Pizza and Pregnancy Tests

Pizza and Pregnancy Tests
by J.M. Bates

My friend confided in me that she might be pregnant. She was absolutely terrified. At first, I was surprised that she came to me with her serious issue. She wasn't my best friend; in fact, far from it. She often seemed to really dislike me, often calling me "boring" and like "an old lady" in front of our other friends. However, she said I was the only one she could trust not to tell anyone else about her possible pregnancy.

I tried my best to comfort her. I took her out for pizza in an attempt to cheer her up a little, but she could hardly talk or eat due to her high stress. She looked like she was on the verge of tears the entire time. I had no idea what to say to her; she was occupied by her thoughts anyway. We later went to a store together and I told her that I'd buy her anything she needed. She picked out a box of at-home pregnancy tests, the kind where you pee on a stick. That box of multiple tests was expensive to purchase. I thought to myself that her boyfriend should be the one buying it instead of me. Where was that deadbeat, anyway? My friend was going through hell and her boyfriend probably had no idea what was going on. I bought the tests for her from an elderly cashier who looked at me disapprovingly.

Back at my friend's house, I remember watching her face as she waited for her test results, the plastic urine-dotted strips all lined up alongside each other by the bathroom sink. Her wild anxiety merged with disappointment and dread as each test yielded a positive result.  

This event happened sixteen years ago. My friend and I were both twelve years old at the time.

I didn't have sexual health education at my school until I was seventeen years old. By that time, multiple girls in my class (including my friend) had already become pregnant and dropped out of school. A few boys in my class were teased for impregnating girls who attended other schools.

The sexual health education we did eventually receive at our school was dismal. Outdated textbooks depicted cross-section diagrams of human genitalia and stock photographs of wholesome teenagers with 80's haircuts. The texts heavily involved hygiene and diseases, with recurrent life advice focusing on abstinence. We were never taught about condoms or other contraceptives, nor about consent or safe sex. Our teachers seemed clueless and embarrassed to be there, with a different teacher each week. I was given the impression that this class was dumped on unwilling teachers to perform, possibly determined by choosing out of a hat or by a spreadsheet on the principal's computer. I recall one flustered football coach give our class this vague advice: "If you don't want it [sex], just cross your arms and… yeah." On another occasion, an entire class period was wasted on a discussion about the conspiracy theory of the government inventing AIDS.

The girls in my class that had already become pregnant and dropped out of school most likely would not have benefited from this particular sexual health education class if it had been provided earlier to them. I would say the same about the male classmates who got their female partners pregnant. These individuals most likely would have learned nothing from this class, just like the rest of us. If the class had instead been medically-accurate, current, and included information about contraceptives and safe sex, then maybe fewer students would have become pregnant or impregnated others.

The entire time I was in this terrible sexual education class, I kept thinking to myself, "This is bullshit!" I was getting a lot of sexual health information from the internet at the time, and it was a lot more current and sex-positive than what I was being taught in school. I didn't watch porn, a popular source of disinformation about sex, because pornography in general scared me. Instead, I found myself migrating to feminist and sex-positive online communities, blogs, and websites. Even feminist sex shops with websites online gave useful information. I learned important things from these multiple sources, such as only using water-based lubricant with latex contraceptives, and that HPV could be transmitted between partners even while using condoms and dental dams. I also learned what a dental dam was.

All in all, it was nice to educate myself in privacy from sources that were medically accurate and sex-positive. It changed my life for the better. My overall attitude towards life was improved, because I became more aware and also less plagued by guilt and shame about my needs. I had many other friends confide in me about their pregnancies, abortions, and diseases. I always did my best to provide sources of medically-accurate information as well as a non-judgemental and understanding shoulder to lean on. I look forward to the day when medically-accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education becomes mainstream in the United States. Until then, I'm going to keep e-mailing politicians to put comprehensive sex ed bills through. I will also continue to buy pizza and pregnancy tests for my friends in need.

About the Author
J.M. Bates is an atheist feminist living in the Chicago area. Race, gender, sexuality, income, and youth issues are part of her main focus. She has written for Fuck Yeah Feminists, Examiner, MOOT, Elevate Difference, and Starpulse.

A Catholic Girl’s Calling to Sex Ed

A Catholic Girl's "Calling" to Sex Ed
By Jennifer Hart, MPH
Having been raised in a suburban, lower-middle class Irish Catholic family in New England has certainly impacted my worldview, particularly as it relates to issues of religion and sexual and reproductive health issues.  In fact, my experiences related to religion are what ultimately “called” me to study and work in sexual health specifically, and not reproductive health.  I was raised in a family that never questioned the Faith, nor talked about it in relation to other faith beliefs.  There were certain expectations that went along with being Catholic, having to do with sex, gender, and relationships. Although I knew these silent yet steadfast expectations, I questioned my acceptance of these tenets even as a teenager.

I’m the first to admit my privilege, and to be completely transparent: I’m a white, upper middle class, cisgender, heterosexual female with undergraduate and Ivy League graduate school degrees. I am also cynical, jaded, hardened, pragmatic, and sarcastic.  I’m a divorced, 35 year old recovering Catholic from the Northeast, now living in a large urban city, and identify as a Secular Humanist.  I am in a loving relationship with an amazing man, 19 years my senior. Other than being a woman (which is a challenge unto itself), I’ve got a lot of privilege. My struggles are my own, but I know others have endured far more than I.

