole afternoon I was thinking about Barbara Kruger’s work, Pro-life for the unborn, pro-death for the born.  The art provoked me to consider the woman who has to make the tough choice between abortion and giving birth.  I considered a pregnant teenager, either ostracized for being pregnant or outcast for having an abortion, a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. The unborn baby may have to grow up in extreme poverty, malnourished and unloved by their single mother that is barely scraping by.  Who would want a child to grow up in these conditions?  Is an abortion a better alternative?

Although my mind is still fuzzy on reconciling the two polar extremes on abortion…maybe it doesn’t have to be so black-and-white.  Maybe I can be pro-life for my body personally, but pro-choice for the 12-year-old girl who was raped by her brother or for the woman who already has two children and would not be able to handle the financial burden and emotional taxation of a third child.  My feminist identity wants women to be able to have control over their own bodies and have the abilities to make these tough choices by themselves, yet my Catholic identity could not bear to end the potential to life and love.  Abortion is complicated. Although the war is still waging in my mind, it’s time to have more open, honest conversations about abortion.

 

I think it is about time.

 

To the Savers of the World, to the Women

Anh, Colleen and I were walking back to our apartment from LM last Tuesday afternoon. At the time we were on 6th avenue and we passed a young white male who called out to us, “Save the world, Charlie’s Angels…”

We were a professionally dressed, multi-cultural triplet of women consisting of two brunettes and a blonde walking down 6th avenue, just leaving the mists of a feminist organization making big changes for women in this nation.We are all here to aid our organizations in saving the world one little piece of progress at a time. Since we are here under a framework of feminism it seems as though–to me at least–that women are those that are most violated by the world and by the same token, the ones that seem to have to bear the weight of it upon their shoulders in efforts to ‘save it’.

Reading Merle’s work, listening to her story and visiting her clinic made me wonder: How on earth can women save the world when we can barely hang onto the freedom to save our own bodies from events we do not desire. All of the recent and historical controversy over birth control and abortion represent nothing more but constant attempts to try to control the sovereignty a woman has over her own, personal property–her body. How can I be expected to control or influence events that could make the world–or some part of it–better if I can barely hang onto my own reproductive rights?

Merle told us that black women have abortions twice as much as white women. I think that this is due to a historical inaccessibility to equal education and economic opportunity. I think this is why Sistersong’s perspective is important. Arguably, reproductive rights can benefit minorities the most because they are the population that has been historically disadvantaged the most. And when you help the most marginalized people, everyone benefits.

I think that all of our organizations—like Choices Clinic—are saving the world by saving the rights of women (be they reproductive, economic, freedom from abuse, discrimination, etc.)

Women—and some men too—are the cradle of life, change, improvement and evolution. Whatever works for women, works for everyone (a little mantra I learned from my LM supervisor) which is why it makes perfect sense to tackle women’s rights in order to make this world a better one.

Saving the world sometimes can sound like an empty, superficial statement. But if people didn’t congregate and save my world as a black woman, I wouldn’t be at Duke; I wouldn’t be interning; in fact, nothing about my life would be as it is now. I’d like to dedicate this post to any woman anywhere who in some way protected the rights of her fellow sister and thus, protected the potential of this world to be fair, egalitarian and a good place to live for all sentient beings.

 

My Trip to Jamaica

Julia is a rising sophomore working with Sanctuary for Families.

As I sat on the Manhattan-bound F train, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Finally a moment to myself to digest what I had seen, to take in the women, the conversations, the momentary snapshots I had witnessed.  I was tired, hungry, and eager to be home.

6:30 pm: My mom asks me how my day was. “Uncomfortable,” I respond.

2:45 pm: We walk up the steps of the subway station and onto Jamaica Avenue in the heart of Queens. My short, bright skirt sticks out. I yank it down, hoping to show a little less leg than I originally intended. As we walk up the street and around the corner, I can feel the gazes of men carefully studying us, undressing us.

3:00 pm: We enter the Choices Clinic facility and are warmly welcomed by Crumbs cupcakes and bottles of water.  The place is not at all what I expected—it is clean, expansive, and modern. There are flat screen TVs on three different walls and comfortable chairs surrounding each.  Two senior staff members lead us to the back conference room where Merle Hoffman awaits us.

3:20 pm: For 20 minutes, Merle gives us a BRIEF synopsis of her incredible life.  Interning in Queens, debates across the world, trips to Russia—all point to a certain passion that has driven her work for over 40 years.  This passion is reproductive justice: the capacity for all women to make personal choices concerning the decision to have children or not to.  “Ready to take a tour?” she asks. I was ready. I am pro-choice—why wouldn’t I be ready?

