Good News in New York

Teens at thirteen New York City high schools have had access to emergency contraception for over a year–but it wasn’t news until the New York Post got wind of it in an “exclusive” report on Sunday. In other words, the program did not make any of its critics’ wildest fears come true. No crazy rise in teenage sexual shenanigans. No rash of teens stricken with any of Plan B‘s side effects, real or imagined. The Post and fair-weather parental advocates like Cardinal Timothy Dolan would never have passed up the opportunity to fan even the slightest concern into a full-blown controversy.

Now the belated hand wringing has begun, and as long as the schools keep following the state law that allows doctors to prescribe emergency contraception pills to women fourteen or older without parental consent–yes, once again, New York state is ahead of the curve–I don’t mind in the least.

Okay, maybe I do mind, but I can also hope that the special provision included to protect parental rights (how I want to put quotations around that phrase), will force the parents who are really only fighting for the right not to think about teenage sexuality at all, to consider the possibility that their child may have the same feelings that have been making adolescents infamous for ages, even if only for the moment it takes them to ”opt-out” of the program. Best case scenario, it starts an honest dialogue between parent and child. Worst case scenario, at least the child knows where his or her parent stands, if and when the poor kid needs to talk to a grown-up.

Elsewhere in New York state, the news in teenage reproductive health hasn’t been good. A recent investigation by the NYCLU revealed “glaring inaccuracies about basic anatomy, reinforced negative gender stereotypes, and stigmatized LGBT students and families” in Sex Ed classes statewide. In one district, the ignorance reaches Todd Akin proportions: definition of vagina–”a sperm deposit.” No word on whether it shuts down or not. (Maybe it has bankers’ hours? Get it?)

I have every sympathy in the world for parents, and the argument about school nurses needing a parent’s permission to dispense Tylenol is at least as old as I am. But I’m still pretty sure teenage girls don’t use Tylenol (or aspirin, anywhere) to prevent pregnancy. (“Not now, I have a headache,” comes much later.) Maybe today’s parents are less hung-up about sex than my parents were back in the day. It wouldn’t take much. But I have a hard time believing even the coolest parents in the world have figured out how to make their children believe they’re always “easy to talk to” about sex. (I’d be impressed and probably a little creeped out, but I wouldn’t believe.) I’m too uptight to say I think the taboos we have about sex are a good thing; but I do think they’ve survived thousands of years because they’re powerful. If loosey goosey New Yorkers with all their culturally elite street cred can still get tongue-tied–or willfully blind–about teens and sex, I, for one, am glad city teens have professional health care providers looking out for them while their parents work out their feelings.


Women’s History Month: Gwen Araujo

In October 2002, a teenage girl was brutally murdered in a small Northern California town. Seventeen-year-old Gwen Araujo was bound, bludgeoned, and strangled before her body was left in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Araujo was biologically male; her given name was Edward. But at the age of fourteen, she came out to her family, and began dressing as a girl. “I told him, ‘Whether you’re a man or a woman I’m going to love you,’” said Araujo’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero.

The summer before her murder, Araujo became friends with four men in their late teens and early twenties: Jaron Nabors, Michael Magdison, and the brothers Paul and Jose Merel. It was at a party at the Merels’ house in early October that Jose Merel – who, like Magdison, had had sexual encounters with Araujo – began asking her if she was male or female. His brother’s girlfriend thought they should “check” – so she put her hands up Araujo’s skirt and discovered that she was biologically male.

[Read more...]

MTV and Abortion

Last night, MTV aired “No Easy Decision,” a half-hour show that told the stories of three young women who had had abortions. Hosted by the omnipresent Dr. Drew Pinsky, “Decision” had a similar format to the network’s popular series “16 and Pregnant,” and in fact devoted the most airtime to Markai, a young mother whose first pregnancy was chronicled during that show’s most recent season.