When I was about 13, my mom gave me a stack of readers and pamphlets about my body and puberty, told me to look through them, and to come back to her if I had any questions. I only had one question, which came after watching a cartoon video on puberty. It was about how girls masturbate. I was too embarrassed to ask her in person, so I wrote a note. I never got a reply.  Really, the only other question I asked was a personal one, to my mom. I said, “Can I ask you a personal question? Did you and Dad have sex before you were married?” Her answer: “That is a personal question.”

Everything else I learned about sex came from school and from friends. The internet wasn’t really something you surfed for answers in those days. I remember as a middle-schooler, seeing one 8th grade couple making out in the hall way – all the time. When they broke up, it was the talk of the century. I had major, heart-wrenchingly intense, unrequited crushes on boys.  I remember having only one sex-ed class in high school – 9th grade, I think, and it was about reproduction and abstinence. I was in a class with all girls, and the boys were getting educated in the room next door.  I was a good girl. I called myself “Halo Head.” I was a good Catholic girl and my plan was to wait until I got married to have sex. (Ok, so I didn’t wait until I was married, but I did wait until I was engaged).

My parlay into sexual discourse and awareness grew from the socially acceptable expectation that all girls will eventually experience pregnancy, and the socially vilified reality of sexual assault.  I remember feeling “those feelings down there” when I’d read books or watch shows involving childbirth or rape.  Childbirth. Rape.  Even writing this, I think, how creepy is that?!? But, these passages and scenes were not stigmatized as “dirty” or porn, only natural and horrible, respectively. The common thread between child birth and rape is sex.  Later, as an adult, in thinking about how my interest in sexuality began, I felt angry and ashamed that it was linked prominently to pain and violence, and not pleasure.  My interest was steeped in stigma and shame. My access to positive messages of sex and relationships was censored and oppressed by my religious upbringing. Don’t even get me started on my love affair with the Thorn Birds.

I moved away from my family and childhood home in suburban Connecticut when I was 18 to rural North Carolina, where I lived for 13 years. I chose to attend Lenoir-Rhyne College, a small, private, Lutheran school, because of their unique and renowned program for Deaf Education. Those choices led me through the formative years of my life; I was out on my own, making decisions, and determining and defining my values.  Immediately, I noticed that religion was undeniably prevalent. Signs and billboards touted Jesus and Bible verses, abiding worshipers stood on highway medians preaching into the open windows of passing cars, and business meetings began with prayer.  I was approached on numerous occasions by people asking me where I attended church – then either shunned or considered a potential convert when I told them I was Catholic. “So you’re not Christian,” they’d say. I could be “born again”, a concept foreign to me.

Such confrontations about religion and vocation forced me to reckon with my own faith, in particular those tenets that had social and political implications.  The Catholic faith clearly defines its views on issues related to sexuality, including premarital sex, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, masturbation, and gender roles in relationships, just as clearly as it defines the guilt associated with the abandonment of these definitions. My foundation was firm until I began to see the gender inequities and discrepancies between my faith and my career path.

I broke away from the confines of Catholicism, and organized religion in general, and have dealt with the repercussions ever since. I was challenged by religion’s pervasiveness within professional and social outlets within the “Bible Belt.” My reactions to religion became defensive and negative. My work in teen pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health advocacy made my time in the rural southeast an eye-opening and challenging experience.

In the area of sexuality education, often local and regional legislation determines what you can and cannot say in the classroom. Teaching “abstinence-only-until-marriage” sex education classes and condom failure rates is a denial of the facts and reality of teen sexual initiation. This type of education works against itself when youth choose not to use condoms upon their sexual debut because they believe what they’ve been taught, ultimately increasing infection rates and unintended pregnancies.  In addition, an entire population of students is made invisible and silenced by the abstinence only until marriage message.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth have very few (although ever-increasing) options for considering the notion of marriage in their lives, and are hardly ever included in educational conversations and settings about sexuality. The idea that students need only be taught about abstinence and nothing else further perpetuates the stigma of sex and sexuality, of sex as solely procreative, silences LGBTQQ students, and erases women’s sexual pleasure from the conversation.

In 2002, the World Health organization organized a meeting in Geneva to discuss and further define Sexual Health. The attendees came up with the following guide (emphasis is my own):

Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

Despite this positive and open-minded approach to sexual health, the United States’ proclivity to limit and oppress access to sexuality information and education, through the promulgation of religious and cultural expectations has significant emotional, mental, and physical consequences. Sexuality and health are the foundation of our being and yet in the South and in many other areas of our country, parents, teachers, clergy, doctors, clinicians, and even pharmacists refuse to accept that sex is natural and normal, putting their morality onto the lives of their children, students, congregants, patients, and clients. The effect of inhibiting discussions of sex, identity, and health is detrimental to the overall health, well-being, and stability of a person and society as a whole. My liberal values for social, sexual and reproductive justice and gender equality were tested daily in this conservative Christian part of the country.  There, and even now in my urban city, I continue to see the increasing influence of religion on politics and funding streams regarding the sexual and reproductive issues I support.

