Friday, April 29, 2011

Media Justice Mash-Up

cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s been a while since I did a mash-up and think it’s about time for another one. Here I’ll highlight some forms of media that are exciting, inclusive, and centers social justice. Hopefully you’ll find one (if not all) of them fantastic and share with your networks!

PBS Documentaries

Black in Latin America premiered this week on PBS. I’ve heard a lot about this series hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and am looking forward to watching it (I live an analog life so I don’t even get PBS) online. If you don’t have PBS (or cable like me) you too may watch it online at the website.

There are also photo galleries, timelines, and essays about specific people, events, and histories that show the intersections of race, culture, and ethnicity. Many of the features are very useful and inclusive of Afr@-Latin@s, LatiNegr@s, Blaktin@s, and Afr@-Cariben@s, a community that I believe we rarely see represented or included in a lot of different discussions. If you are eager to learn more and/or challenge what is presented in the documentary (believe me there will be issues with this series!) check out the LatiNegr@s Project and submit something to share on the site. Below is a trailer of what will be featured in the Black in Latin America series.

International Response to Homophobia in Sports

The story of Brazillian fans supporting an openly gay volleyball player really is a great example of how we are media makers. Some background to this specific story requires some context. Volleyball is a huge sport in Brazil (and other countries in general) and when fans of a rival team, Sada Cruzeiro, began to collectively yell homophobic slurs that equate to “faggot” in English, fans of Volei Futuro, whose player, Michael Santos, was the target of the slurs responded. The namecalling forced Santos to come out (which he had not previously done) in public and the following game after coming out, his teammates supported him by wearing pink warm up suits, some of his fans wore pink shirts as well and used pink thundersticks with his Santos name, and carried banners that read: “Vôlei Futuro Against Prejudice.” The entire stadium was pink for the game. See fotos here.

This story comes out right after US basketball player Kobe Bryant made similar homophobic slurs to a referee, which he has been fined $100k for and which Bryant claims he will appeal. I agree with the author of this post, who also includes video and fotos of the fans support, that this is how it is done! So, NBA fans, take note, this is how we can create media, support our community members, and hold others accountable for their hate filled and misogynistic statements.

New Media: Webseries & Webisodes

East WillyB

Last week was the premiere of a new media web series called East WillyB. I wrote an in-depth review of the series after attending the premiere and am really impressed with what has been created. Focusing on a new generation of audiences, specifically Latino and viewers of Color, the creators and directors wanted to create something that would speak to the “140 character” community. East WillyB is a story about Willie Jr. who owns a bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a community that is experiencing gentrification. We are introduced to each character in this pilot season and several new webisodes are uploaded each week to continue the story.

The series has a fabulous cast of actors including: Flaco Navaja (Fighting, Falling Awake) as Willy Jr. the “King of Bushwick”, Raul Castillo (Nurse Jackie, IFC’s Cold Weather) as Edgar,Caridad “La Bruja” De La Luz (Bamboozled, Down to the Bone) as Giselle the “Man-Eater” and bar local, Danny Hoch (Black Hawk Down, American Splendor) as Albert “The Whiteboy” who is dating Willy Jr.’s ex-fiance Maggie performed by April Hernandez-Castillo (Dexter, Freedom Writers), along with many of local NYC Latino talent.

Check out the trailer below:


Another series that is a shameless plug if there ever was one, is for HomeGirl.TV, a web series created by author, activist, and media maker Sofia Quintero. I’ve shared a bit about HomeGirl.TV prior to it’s official release at the end of March for Women’s History Month, but now HomeGirl.TV is in full online mode!

Not only do these webisodes provide information, guidance, advice, and support for various topics, they are also funny, entertaining and come with a way to communicate with the HomeGirls (and I’m one of them!). Sofia has created an online network (that connects to Twitter and Facebook), where viewers can watch the webisodes (they won’t all be posted online, you’ll have to join to see them all) as they are uploaded each Thursday. Participants may also be selected as the Homie of the Week and win prizes, or contribute to season 2! Check out the latest webisode called “Dreamy Halitosis” which asks: I’ve met the person of my dreams, but they have bad breath! What do I do?” Hear what the Home Girls have to say and join HomeGirl.TV to share your perspective!