Markai’s story was indeed compelling. She became pregnant again when her daughter was about eight months old, and neither Markai nor her partner James was confident that they could provide for another child, as they were already struggling financially. Their discussions about which option to choose – adoption, continuing the pregnancy, or abortion – were candid and thoughtful, as were Markai’s talks with her mother and a close friend. Markai eventually decided that having an abortion was the best choice for her and her family, even as she makes it clear that she never thought she’d have to make this decision. [Read more...]

Teen Blogger Says “This is What a Feminist Looks Like”

Feminist Conversations is a weekly column where we talk to feminists from around the country to find out what Feminism means to them, and what types of activism they’re up to in their neck of the woods. Today we’re talking to Danielle Burch, founder of a new blog called Experimentations of a Teenage Feminist. Danielle is a teenager, humanist, Unitarian, progressive rock lover, compulsive doodler, worry-wart, and rice cake junkie. Here’s what Danielle said when I caught up with her.

1. When did you start your blog, and what was your inspiration?
I started Experimentations of a Teenage Feminist back in June. School had just ended, giving me plenty of time to tackle the 10-foot-high stack of feminist books I’d checked out from the library (but had been too busy to read), and I honestly felt like I was on top of the world. I like to call this my “aha!” period. I felt so good about my new discovery – a philosophy that encompassed the beliefs I’ve had since childhood – that I was bursting with an energy that desperately needed an outlet. My blog allows me to vent, rant, muse, gush, and decompress, and it was literally my “coming out” as a writer and feminist. In one fell swoop I went from a girl who cringed at the thought of letting people read her English papers (let alone her personal thoughts), to someone who was shouting “Hello World!” from the rooftops. It was absolutely liberating.

2. When did you first call yourself a feminist, and what influenced that decision?
Though I’ve always been a stickler for women’s rights (human rights, actually), it took me years to discover feminism. But now that I have, I’m turning into the strong, compassionate, courageous person I’ve always aspired to be – and I’m loving every minute of it! [Read more...]

Tuesday News Roundup

mouse-clickDear Mr. Stupak, Do You Trust Women? – RH Reality Check
The Democrats’ Own Trojan Horse – RH Reality Check
NARAL Delivers Over 97,000 Signatures to Harry Reid – RH Reality Check
Teenage Girls Bear the Burden of STD Transmission – Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates
Will the Senate Stand Against Stupak? – The Nation
Insurance Execs Confirm Stupak Amendment Will Kill Abortion Coverage – RH Reality Check

Comprehensive Sex Education & Compulsory Heterosexuality

sex educationGay and lesbian teens are currently uninformed and alienated by sex education in the status quo for a couple of different reasons. The first of which is a direct result of abstinence only education. This is an extremely destructive message for young gay and lesbian teens because without full legal access to marriage, the message about “saving yourself” for marriage doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Secondly, sex education in the classroom just flat out ignores gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth who face very unique struggles as they seek to understand their sexuality in a culture that silences and demonizes them.

Our education system needs to take off the blinders and realize that nearly one million LGBTQ identified teenagers live in the United States, and that they deserve an opportunity at comprehensive sex education free from heteronormative standards. Status quo policy, spurred by federal funding incentives in the 1996 welfare law, specifies in nearly 48 states that, “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexuality.”

Need I say anything else? This taboo on queer sexuality perpetuates a culture of violence against sexual minorities in k-12 institutions. Is it any surprise that suicide and drop out rates are on the rise because of sexual orientation related violence? In fact, a 1993 report by the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, found that 97 percent of students in public high schools regularly hear homophobic remarks from their peers. Additionally, many lesbian, gay and bisexual youth skip classes and eventually drop out of school; the LAMBDA legal defense and education fund, a national organization that advocates for civil rights for gays and lesbians, reported that 40% of homeless youth identify as lesbian or gay and not surprisingly, many lesbian, gay and bisexual youth skip classes and eventually drop out of school because of harassment. [Read more...]