 

Now, I work in the abortion field, implementing training and education opportunities for abortion care providers.  Part of my job is to provide values clarification and pregnancy options counseling training to those working with women who seek abortion care or support. Inevitably, the recurring challenge that counselors face is working with religious patients. The skill of the counselor is to meet the patient where they are in their belief system. Helping the patient create a space in their faith where their god provides them with comfort and acceptance rather than shame and guilt can be transformative for the patient. Although abortion is couched within the reproductive health and justice movements, I see abortion as the bridge from reproductive health to sexual health. Abortion enables women to maintain their autonomy as sexual beings, undoing the expectation that they will, or should, parent.  Coming from my upbringing, I never really thought that I would be working in abortion.  But here I am, and I believe in its morality.

Despite my personal struggles with religion and faith, I very firmly recognize the intrigue that religion holds for me, especially with regard to issues of sexual and reproductive health, and its influence on the choices people make.  I am also painfully aware of my knee-jerk emotional reactions to religion and its pervasiveness in the social constructs of our society. Still, we need to fight as a society to answer these questions:  What does an individual need to be a healthy, well-rounded, confident sexual being?  How can society overcome religious stigma and understand the complexities of sexuality with compassion and acceptance?  How can we educate and empower women and men to love themselves without the detrimental comparison to unrealistic ideals set forth by society, the media, and religion?  How do we do all of this while still maintaining the integrity of a culture and community of people and their unique and diverse beliefs?

My work in teen sex-ed and pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS, and abortion has focused my passion on the sexual being of humans, by way of stigma. My experiences showed me that I was advocating for a person who happened to have an STI, who happened to be pregnant, who happened to have HIV, or who happened to be gay.  My passion was in supporting this person, who, because they are a sexual human being, was now being treated with hatred, discrimination, and condemnation.  I studied sexuality and health because a person is first a sexual being (from birth!), before they are a reproductive person (if at all!).  Sexuality encompasses the continuums of one’s sex, gender, orientation, sexual behavior, sexual health, and sexual rights. The binaries of sex, gender, and orientation that our society so loves and finds so comforting reduces us to the moral panics that devolve into ideological rhetoric at religious and political bully pulpits.

Comprehensive sexuality education, sexual positivity, sexual rights, and reproductive justice are foundations of morality, rooted in compassion and humanism. I have made choices, strongly influenced by my Catholic upbringing, and I’ve made choices as an autonomous, sexual woman. It has been these choices, the ones I’ve made based on my gut desire and intuition that have been the most satisfying and fulfilling. My hope is for people across all walks of life and ages to have control over and take pleasure in their sexual health.


About the Author
Jennifer A. Hart, MPH, is the Director of Training & Education at the National Abortion Federation. In 2011, Jennifer earned her Master of Public Health from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, where she studied Sexuality and Health and religion’s influence on policy and access to care. Jennifer’s career and education have focused on the stigmatized issues of abortion, HIV/AIDS, sexual and gender-based violence, and sexual identity and rights. She has worked with Global Doctors for Choice, a global initiative of Physicians for Reproductive Health; the Access Team at International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR); and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Jennifer studied and worked abroad in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Nigeria with organizations such as Profamilia, Instituto de Sexualidad Humana, and Rotary International. Prior to graduate school, Jennifer was the executive director of ALFA, the only HIV/AIDS service organization in rural northwestern NC, where she worked for eight years. Jennifer earned a BA in Spanish and Human and Community Service from Lenoir-Rhyne College (now known as Lenoir-Rhyne University) and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University. She volunteers as co-administrator of Repro Health Happy Hour DC, and is a blog contributor for Planned Parenthood of Central and Greater Northern New Jersey’s Center for Family Life Education. Most weekends, Jennifer can be found with a mug of French press coffee, ranting and raving about politics, religion, and social justice issues with her partner and their kitty kids.  Jennifer can be reached at [email protected]
 

Sex Education Month

What we’re doing for Sex Education Month this October

One of Secular Woman’s core values is the right of everyone to comprehensive sex education that is age appropriate and non-shaming. That is far from a reality today in the U.S. to the detriment of our youth and the adults those youth become. Accurate, unbiased knowledge of sex, our bodies, and our sexuality helps us to construct a healthy, affirming sense of our own sexuality and desire. So, for this week and the next in October, Sex Education Month, we are highlighting the importance of Sex Education through articles on our website and two twitter chats on Sex Ed, one from 2-3 PM EST on the 26th and another on the 30th from 8-9 PM EST. Join us using hashtag #SexEd and talk about Sex Education, where it needs to go, why its important, share your resources, where you go for advice as an adult…bring your questions and your opinions!

Meanwhile check out the articles we’ve already published this week on Sex Education:

Like Voldemort to Wizards
I grew up in an almost alternate universe, where courtship methods of the Victorian era were popular and no one spoke of sex except in hushed or negative tones. Sex to Christian homeschoolers was like Voldemort to wizards — That Which Shall Not Be Named. I attended “purity” seminars at which homeschool celebrities like Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, urged audiences of horny teenagers to focus on God and flee that nebulous human demon called Lust.