Sex-Positivity and Black Women’s Sexuality

Crunk Feminist Collective have written an amazing open letter in support of Dr. Tamura Lomax and her review of the book “Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture” by Shayne Lee. Lomax has experienced a lot of pushback, bullying and outright misogyny regarding her review which she writes about in her review. She provides an amazing list of Black feminist authors who have written about sex, sexuality, the body and their intersections with race and citizenship/nationalism that may be useful for those of you seeking to expand your knowledge of the topic and learn various opinions. Here’s a quote from the letter:

We, therefore, resent your attempt to put us on the defensive when it comes to pro-sex discourse, namely so that if we invoke our history of sexual oppression and question the very real costs of embracing popular notions/representations of the erotic, then we are dismissed as parochial gatekeepers and perpetuators of respectability. Clearly you don’t understand, suffering as you do from unchecked (Black) male privilege, that Black women’s positionality in the academy is complicated. Our pro-sex stance is often instilled in the very classrooms where we learn to think about why the histories of racism and sexism have given Black women’s sexuality such a negative rap in the first place. We don’t need more attacks about our sexual “dysfunction.” We need allies, fellow scholars who are especially sensitive to the ways that white supremacy and male supremacy make the pro-sex framework advanced by white women an always difficult space for Black women to enter and inhabit.

This is one way we support one another and hold others in our community accountable. I’ve written my fair share of open letters, even posted one on this column. I find open letters to be an amazing form of media making, one where our voices are shared and a public conversation can be created around the topics discussed. One of the exciting links in this post is to the project “Come Correct” which began from a comment left by Alexis Pauline-Gumbs on a previous Crunk Feminist Collective post.

The Come Correct space was created with the following ideologies in mind:




Such a refreshing and affirming time in new media and media making! If I missed something that has happened or you want to plug media that has given you life and support please do so here!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fundraising: Get Bi To The AMC!

I've never fundraised for myself before. This is the first time I'm using this space to fundraise for something that I believe I need and will help me continue to create and sustain this space.

If you have never heard of the Allied Media Conference (AMC), you are missing out and let this be your introduction! One of the most inclusive, progressive, and radical conferences in the US, the AMC is one conference I've heard about for years. I've never attended. Each year when I hear from friends and chosen family how amazing and transformative the AMC is each year I tell myself "next year I'll go." I want to make 2011 that year that I finally attend.

The AMC is held in Detroit, Michigan every year in June, this year June 23-26, 2011. The AMC mission is to " cultivate strategies for a more just and creative world. We come together to share tools and tactics for transforming our communities through media-based organizing." Their vision is participatory media to transform our selves and our world." See how rad that is! See why I need to be in this space finally!

I'm fundraising for $835 which will cover, registration, transportation (air fare, round trip to and from NYC and Michigan airports), lodging, and food expenses. Below is the itemized budget.* Fundraising will end June 10, 2011.

Plane Ticket $325
Transportation to NYC airport: $20 ($10 metrocard roundtrip to BX, $10 roundtrip shuttle card to JFK)
Transportation to AMC from airport: $110 ($55 1 way not including gratuity)
Registration: $70 (i'd like to pay $100 as requested if possible)
Grub: $100 (lunch (~$10 & dinner ~$15 for 4 days)
Lodging: $180 ($45 per night in 4 person suite style dorm room)

Total: $805-835 (cover $100 conference fee)

I'll be honest. I've applied to at least 3 reproductive and social justice conferences nationwide this year alone. As part of the application process I've also sought out travel and registration scholarships and volunteer opportunities. However, without travel support I am unable to attend any conference and thus volunteering is not possible without such support. I was not selected to receive funds for the CLPP conference this year and I have not heard from two other spaces regarding scholarships for their conferences.

It's exhausting writing about how poor and broke you are, and how much you work your tail off to stay broke and poor, and how being in conference spaces is a form of community you desire to build and maintain, healing, and affirmation. Then you get rejected and told you are not able to reach that space and experience those much needed encounters. I want to make this happen for myself and for the community I'm a part of and for the transformative process I seek.

