Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom activists recently completed 15 successful lobby visits on comprehensive sex education, proving that empowered sex education activists are a lot more effective in changing minds and making policy (and a lot more knowledgeable about sex) than the products of purity balls (a formal event attended by fathers and their daughters. These events promote virginity before marriage for teenaged girls).
The recipients of sex education (young adults) are the best messengers about the fact that they deserve honest information about sex and sexuality. Read on to find out how I spent the day in lobby visits with 25 spiritual young adults from across the country and how this experience topped a slow dance with my Dad.
1) Taste: I imagine the footwear necessary at a purity ball is a white patent leather Mary Jane…or worse…a satin Mary Jane with a stack heel. I opted for an understated black wedge pump. (I associate that distinctive "click clack" sound that my shoes always make in the halls of Hill office buildings with speaking truth to power!)
2) Novelty: The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom (SYRF) Regional Training Institute lobby day was the first of its kind and many participants had never lobbied before. Because of the generosity of some of RCRC's funders, we now have a fabulous Public Policy department, complete with policy gurus who conducted a fantastic lobby training for the group before we left.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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3) Leadership: A purity ball is often organized and initiated by parents. I do applaud these parents for taking such an active role in their children's lives, although it is disappointing that the purity ball model takes all decision-making ability and empowerment away from daughters and puts them into the hands of fathers. Conversely, the SYRF Institute was all about empowerment! There is often conversation about the future leadership of the reproductive justice movement. Although I despise the term "future leaders" (young activists are leading right now), I can personally attest to the fact that the younger leaders who participated in the training are more than capable of inheriting this movement.
The participants were articulate and passionate. Their organization and drive rivaled even my type-A approach. Their first hand experiences, unique spiritual identities, and vision for justice illustrated that they are empowered leaders (one could argue this is because they weren't asked to sign a contract to preserve their virginity, but rather nourished as leaders and spiritual, sexual beings in a holistic way).
5) Authenticity: In one visit with a historically anti-choice Congressperson, an Institute participant proclaimed, "We had no sex education in my high school and lots of girls got knocked up." She finished the story and quickly identified herself as a proud Pentecostal Christian from Mississippi which left the Congressperson quiet for a few awkward seconds. I am not sure if there is a more powerful illustration as to what happens when sexuality education is not a priority in schools.
6) Religious Diversity: Training participants lobbied for the REAL act and affirmed Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, and other religious values in favor of comprehensive sexuality education. I was lucky to hear a plethora of personal stories about schools, churches, temples, and synagogues with fantastic comprehensive sexuality education curricula (rare at a purity ball, I know) and unfortunately, even more about schools that did not.
At the end of our lobby day, SYRF Institute participants had made 15 Hill visits. In each visit, statistics about sex education and funding were discussed and the story of a spiritual young adult in favor of comprehensive sex education was told. Hill staffers heard a counter to the positions of abstinence-pledge-taking teens marched through their offices.
In my opinion, our lobby day was a significantly more effective way to educate young adults about sex education than a purity ball (of course, lobby visits educate both the Hill staff and the messengers). We had a chance to talk about the life affirming gifts of sex and sexuality, all the while perpetuating our own spiritual identities and values. And nobody wore white patent leather shoes.