Catholic Values and Sexuality vs. Actual Sex Education
Of course, all sex before marriage is out and wasn’t even discussed. Contraception was briefly mentioned, but only to be told that it was bad and wrong and no one should use it. Natural Family Planning (NFP), otherwise known as the rhythm method, was introduced but wasn’t explained. STDs weren’t even talked about because when both you and your spouse are virgins then you have no fear of catching any diseases. The wedding night was discussed in detail and the whole idea that your body no longer belongs to you, but to your husband or wife was talked about glowingly. I could never get on board with the idea that my body, what I have to lug around all day, was suddenly someone else’s.

Reclaiming my Voice
My father was the true idea of a traditional and insecure man who could only see things black and white. A real woman was submissive and meek and enslaved. If you were not this, than you were less of a woman and not appealing to a man, which I was told many times. I was told “no man will ever want you if don’t change”. Our dinner times were accompanied by my father lecturing and criticizing my mother, if I interrupted or responded to this he would speedily come over to my side of the table and slap me across my arms and body. We were given a list of interests we were allowed to be interested in and sex was not on the list. Everything was handled with aggression, verbal abuse, and hitting. My voice was taken away, and with it my right to be curious about things and feel new things.

Reclaiming my Voice

Reclaiming my Voice
By Catherine Rosso
I was born to a  pastor and his wife in 1985 in Central New York. My father stated his church was non-denominational but also had Pentecostal roots. My parents met in the Bible School they taught in together and were engaged their 2nd date, which they felt was planned and set up by the Holy Spirit. My perception of their beginnings as a couple, is that they were two lonely people with big ideas and plans on how God was going to use their lives to change “the nations”, as they called it. They believed they had a “calling” on their lives and being married was part of that calling. I don’t feel sexual attraction or chemistry had much to do with their decision to marry each other.

Being the child of this specific father and mother meant that church attendance on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings was not an option. I attended a baptist school from grades K-12. We had to do family devotions, church activities, and were only allowed to have christian friends. Other parents praise their children after they make a painting, win a game, or tie their shoes, we were affirmed any time we spoke in tongues, raised our hands in worship, or kneeled at the alter. My father was very emotional and an easily-tempered man. My father was the true idea of a traditional and insecure man who could only see things black and white. A real woman was submissive and meek and enslaved. If you were not this, than you were less of a woman and not appealing to a man, which I was told many times. I was told “no man will ever want you if don’t change”. Our dinner times were accompanied by my father lecturing and criticizing my mother, if I interrupted or responded to this he would speedily come over to my side of the table and slap me across my arms and body. We were given a list of interests we were allowed to be interested in and sex was not on the list. Everything was handled with aggression, verbal abuse, and hitting. My voice was taken away, and with it my right to be curious about things and feel new things.

My mom was very un-intune to herself and others emotionally. Her activities in the church and home defined her. If she wasn’t doing, she was nothing. Anything overly emotional or confrontational was corrected or disapproved of and the conversation was changed quickly by her. She taught me that my body was a secret to be kept from boys who want it but who can’t have it until they sign a legal document saying we are married, which to my mom meant that a man and I were bonded for life. Talking about sex casually, reading about sex, watching sex, thinking about sex, and feeling sexual was not permitted and would be punished. My mom’s big sex talk was mostly about my period. I was thirteen and we talked in my room. I was told that once a month I would menstruate and need to wear pads but the most important thing was I could never tell a boy if I started my period or when I was having a period. I was given a gold necklace with a key on it to remind me to wait for marriage. I had to watch, in youth group, these Christian videos on abstinence and all the consequences of having sex before marriage. If you were unmarried and had sex, you got STDs and got pregnant and no man would ever love you again because you weren’t a virgin, and if you waited for marriage everything would be about love, happiness, gummy bears and unicorns.

My school had a dress code. We were told the reason for the dress code was so that we wouldn't cause our brothers in the Lord to fall into sin. There was no Sex Ed, that was the parents’ job. The biggest thing I learned from my parents and my school about  sex is that men feel and desire everything and women feel and desire nothing. I was taught that men have no ability to control themselves and have no hope without Jesus and that women must keep everything covered, closed, hidden, suppressed, and quiet and that if we were not the type of woman that could do these things then we would never be loved by a man.

After a long journey I am now at a place where I believe our sexuality is beyond complex, wild, and is gorgeous and is supposed to be. Just like a rugged mountain or a vibrant sunset, our sexuality should manifest itself in it’s most natural form. The root of what hides us and limits us is a fear of being truthful, mostly to ourselves. To be truthful to ourselves requires an ownership of all that we feel and perceive and not relying on our past or our environment to dictate who we are. I believe that education on protection and respecting others is very important, however I do not think that a system can create a “one size fits all” curriculum on sex and succeed in the long run. When it comes to education, I promote an educational structure that is set up for the student to critically think, reflect, and come up with conclusions on their own. When it comes to something like sexuality, the question “why” needs to be looked at as much as the “how”. Why do I feel this way? Why do I want to respect a woman’s refusal to have sex? Why do I want to do my best to prevent getting pregnant right now? I also feel that an introduction to the topic of sex should be presented in a way that teaches a student to celebrate, to explore, and makes them feel good about their journey, rather than making them feel like a science project or a time-bomb about to go off or a piece of machinery that needs to be handled properly, using the pamphlets and books given. Our sexuality is not a new toy or device that we need to be taught how to use properly. We are meant to be our natural selves, which means less steering and more reinforcing the positive that is already apparent, more student-centered. After all, nothing is more real to a person than what they discover on their own.
 