If you can please consider donating. If you are not able to donate please consider shamelessly plugging this request. If you'd like to talk about bartering please reach out to me I'm totally down for such an exchange! Many thanks to all of you reading and all of you sharing this request. I'll update every other day regarding donations and goals!

*I'd like to change the donate button to one that shows how much has been donated, if anybody knows how I can do that on paypal please let me know!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Update on Net Neutrality: Where Do You Stand?

cross posted from my Media Justice column

or the 50th post of this column I focused on Net Neutrality. I really think this is the issue of our generation. Net Neutrality basically is an open Internet that folks can have access to and express themselves. Think of it as the freedom of speech on the Internet. Sounds great right? I mean, that’s why Amplify exists and why so many of us have our own blogs here. It’s also why we can enjoy going to spaces where we choose to get our information to share with others or educate ourselves.

Net Neutrality is not guaranteed. Last week the House voted to pass
House Joint Resolution 37 which will block the FCC from protecting our right to having an open Internet called a “resolution of disapproval.” The party line vote was 15 to 8 and gives “phone and cable companies absolute, unrestricted power over the Internet.” This means that many broadband providers can block their customers’ ability to access certain websites. For example, If you pay Time Warner Cable or Comcast for your Internet service they can choose, without your permission, to limit what sites you can access, this includes ones you visit often or may even work for.

A “resolution of disapproval” is sort of unique as Forbes blogger Larry Downes
explains: “resolution of disapproval is a unique form of legislation authorized by the 1996 Congressional Review Act. It establishes an expedited procedure for Congress to nullify new rulemakings by independent federal agencies including the FCC. The CRA was a key piece of the Republicans’ 1994 “Contract with America,” in many ways a precursor to the recent “Tea Party” movement for limiting government and reigning in the federal bureaucracy.”

This is not something new, but if this is the first time you are hearing about it please go back and check out my Net
Neutrality piece that gives some background and detailed information.

Now that the House has voted to block the FCC, it goes to the Senate and then the White House. Although President Obama states he will veto the resolution, but is it really necessary to wait until it gets to that point? We protest and stand up for healthcare, reproductive rights, and human rights. All of these intersect with having an open Internet. The revolution in Egypt was a part of a youth led movement that used the Internet, social networks, and new forms of media and communication to share what was occurring.

I remember the amazing forms of media that youth are creating, the new media that is being produced that encourages mentorship, responsibility, and
community involvement, and the new representations that challenge stereotypes that we have access to because of the open Internet. What will my work be like if I don’t have access to such spaces and creativity? How may the messages and education I seek to share and move forward be stifled because of such limitations? How can we begin to create more access for folks who don’t have it if we have such regulations?

These are all questions that are difficult and uncomfortable for me to consider and ask myself. But they are necessary. They have helped me make a decision on supporting an open Internet. Although I support an open Internet and Net Neutrality, I encourage you to read up on the history and current movements that are going on to make your own decision. Keep in mind HOW you find out that information. Do you do most of your research online? How do you imagine that may change if Net Neutrality is squashed?

If you choose to support an open Internet
encourage your Senators to do the same and represent you and what you believe as they agreed to when they took office. If you choose not to support an open Internet do the same and reach out to your Senators and share what you think. Either way, make sure your voice is heard and that you are represented how you choose. Let’s not be complacent on this issue!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Caster Semenya Documentary

I remember reading about Caster Semenya when she won so many races. And then reading about how she is being treated worldwide. This documentary came across my tumblr dashboard last week and I've finally gotten to watch all 4 parts (in English with Spanish subtitles) and think it is very well done.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Demystifying Latina Sexualities

cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog.

As an undergrad and graduate student at the University of Maryland (UM) there were often talks about creating a Latino Studies program. It was not until I left UM in 2006 that such conversations were leading to action. Today there is an undergraduate Latino Studies program at UM thanks to the activism of key faculty and students. Last year graduate students working in Latino Studies created Semana de la Latina (Week of the Latina or Latina Week) at the end of March. This year, I was asked to be a part of Semana de la Latina and return to my alma mater and present on Latina sexualities.