3:50 pm: I am not ready. As we pass through the halls of the Choices clinic, I can’t help but look at the patients in each step of the process. The women sitting in the large waiting room, those changing into their robes, getting their vital signs taken, the ones waking up from anesthesia, and the final women checking out from the clinic.  For each woman I create a story. A rape, a broken condom, a changed mind. For all women I feel a sort of empathy, an understanding that exists only because I am a woman and I, someday, may be where they are now.  I begin to feel nauseous as we finish the tour. I cannot identify where the feeling comes from, but it is there. Perhaps it is the nervousness of being in a medical facility or maybe that I forgot to eat lunch.

4:30 pm: Returning to Merle’s office, we begin to ask our own questions. She answers each with unwavering conviction.  In one of her responses, Merle explains that an abortion is “the most intimate” of procedures and “the most intimate” of decisions.

As I reflect on my time at the Choices clinic, I begin to understand my nausea and my discomfort. As I walked through the halls, staring at the patients, creating their stories, I breached this intimacy.  I violated the connection between mother and child, between mother and self.  I was an outsider, taking a tour of the most personal moment in a woman’s life.  While I learned a great deal from Merle’s discussion, I did not belong in the halls of that clinic. I had no place wandering the rooms, creating stories for women whose lives I knew nothing about.  At the beginning of our summer, Ada urged us to identify uncomfortable situations and to step into this discomfort.  At Choices, I believe I did just that.  I swallowed my discomfort and used it to ask questions and drive conversation.  Yet, at the end of our visit, I wanted to be comfortable.  I was tired, hungry, and ready to be home.

Third Wave Times

What is a foundation? I mean I’d heard the term before but never thought of its inclusion in the name of my organization, Third Wave Foundation. So I came in pretty clueless to what I’d be doing / what they did, even though it was all in the name. After a struggle with transportation (although I discovered today that it’s only a fifteen minute walk from our apartment) to the office, I was met by the staff. Right now there are only three permanent staff members at Third Wave as well as two other interns.

Anywho, once introductions started, the true job of a foundation was revealed. They raise money (TADA!). I’m pretty sure if I wasn’t all nervous I could have figured this out weeks ago. It turns out my position (external relations intern) is extremely similar to my job at Fuqua, which takes some of the edge off. It will be interesting to research sources of funds, both individual and other foundations, while having to make sure these sources also support our general mission, as well as the organizations we represent.

What is our mission you may ask? Third Wave looks for moneyz to provide grants to organizations that fit with their views. While it is a complicated formula of sorts (check it out here www.thirdwavefoundation.org)  my abbreviated spiel would be that Third Wave provides grants to organizations that are movement leading, multiissue, multistrategy that work for gender justice (both for women LGBTQ youth).  The grantees they currently sponsor (which can also be seen on the website) really do work to promote the intersectionality (women’s studies term, ftw!) of people’s lives and oppression. There’s three pronges, or categories, that the grantees fall under:  reproductive health justice, freedom from violence, and empowered leaders. And I’d say 99% of the grantees from 2011 fit under all three!

Working with Third Wave will help me to see and embrace the multidimensional struggle for liberation. It will also help me to have a critical eye towards organizations. What I mean by this is that some organizations may not identify as promoting gender equality but many of them are working for women, LGBTQ, youth, prisoners, racial equality. And all of these organizations deserve recognition … and money. I look forward to moving away from the Fuqua fundraising methods that I observed and get down to the nitty gritty. Scouring event programs looking for new donors, keeping tabs on old donors, helping to plan events and learning from my fellow employees. I admire the ambition and bridge building Third Wave does to make sure all types of issues are addressed and their emphasis on the mobilizing of youth. It’s looking to be an amazing summer! Cheers to MOXIE!

Even a small task can become a great opportunity

Anh is a rising sophomore working at Legal Momentum through NJEP.

This summer, I have the honor of being an intern at Legal Momentum. Though, this non-profit organization implements a variety of programs, the one I am most familiar with is the National Judicial Education Program (NJEP). It provides judges with information about sexual assault and domestic violence. Despite the serious nature of its work, the organization operates in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere – something that I did not expect. The staff and their interns have been extremely welcoming.

Thanks to a small task, I was able to talk to all of these wonderful people. One of the associates assigned me to bring a good-bye card (for a departing staff member) around for everyone to sign. This gave me an opportunity to introduce myself and converse with everyone individually. As an introvert, I often found it hard to approach strangers. However, because it was a task, I had to force myself to do it. Through that small assignment, I learned more about the history and the environment of the organization as well as the personalities of its staff. More importantly, I gained a clearer sense of self-identity after describing my interests and goals to others in a way that helped them understand me better.

I am excited to spend the next seven weeks at Legal Momentum  🙂