About the Author:
I wanted to write about sexual education and my background due to the fact I have a great interest in human sexuality and I want to encourage others to break away from their preconceived ideas of themselves or others that were given to them by their backgrounds, families, or religions. I want to encourage others to empower themselves with knowledge and not depend on what they grew up with to understand themselves and sex.  I attend my local Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and I plan on homeschooling my daughter, so I am part of the homeschooling community in my area. Additionally, I have started a group for alternative and nontraditional families and I am a stay-at-home mom.

 

Secular Woman Welcomes More New Board Members

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information, please contact:

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727 E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail

Secular Woman Welcomes More New Board Members

Secular Woman is pleased to welcome two new members to its Board of Directors: Becca Thomas, longtime human rights advocate and Secular Woman volunteer, and Julia Burke, a writer with an interest in social justice.

Becca ThomasBecca Thomas brings to Secular Woman over two decades of experience in advocacy, organization and fund development, as well as a passion for reproductive freedom. She is a former marketing executive and Sunday School teacher. Her journey from theism began in third grade while arguing with a classmate who insisted that if you do not believe in Santa, then you can not believe in God. Thomas continued delving into philosophical questions and became an avid student of world religions. In her late twenties, she made a break from the Church as well as the corporate world, and is now an adamant advocate for human rights. “Humanity would be better served by more compassion and less judgment, the very antithesis of what religion offers,” she says. Thomas will be leading Secular Woman’s project, @AbortTheocracy, a campaign to terminate the intersection of religious power over bodily autonomy and sovereignty by opposing religious influence in government.

Julia BurkeWriter and editor Julia Burke became a feminist at the age of twelve, when she visited her cousin, a law student, and found Susan J. Douglas’s Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media on her bookshelf and asked to borrow it. Atheism took a little longer; raised liberal-Protestant but exposed at a tender age to the fundamentalist beliefs of a reborn Christian relative, Burke was fascinated by faith but disturbed by its implications. She avidly researched several religions throughout her teen and college years before realizing that “none of the above” was not only a viable option but the only choice that made sense. While working as assistant editor at the Center for Inquiry she came to know and admire many prominent figures in the secular community, and became interested in the intersection between skepticism, secularism, and social justice. She joined Secular Woman in the fall of 2012.

“Secular Woman’s first year was filled with exciting growth and activism within the atheist community,” says Kim Rippere, president of Secular Woman. “With our expanding reach, increased infrastructure, and additional leaders we are looking forward to becoming part of other communities focusing on feminism and reproductive rights.”

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Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: www.SecularWoman.org.

A Preview of FtBCon, Happening this Weekend (Updated)

We are thrilled to see this new conference format focused on those in the atheist and secular communities and are interested in social justice.  As the secular movement grows so too should the ways in which we can participate in the secular community.  FTBConscience adds a unique and innovative approach to making connections, discussing topics, and making conferences more accessible.

Find Secular Woman at FtBConscience!

Secular Woman members will be represented in full force at FTBConscience, an online  conference held by Freethoughtblogs.com beginning this weekend. All times are CST. View the full schedule here.
  • Kim Rippere, president of Secular Woman, will participate in a panel titled “Atheism is Not Enough.” The description sums it up well: “As proven by the deep rifts that exist within movement atheism, a common acknowledgement that there is no god is often not enough ground on which to build a coherent, lasting community. Social justice movements often encounter tipping points where they either take into account the natural allies that are other movements, or they fail. This panel will discuss how movement atheism should not be the end-point of a journey into social justice, but the beginning.” Rippere and fellow SW board member Monette Richards will also present “The Right Way to be Wrong,” on how to react when called out for hurting others, Saturday at 8 a.m.

  • Amy Davis Roth of Skepchick.org and Surly-Ramics will be co-hosting a panel with Glendon Mellow called “Atheism, Science, and Art” on Saturday at 2 p.m. Artists within the secular, scientific and skeptical communities online discuss using their art to popularize their preferred field. Panelists include Anne Sauer, Emily Finke, and Julius Csotonyi.

  • Trinity Aodh, Secular Woman’s advisor on queer inclusion, language, and membership strategies, will participate in the panel “Myths and Facts About Trans People,” in which five trans women will discuss both the obvious and subtle flaws in common understandings of what being trans is like. 

  • Vyckie Garrison, founder of the organization No Longer Quivering,  will be presenting on Saturday from 12-2 p.m. as part of a panel discussing “Evangelical Atheism,” joined by Jamila Bey and Russell Glasser. “I'm planning to share several effective tips on how to talk to a fundamentalist,” she says.

  • Ex-Muslim writer and Skepchick Heina Dadabhoy will join the the "Atheist Representation in Pop Culture" panel, which discusses how atheists are portrayed in the public sphere, and how we can improve our image. She will be joined by Skepchick.org founder Rebecca Watson, “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta, activist JT Eberhard, writer and speaker Ashley Miller, and Xavier Trapp of Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta. Ian Cromwell will moderate.

  • Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief, will moderate a panel including Greta Christina, Nicome Taylor, and Hank Fox titled “Atheism and Grief,” a discussion of how atheists can help each other during times of tragedy. 

  • Secular Woman board member Nicole Harris will participate in the “Reproductive Rights” and “What’s the Harm? Religion, Pseudoscience, and Mental Health” panels. 

  • Writer and activist Miri Mogilevsky will be hosting three panels: “Promoting Social Justice in Small Atheist Groups”; “Reproductive Rights”; and “Meet the Pathfinders”; and moderating three more: “Sex and Skepticism”; “Supporting Freethinkers with Mental Illness”; and “What’s the Harm? Religion, Pseudoscience, and Mental Health” (along with fellow SW member Ania Bula). She is also speaking at “God is Love? Relationships in a Godless World.”

  • Social justice blogger Ania Bula will participate in “Of Spoons and Skepticism: Dealing with Chronic Pain” at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, along with Chana, Emily Harte, Mitchell Greenbaum, and Emily Finke. She says, “We will be talking about what it is like to deal with chronic pain and why the atheist community and skeptics should care about those of us with chronic pain.” She will also be a part of the 4:00 p.m. panel “God is Love? Relationships in a Godless World,” joined by Anti-Intellect, Beth Presswood, Jamila Bey, James Croft, and Miri M., which discusses how our godlessness affects our romantic relationships. 

  • Michelle Huey is a part of the Pathfinder's Project, which has a panel on Sunday; the program consists of a yearlong international service and research trip sponsored by Foundation Beyond Belief. 

  • Jadehawk will be a part of a panel titled “Immigrants’ Rights and Social Justice.” The panel will discuss experiences of immigrants; asylum abuses; how detention and deportation are harmful; and what activists can do to stand in solidarity with immigrants.

  • Brianne Bilyeu will facilitate the “Atheist Music” panel, and she’ll be leading the “Reproductive Rights” panel and participating in “Video Games, Religion and Morality.”

BLACKOUT, an Interview with Mandisa Thomas

Mandisa L. Thomas is the president and founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. and organizer of Blackout, the first secular rally celebrating diversity, which takes place in Queens, New York next weekend. Here, Thomas explains why Blackout is so important, why she wants black atheists to come out, and how she came to develop her freethinker identity.

SW: Can you speak to the need for this particular event, right now?

MT: Ayanna Watson and I came up with Blackout after the Reason Rally brought out so many nonbelievers and freethinkers. With the number of black atheists openly identifying themselves online and coming out, and the growing presence of atheists of color, there haven’t really been dedicated events focused toward minorities. We thought it would be a good idea to celebrate that and let people know they aren’t alone, that there are others in the community they can network with.

SW: You spoke with Hemant Mehta about how “belief in God has become such a fixation in the Black community.” Where do you see that coming from, and how do you overcome that?

MT: If you study the history of the United States, as well as slavery, when captives were brought over from Africa during trans-atlantic trade, captives were stripped of whatever cultural identity they had and were made to accept slavery. It became such an occupying force in our community, and once slavery ended the institution of the church was the one that helped build schools, establish social programs, and became such an integral part of the community, where folks could meet without as much danger of being killed as other places.

Unfortunately, it has become an identifying force with blacks––with especially emotional ties. There is this need by most blacks to rely on faith or the idea of God in order to get through any injustice. It’s also overlooked that there have been freethinkers in the black community! So many have challenged Christianity in particular. The importance of this event is to celebrate freethought in the black community; it’s assumed that because you’re black you’re Christian and in that in so many people leaving religion and letting go of the god concept we felt it was important because the black community is changing. Even if they’re not leaving god they’re leaving the church, and as a result they feel like they may have nowhere to turn. There’s a social aspect; their friends belong to churches, and a lot of people stay for that aspect. We also want to show the black community that that dynamic is changing and in order for us to start making improvements in our community there needs to be a recognition of one that the black church today is not as effective in progression as it once was, and also there are those of us in our community who are not implementing faith-based initiatives not only in our personal lives but how we want to implement our communities.

Our president, Kim Rippere, has said that the secular movement is at a crucial juncture where young atheists and freethinkers are embracing social justice and action, rather than just a lack of belief in a god. What do you think?

MT: I wholeheartedly agree. It isn’t just about debating the god concept because once you let that go, you have to figure out what’s next. There are issues in our respective communities that we have to help resolve. The black secular voice is important because we’re representing a demographic in our community growing day by day. As we continue to make ourselves known it’s important for people to know that there are atheists of all different kinds. There are academics, those very well-off, book-learned types, and you have some that aren’t. In Black Nonbelievers, Inc. we’re pretty much your everyday atheist; we work 9 to 5, we have families. We don’t get the time to read as much as we want to, but we want to live our everyday lives not feeling harassed by believers. So many have relied on our church for emotional support, it has become a problem in our community. You have people who are looking for their next meal or wondering how they’re going to pay their bills; there are issues they might not necessarily be able to address. It’s important for us to offer our point of view on how we go about combating this. Sometimes it may take us working with the religious community and finding that common ground on how we do that.

SW: You mentioned that we don’t often hear about historical black freethinkers. Do you think their contributions have been intentionally downplayed in our society and in schools?