I was incredibly honored, excited and anxious to accept such an invitation. It has been a very long time since I was back on campus and my leaving wasn’t under the greatest circumstances. However, knowing that students were leading and creating the events for the week and they reached out to me made me all the more sure I had to do it and do it well!

We had two hours to discuss Latina sexualities, and although that may not sound like a lot of time, I like to think we got a lot covered! I’ve included my powerpoint presentation below for folks to check out as I won’t be providing a slide by slide discussion of what I presented; instead I’ll touch upon key themes and conversations we had during the presentation.

The first slide I provided gave a definition of sexuality to introduce my presentation. I shared what many of us sexuality educator’s use and were trained to understand the complexity of sexuality: the circles of sexuality. I shared what each component means as many of us in the field understand them: sensuality, intimacy, identity, health and reproduction, and sexualization. I then shared with the 20+ people present that as I was learning these things about sexuality education, I wondered where race, class, ethnicity, ability, and citizenship status fit in. I asked those present where they would put each of these identities in these circles of sexuality. My decision a decade ago was that each of these identities fit into each of the circles of sexuality, so why don’t we ever talk about them when creating curriculums for youth and adults? Are we really doing “comprehensive” sexuality education when we omit these parts of our identities?

And that is where I began my presentation.

The main topics/themes I focused on included discussing and deconstructing the virgin/whore dichotomy; Latinas, abortion and contraceptive access; the Welfare Queen; criminalization of Latina sexualities; Trans Latinas how they are erased and/or attempts at inclusion; and media making and mentorship. For each of these topics I included artwork, films, data, and historical analysis for many of the topics presented in attempts to make this a multi-media, engaging, and interdisciplinary conversation.

The conversations we had about the virgin/whore dichotomy are not too far from what I have shared before about deconstructing ideas ofMarianismo. An additional component to ideas of sex-positivity connected to Latinas in the US was how these ideologies come from an assimilationist space/framework. Recognizing that sex-positivity may exist in multiple experiences is important and often I’ve found that when discussing sex-positivity among Latinas and women of Color, folks argue that the more assimilated we become to US society the more sex-positive we become as well. I find this troubling (and plan to write more in depth about it soon) for multiple reasons, mainly because it ignores how ethnocentric and elitist such ideas are while ignoring lived experiences of people abroad. It creates a “us versus them” space where the “us” is the US and thus better and more liberating. “Them” continues to be seen as “other” and ideas of being “traditional” (which is code for so many things) becomes undesirable and a sign of oppression when it comes to sexuality.

Using the artwork of two unknown artists and Isis Rodriguez, I explored the idea of the Virgin and the Whore from Latina artists. The first two images are of La Vigen, one called “The Liberation of Mary” where she is showing her vulva to the viewer and the other an image of a fat Virgin Mary. I spoke about how body shape and size is important to deconstruct in these images, that often we imagine and see images of a slender Virgin Mary whereas she was a pregnant woman but we don’t see her in such a way. Also, why do we think the body parts of the woman who some believed to have birth a prophet off limits to discuss? What does this do to our ideas of our bodies?

A film I used to discuss our ideas of young Latinas (and some older ones) connected to the virgin/whore dichotomy was Raising Victor Vargas (yes I do use this film often when I can because there is so much to connect to various topics). You may find the clip to this film on YouTube. We discussed how Judy is present in the film and her decision to remain a virgin is one that challenges our ideas of what young women are expected to do/act/say upon making that choice. One participate noted that Judy is not naïve as is assumed of young women or women who are virgins, that instead she is astute, smart, remains desirable, and negotiates her own safety without giving up any power.

To finish the conversation on virgin/whore dichotomy I presented Isis Rodriguez’s artwork No More!, which I’ve connected to in many ways, and Dr. Juana María Rodríguez’s ideas of “cyber-slut.” This led into the second them of Latinas, abortion and contraception. I shared my own experiences of attempting to obtain an IUD, responses to my sharing of choosing to use the withdrawal method, and sharing my perspective on the birth control pill’s 50th anniversary (and responses to it). Then I included a discussion of sterilization, the history of it in the US among Latinas and differently able people, and how it remains one of the main contraceptive options for many Latinas in the US. I referenced Dr. Iris Ofelia Lopez’s longitudinal study she shared in her text Matters of Choice, which followed three generations of Puerto Rican women who have been sterilized (the first generation being ones who were forcibly sterilized and how that history impacted the choices of the women in their family: daughters and granddaughters). Dr. López’s idea of “agency within constraints” is one that is very useful to discussing and working with Latina populations.

