…With Sexual Liberty and Justice for All

Lara Riscol

After 16 years of being bludgeoned by zealots wielding sex as a weapon to divide and conquer Americans, can it be time for a new sexual revolution in the age of Obama? Creating Change says yes.


The Focus on the Family ad screams above a waist-down shot of a man in combat boots waiting in front of a stall, toilet seat up, as a white girl in a long white smock, white shoes and bobby socks, sneaks open her stall door next to him. The message below blasts Colorado’s Democratic governor and legislators for passing an anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. After losing his campaign to kill the bill last spring, James Dobson, head of the Christian culture war powerhouse, warned "Every woman and little girl will have to fear that a predator, bisexual, cross-dresser or even a homosexual or heterosexual male might walk in and relieve himself in their presence."

Way to grind civil rights nuance into a black-and-white bathroom boogieman. As early as the 1970s, antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly reduced her fight against the Equal Rights Amendment to protecting women and children from unisex toilets. Equality, whatever — do you really want men and ladies in line for the john together at a ballgame?

Even without an ERA in place, unisex potties have popped up in public places. At the recent 21st National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, I smile as I walk into the first of the site’s many labeled Gender Neutral Restrooms. Aside from a mild jolt when first spying the row of urinals, I rather enjoy the multifaceted landscape on my way to and from taking care of business.

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Speaking of a beautiful view, about 2000 mostly young people of all shades pour into the Denver ballroom for the keynote given by civil rights legend Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers Union in 1962 with Cesar Chavez. For decades the Catholic mother of 11 has spoken out for queer folk in cross-movement struggles for social and economic justice, from campaigning for Harvey Milk to recording a bilingual ad against Proposition 8. Beaten 20 years ago so badly by police during an otherwise peaceful protest that she had to undergo emergency surgery to remove her spleen, she testifies to a religious right that scapegoats our communities for distraction.

"Feminists, gays and lesbians, immigrants are not the enemy," says
Huerta.  She says we’re forced to respond now, "We need to educate each other’s movements to create change. We have a mandate to remove the ignorance from society until we get the human rights that we all deserve." She closes with leading the chant she made famous: Si, se puede! She adds, "When I met Obama he said, ‘I stole your slogan.’ I told him, ‘Yes you did!’"

The crowd roars with joyful laughter. Looking around, I feel as if I’ve floated into an Obama rally of color, youth and hope. A glance at the program shows how vast the diversity here with five days of sessions on sexual freedom and literacy, various communities of color, youth, aging, disability, religion and spirituality, feminism and straight allies. Evenings you might choose a social, recharge at a 12-step recovery, or worship at a faith service. As John Lennon’s "Imagine" fills the room I think, this is America. After 16 years bludgeoned by zealots wielding sex as weapon to divide and conquer Americans – from the smut of Clinton to the sanctimony of Bush – can it be time for a new sexual revolution in the age of Obama? Yes it can!

The last time I crammed into a room of 2000 around a pivotal election was the first Values Voters Summit in D.C., featuring conservative superstars, such as Dobson, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Rev. Jerry Falwell and four GOP presidential aspirants, including Gov. Mitt Romney. The ridiculed enemies were feminists, gays and liberals, who want to convert your kids to the dark side, who pose a greater threat to America than Al-Qaeda. One sexual demon summoned throughout the weekend to rally the evangelical troops was the children’s book, "King & King," where the prince rejects the many princesses to marry another prince.

The Abstinence Clearinghouse annual conference I attended later wasn’t quite as meanspirited or ethnically and generationally monochromatic. But themed "Abstinence: It’s a Black and White Issue," speakers – from a former beauty queen to a former welfare mom and woman who disavowed her multiple abortions – made absolutely clear that God’s truth allows for one path to sexual integrity. Same call to arms against the feminists, liberals and the "condom crowd" who condemn marriage, family and America with their anything-goes moral relativism.