MT: There are many black figures and black notables that have tended to be overlooked. A. Philip Randolf, for example, was an atheist and people tend to forget about that. It’s not just the school system––it’s the black community doing it as well. Martin Luther King, Jr. was definitely a great individual, and he deserves that acknowledgement, but Bayard Rustin, his advisor, was also a gay man. Not too many people know about him.

SW: What’s the one thing you hope Blackout attendees will take away from the conference?
MT: I remember attending my first American Atheists convention in 2011. It was so inspiring; there was such a feeling of excitement to see so many of us in person. The main thing I hope we accomplish is for others to get that same excitement and see so many black atheists in one area. I’ve gotten the sentiment “I’ve never met a black atheist” from so many people. Also, moving forward, how do we make more connections, work toward more solutions, get the message across, work with believers to help them understand our point of view. I’m hoping it is not just educational but inspirational in demonstrating that no one is alone and it is a good feeling to be around so many of us at once. Hopefully it will galvanize and excite people. It’s great to have the online venue but it’s better if we get together offline and see people they may not have heard of. [Keynote Speaker] Jeremiah Camara, for example, may not be well known in the freethought community; it’s a good chance for attendees to see speakers they may not have heard of.

SW: Can you tell us the story of how you became an atheist?
MT: I wasn’t raised in a religious household. My parents made conscious decisions not to raise my brothers and I Christian. I was never made to believe in any gods. As a child I sang in different churches and was a voice instructor. I was raised Black Nationalist, which is how I came to know about historically black humanists. The first time I was asked if I was atheist was when I was 14. I said I didn’t believe in a heaven or hell. Afterwards I thought about it. I thought, it’s not that I necessarily don’t believe in a creator, and I thought maybe I was “spiritual but not religious”  because I knew how Christianity was forced on blacks. It just never really played a huge part in my life. I remember not thinking highly of most black Christians. Most were hypocritical, nasty individuals who claimed to believe but were not good people. I started to revisit my thoughts about religion in 2005 when I became familiar with Jeremiah Camara and his book Holy Lockdown, and then when I saw Bill Maher’s Religulous. I’ve always enjoyed satire and anything that made fun of religion; it always seemed to be so on point. When I watched a documentary on Jim Jones it brought home to me how detrimental religious belief can be. As I started to express myself more I had people contact me who felt like they were the only ones who felt that way, and after founding the group on Facebook I became more excited––I felt like there are others who can identify. It seemed weird to identify as such, but I had to be honest with myself: at the end of the day I don’t believe in any gods at all.

SW: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
MT: If people want to donate and support our efforts any contributions would be appreciated. We are selling blackout shirts and other merchandise. And, come for fellowship. It’s not a religious word––Blair Scott said that to me once. Come to hear great speakers, see great performers. If you’ve never been around this many atheists of color before, you won’t want to miss this!

 

ShameLESS, Without Regret

by Kim Rippere, follow her on twitter

My abortion story is 30 years long.

When I was 18, I had a one-night stand and stupidly used the pullout method. Without any testing, I knew I was pregnant pretty quickly; but, like many teenagers (with brains that are not fully developed), I chose to ignore it. I knew the problem wasn't going away, but ignoring seemed like the best option. As a 47-year-old woman I now wonder how I could have ever made such a decision to ignore something so important.

I told two people: my best friends. Both were and are very different. One was another young woman who lived in the same medium sized town. The other was a guy who lived 3,000 miles away. He was the first person I told and he eventually became my husband, and, although we have divorced he is now still my best friend.

But getting back to my 18 year-old self. Lunch was getting earlier and earlier. I was just so hungry. Then the final straw. I went shopping with my Mom to Plums in the San Fernando Valley and she said I was “thick” in the middle. I knew I had to do something. I was also terrified that I was too many weeks pregnant to get an abortion.

Somehow, I figured out where I could get an abortion in my local community. My local friend took me to the clinic and brought me home. Honestly, I do not remember anything from the procedure; other than the relief that, given how pregnant I was, they were willing to perform the operation.

My friend brought me home with some medication and all was well. I screwed up the medication some, but no harm. This friend fell off the radar and was never heard from again. Odd, but her choice and whatever.

Fast forward 30 years to Facebook. Don't all good stories include Facebook?!? I moved quite a bit as a child and remember my middle school friends better than some high schools friends. Having an unusual last name, people started finding me and we had some short chats to reignite the ties (when I remembered them, sadly not always). But, mostly, nothing came of these.

Then, my friend who disappeared after my abortion found me. I accepted the friend request and thought “hmmm.” Whatever, it cannot hurt. One day I brought up what had happened via private message. She apologized! Turns out she is deeply religious, against abortion, and has had some of her own trials and experiences over the years that taught her “grace.” Her word. It never occurred to me that she might have had her own opinions about my choice and that was why she disappeared! As a 47-year-old woman, how could I never have considered that she might have had feelings about my abortion?

My abortion and fetus is something she gave great thought to over the years. A completely different reaction than my own; I put the whole thing behind me and didn't give it another thought. I wasn’t in denial, it just wasn't a big deal in my life. I don't think about my foot operation much either.

I have never regretted this decision and cannot imagine my life if I had made any other decision. I have been telling people since I was ten that I didn't want kids. I am and will always be childless by choice. Having the ability to choose a child-free life is of fundamental importance to me. I had an abortion and I am #shameLESS.