A conversation about Latinas choosing abortion and what the rates are, as well as a focus on Rosie Jimenez was provided. It’s not often that I get choked up during presentations, but this time I teared up and my voice cracked as I talked about Rosie Jimenez, what her death represents still today, what her daughter has lost, and what we do when we easily for get the legacy she has given us. Discussing Rosie Jimenez’s inability to obtain and afford a legal abortion was a good transition to discussions of the Welfare Queen.

Prior to discussing ideas about the Welfare Queen as it is applied to Latinas, I shared a common belief that the people in the US who are seen to be socially acceptable recipients of Medicaid are veterans and people with visible disabilities. A good friend of mine, KB, shared this research with me, especially how it applied to veterans of Color. We explored how ideas of “invisible disabilities” especially mental illness have been applied to Latinas. For example, I’ve heard many people say to me and around me that Latinas are “crazy,” “unpredictable” and these are usually connected to ideas of mental illness, yet in such situations Latinas are seen as desirable, fetishized because of their “unpredicatablity” connected to disability. Thus, how are Latinas with different abilities seen as asexual while others are fetishized and what connections can we make to Isis Rodriguez’s artwork No More!?

As part of our conversation around the Welfare Queen, I shared artist, author and media maker Erika Lopez’s ideas of the Welfare Queen. She’s created a one-woman show discussing her experiences attempting to get books published, obtain Medicare and find health care. Part of her presentation is that when she was at the “welfare line” she did not see people with several children from multiple men, nor did she see people who did not take pride in their appearance. Instead, she saw beautiful and strong people who were experiencing hard times. They took pride in themselves and remained sexual people without shame or fear even if they found themselves in a space where their privacy was eliminated. Her two images of the Welfare Queen represent these ideas. The color image was her first and original image and the black and white one was a more recent representation that has aged the Welfare Queen, because older people also experience hard times.

The criminalization of Latina sexuality is one that I’ve thought about for several years. I’ve had the great fortune to examine this theme in multiple ways and the topics included were sex work, immigration and detention, violence, and gender identity and expression. Again, I used images from Isis Rodriguez and her series “My Life As A Comic Stripper” to highlight and discuss sex work in the US. As a group we discussed what we saw in her images and what messages she may be providing and sharing with viewers.

Conversations about violence I connected to reggeaton artist Ivy Queen, one of the only, if not THE only, woman in the male-dominated genre (who has been around for over two decades). One of her songs I used to discuss violence is “La Abusadora.” The song is in Spanish and I asked folks who do not understand or speak Spanish to listen to the production of the song, what they heard besides lyrics. The Spanish-speaking folks in the audience shared some of the terms they heard her mention in her lyrics. We had an important conversation around what it means when a Latina claims a certain level of violence. How is power connected to that violence, and what does it mean when that is the only form of power and agency some Latinas feel they possess?

I tied into this conversation to Lorena Gallo (formally Lorena Bobbitt), an Ecuadorian who still lives in Virginia (and for those of you familiar with the MD/VA/DC area you know how close those three areas are to one another. Gallo made national headlines when she cut part of her partner’s penis off after years of experiencing spousal rape (which he was not found guilty of but remains with a history of violence). Gallo was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental health facility. Again the idea of mental illness and connections to Latina sexualities, disability, and violence intersect. I completed this section by discussing the Texas rape case and how the virgin/whore dichotomy becomes something we don’t discuss in such situations. Who are we to call a 11 year-old girl whose experiences of rape and abuse mean she is a “whore”? How is virginity and promiscuity connected to choice?