Having covered for 10 years the sexual schizophrenia of our nation’s culture war, I’ve noted how purity politicos package and sell a retro feel-good salve of simplicity for society’s complex modern ills. Like tax cuts for the economy and bombing for security, abstinence-only unless married is the far right’s hawked magic potion for social stability, the silver bullet to slay the sexual dragon we call freedom. With Talibanesque fervor, "family values" powerbrokers demand a leap of social engineering faith: if we corral sex within marriage, then we disappear teen pregnancy, abortion, unwed mothers, poverty, crime and AIDS. Dismantle sex education and services, and reverse 40 years of the sexual revolution "if it feels good, do it." Drink the traditional kool-aid and you’re for purity and good. Reject on grounds of reality, reason and moral sense, and you’re for perversion and evil. It really is black and white.

But then dogmatic morality has proven to produce the Ted Haggards of the world. Denial of one’s truth reliably breeds hypocrisy, betrayal and filth.

"We got to talk about what renders sexual honesty," said long-time LGBT community organizer Urvashi Vaid at Creating Change. "Diversity does not equal ‘anything goes.’ We got to get acceptance of the spectrum of sex, of the experience of being. No one wants to be pushed; we want our kids to be healthy and happy. Straight, gay, we have the same human aspirations." She pits our nation’s clashing worldviews of pluralism, where we "relish diversity of opinion" against the fundamentalism of "one god, one truth." She adds, "Consensus doesn’t mean conformity."

The overarching mood of today’s political climate is to recognize commonalities and expand the movement for social change across feminist progressive identities. Vaid says, "Feminism is equality for both men and women. It’s a re-imagining of the world. The push for women’s freedom, liberation, and full equality is a precondition to any open society: freedom and opportunity for all. Feminist and queer movements share a framework: value of equality, social justice, and human rights. Not just civil and political equality, but moral equality."

In her State of the Movement speech, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rae Carey said, "Obama’s ‘we’ challenges the culture of ‘I’ that has been so core to this country’s identity – the image of rugged individualism, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. This imagery has been bolstered and perpetuated by scenes like Ronald Reagan riding his horse and by George Bush clearing brush on his ranch…. We are now off the ranch and have moved back into the we of urban energy and creativity, the we of close family ties and community in rural areas, the we that has been at the center of the farm workers, civil rights, feminist and labor movements."

Carey includes among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) playmates Planned Parenthood, AARP and NAACP. Where the Task Force and other progressive leaders have linked issues for years, new politics and new media have opened a door for perennial underdogs to make their collective case for respect.

Republicans have successfully shrouded themselves in family values while demonizing Americans advocating sexual health and justice for all, not just the storybook few.

"Each progressive movement has a common narrative: the valuing of many kinds of people, of many ways to contribute to our communities, of many different cultural traditions," says Sue Hyde, head of Creating Change. "In valuing all of us we make a more perfect union, as Obama would say," she smiles. "The connective tissue, or pillars of human rights, is self-determination, bodily integrity, and freedom of choice and expression."

“We’re cognizant that Roe v. Wade is about privacy and choice,” says Ana Hernandez, head of Causes in Common, a national organizing initiative for reproductive justice and LGBT liberation. “Lawrence v. Texas is about privacy and choice. It’s about picking up that thread and taking it to the next level, growing the analysis to sexuality, family formation, autonomy, peace, happiness and safety. It’s more than privacy, it’s about human rights.”

Lifelong sex education, but much broader than the current comprehensive model, is the link between reproductive justice and queer rights, according to Joy O’Donnell of the National Sexuality Resource Center, which “sexual literacy” mission includes aging, disability, and religion and faith. “We need a national dialogue that incorporates, respects and celebrates pluralistic health and well being,” she says.

Carey closes her State of the Movement speech with, "We will win complete equality! We will protect and defend our families! We will transform society!"

Sounds like a traditional culture warrior clarion call. Except that is the equality bit. Just no telling who might be sharing the bathroom stall next to you.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.