As part of the conversation around gender expression and identity and the connections to criminalization, I discussed the ways Latinas who represent/embrace/identify/perform masculinity are targeted. Again, the ideas of assimilation were present in that Latinas whose gender expression may be what some may consider masculine, this is seen as an outcome of living in the US, something either celebrated as liberating or seen as problematic because they are foreign. I have to thank Dr. Ziegler for pushing me towards including this topic in more depth for this presentation.

Using singer, author, and model Rita Indiana as an example, we discussed how gender expression is tied into this conversation. Rita Indiana and Los Misterios released an album last year that was very well received in the US and abroad. Indiana identifies as a Dominican lesbian and in the interview shares how folks are embracing her and sharing that they are happy she is true to herself and not hiding. Other interviews with Indiana demonstrate how much her gender expression, which many may see as masculine, is a topic of conversation when she does interviews. She has spoken of her androgynous appearance and her height of over 6 foot 2 inches has been a focus for many Latino interviewers.

The next theme discussed was how trans people are included, excluded and erased in conversations about Latina sexualities. I shared data from the UK organization ">Transgender Europe, which shared data on the murders of Trans people all over the world. Transgender Europe released data in the summer of 2010 that showed Central and South America as one of the most unsafe places for a trans person to live. Reports of murders for the first 6 months of 2010 were already exceeding the number of reported murders from 2009, and those only include the reported murders. Making it clear to participants that these murders are INTRAcultural and INTRAracial was important for me because often we assume “other” people are murdering members of our communities instead of holding our own communities responsible.

I encouraged Latino activists present to not ignore the Transgender Day of Remembrance, to remember this data, and that if we do nothing and are complacent with our community being murdered we are supporting the murders and allowing for them to continue in our communities. Also included in this section was the erasure of Latinas who identify as trans, how we have a rich history and legacy of activism that we choose to ignore which is an injustice for us all.

The final part of the presentation with a shameless plug for mentoring and media making by highlighting Sofia Quintero’s HomeGirl.TV. This is a project that author, activist, and media maker Sofia Quintero created and implemented as a social network and space for people to provide guidance, support, and advice on various topics many of us encounter. The first webisode of the first season answers the question: Should I put my boyfriend of 3 months of my cell phone plan? Part of this being a shameless plug is that I am one of the HomeGirls Sofia reached out to and included in the webisodes. HomeGirl.TV launched March 31, and if you’d like to see all of the webisodes, new ones are uploaded every Thursday, please join HomeGirl.TV. It is not just for people who identify as women, it is for everyone. Sofia wishes to begin a dialogue and is looking for HomeGirls for season 2!

I ended the presentation with an advertisement that embodied many if not all of the themes and conversations we had that day: And Then There Was Salsa.

Many thanks to the Latino Studies program, Ana, Maria and Pamela did an amazing job, and coordinated two more events: an art exhibit and a film screening which received media attention. Thank you to the participants and to my two mentors who were present to support me: Dr. Ana Patricia Rodriguez and Anne Anderson-Sawyer.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

We Talked About Sex

cross posted from my Media Justice column

The documentary film Let’s Talk About Sex , as many of you know, will have its cable television debut this Sunday at ten pm on TLC. I had the pleasure of watching a screening of the film on Tuesday evening in NYC and sit on a panel with director James Houston. Here’s what we discussed together and with the participants who watched the film with us (don’t worry - I won't give any spoilers for those of you who have not seen the film yet and are waiting for April 9).

About an hour in length, the film
Let’s Talk About Sex examines US ideas on sex and sexuality, with a focus on comprehensive sexuality, youth and provides opportunities for parents to hear from young people what they need when it comes to such conversations.

The screening was hosted by Miss Kings County 2011,
Carmen B. Mendoza, whose platform is de-stigmatizing getting tested for HIV. I met Carmen in December of 2010 after she won the title and we hit it off! Her platform is important and reaches communities that many don’t reach out to in such settings. She’s a media maker, so look out for an upcoming Media Maker’s Salon with her soon!

There was a full house for the free screening and it included folks of various ages from all over NYC. Many of the folks present were in their early 20s and really connected to the film, and had great call and response as we watched. There were lots of laughs, some for comedic reasons, others out of shock, and there were some gasps. After the film, director James Houston and I sat on a panel to discuss the film and topics that came up in further detail.

One of the first conversations was about the goals James had for creating the film. He shared his desires to examine how his socialization as an Australian man who has lived in different parts of the world, and now in NYC, was different from what he was discovering US teens experience. Many of those were represented in the film, and he’s an advocate for encouraging parents and youth to push for comprehensive sexuality education. Research shows a majority of US communities want comprehensive sex ed, but a loud minority are monopolizing those conversations.

Participants asked about how audiences have responded to the film and James has shared that many folks enjoy the film. I agree that the film is accessible and easy to incorporate into a 50-minute class. The graphics and images are represented in ways that many people can understand. He shared that folks have provided their own experiences with education and religion after screenings, that parents have thanked him for encouraging and sparking conversation with their youth, and that teachers find the film a resource to use with students and their parents.

We were asked about the impact of religion on approaches to decreasing teenage pregnancy, HIV infection, and STIs. Houston shared that the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice have been supporters of the film, and that when he went to visit specific communities that are using faith-based communities to discuss sexual health and reproduction, he found that there is a lot of work to still do. I think many of us agree that communities of faith are essential in playing a role in helping support comprehensive sexuality education. Many communities have begun to have important discussions around HIV with their members and are at the forefront of helping provide education and support to folks who are living positive and those who want to stay HIV negative.

Another question asked if James considered including a young person who had chosen to abstain from sex and what their experiences were. James shared that he did go to a camp in the Midwest to document the curriculum and activities but there was “not a lot going on if you know what I mean.” He also talked about how the term “abstinence” is such a loaded term that is filled with morality and judgment. This is one of the challenges to talking about abstinence in the US.

I then shared how young people I’ve worked with who have survived abstinence education know that when I ask questions such as “what are some ways to make sure you remain HIV negative” the expected response is to abstain from sex and sexual activity/behaviors. They have been socialized to know this is the “right” answer. Yet when I ask them “what does abstinence mean,” I get several different responses at the same time. I have realized that young people define abstinence differently even when they have the same form of abstinence education. This creates a new challenge and a new dialogue that we must have with young (and older) people. We have to help them decide what abstinence means for them, versus giving them our own definitions. For some folks I have learned abstinence means waiting until marriage to have sex; others believe it means not having any vaginal penetration but anal and/or oral sex is abstaining. There is a range, and diverse perspectives. I’ve encouraged youth I work with to define what abstinence means for them and make sure they are clear with their partners and that their partners share and understand their definition.

Another question was on why there is such a delay/lag in the US towards comprehensive sexuality education. James shared that he believes there is so much fear around sex and sexuality that is not seen in other parts of the world. This fear impacts a lot of our daily lives from conversations from birth to conversations as adults. He gave specific examples from the film (which I won’t share because they could be spoilers) to support his perspective. I expanded on that and shared that there is a huge illusion of power and control many parents and adults think they have over the choices and bodies of young people. This is a perfect example of how we misuse power in this society and use power over people versus power with them.

One of the last questions from the audience was from a teacher who wanted to use this film with her students, but made the point that many parents from working class and working poor communities are not present or able to have such conversations with their youth. As part of James’ argument for comprehensive sexuality education, he encourages people to mobilize their communities toward supporting such forms of education. The challenges do exist and I shared how we have to be cautious of our power as educators, as people who are educated in specific ways (i.e. college and higher education) when working in communities of which we are not members. We need to make sure that what we are bringing to those communities in which we are outsiders, are what the community desires. If it is not what the community wants then it is really us forcing our agenda onto them and telling them what to do. I gave the example that sometimes when we assume a family doesn’t talk over a meal it may be because that family can’t afford food, and those are larger issues we need to recognize and work to eliminate before working on others. In addition, I shared how comprehensive sexuality education may not reach all youth, especially those in the foster care system where their guardian is the State or youth who are already living HIV positive.

That was only a half hour of discussion and we covered a lot! If you are interested in hosting a screening of the film, or obtaining a copy for yourself, check out the film website, join theFacebook Page or order your copy online.