#ShameLESS, a Campaign to Help End Abortion Stigma

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information, please contact:

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727  E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail

#ShameLESS, a Campaign to Help End Abortion Stigma

Secular Woman, through its latest project @AbortTheocracy, is launching a new month-long campaign aimed at reducing abortion stigma and encouraging people to talk openly, shamelessly, about their abortion experiences. The campaign is, appropriately, called #ShameLESS. And, in July, we will be sharing your stories about abortion through memes which you can share via social media, as well as articles on abortion and reproductive health and rights throughout the month.

This campaign is a response to the fact that even though approximately one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, many women and people designated female at birth (DFAB) are silent and ashamed about their abortion. When we are silent we are alone.  It is possible that the peson sitting next to you has had an abortion and never told their sister, mother, best friend, or anyone – this collective silence disempowers and isolates us.  Just as domestic abuse victims were alone and isolated in the 1970s before talking about abuse became more acceptable. When women find their voice and use it to tell their lived experiences they change our lives, the lives of future women, and society.

Abortion is a medical procedure, and, like other medical procedures, a woman (or person DFAB) and her doctor should be making the decision without interference or intervention from religious groups or any governmental legislative body. One of our goals for this year is to “advocate for women’s bodily autonomy and sovereignty”; this campaign is an integral part of that.

This campaign will launch with a story from the co-founder, Kim Rippere who says, “I am Shameless and I’m ready to tell my story.” Storytelling is a powerful force for change, with each story told this month another woman will find her voice and other women will be empowered to be #ShameLESS and unafraid.

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Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: www.SecularWoman.org.

@AbortTheocracy is a project focused on the intersection of religious power over women’s bodily autonomy and sovereignty, dedicated to terminating that connection by opposing religious influence in government.

Breaking the Buckles

By Rebekah Hertzberg, for more of her work visit her website.

“What would you like to work on today?” Dr. B asks after I settle into the antique patterned sofa.

“I don’t know.” I respond, a usual response for me until I decide to divulge my new goals and life objectives. My mind changes at every new meeting. We have discussed almost all of my plans for the near future, the future that will ensue in June once I obtain my master’s degree.

Dr. B and I share some experiences. We have both traveled abundantly and have both, during our travels, traveled to Israel. He suspects my Jewish heritage because of the spelling of Rebekah, not to mention my very German surname. We have spoken about my heritage at length on two separate occasions, at least spoken as much as my small knowledge of my heritage allows.

I tell Dr. B that I am an Atheist during my visit to him last month. I had already divulged my nonreligious nature during one of our first sessions, some nine months prior, after I relayed my childhood background that included confirmation in the Methodist church and attendance at an Episcopalian high school. I broached the subject myself, in the beginning, admitting not only my nonreligious preference but my sexual preference as well. I guess I was hoping he might refuse to serve as my therapist, and I would have the perfect reason to avert my personal issues.

When he did not refuse me service, I decided to continue meeting with him on a mostly regular basis. Dr. B works with his wife at Complete Counsel Associates. In the waiting room, there are numerous plaques, posters, and other religious propaganda and memorabilia. The business card I am handed by Dr. B for each of my follow-up appointments even has a scripture on it: Acts 20:27 NKJV, which when I looked up, reads: For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

My current residence in Danville, Virginia should not go unmentioned. For someone who avoids church, religion emanates at every nook and cranny of this small city. Danville is part of the Bible Belt, and though mostly unimpressionable, I have noticed the plethora of churches and religious organizations in the city. As a lesbian living in a small conservative city, I tend to isolate myself. I abandoned religion long before I came out during my freshman year of college. My distrust of religion runs deeper than my sexual orientation: I just never felt comfortable in church, reciting scripture synchronously, singing hymns, and praying profusely. The fact that I am a lesbian and shunned by many congregations, especially in Danville, only intensifies my distrust.

To accentuate the Christian-minded community of Danville, I also have contact with a tattoo artist, who is involved in his own ministry, God’s Gift Ministries. He attends a local church and paints portraits of Jesus during an allotted time after the sermon. Despite our differences, he has been supportive of my zine, Fractal, for quite some time, purchasing ads and agreeing to display them in his shop, even when I had a picture of Obama on the cover of the November 2012 issue.
           
Coming into contact with people like my therapist and the tattoo artist is commonplace in Danville, and, although it has taken some time and inner strength and resolve, I support my religious and sexual preferences. It can be isolating to live in such a narrow-minded, conservative community like Danville. I share the perspective of the community (as narrow-minded and unsupportive) with the tattoo artist, and we share a love for art, though we differ on religious preference. I seem to be surrounded by an automatically infused Bible Belt landscape but accept myself and maintain a mostly content frame of mind.
           
I have actually lived in two cities noted as being “buckles” in the Bible Belt due to the number of churches and religiously affiliated institutions. I graduated from college in Springfield, Missouri, home of Evangel University (I went to Drury University), a city that is almost 88% Caucasian and only 4% African-American due to a lynching in 1906, where all three men were determined innocent of their alleged crimes.
           
I also attended college for a short period in Lynchburg, Virginia, home to Liberty University and the late Jerry Falwell, at what used to be Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (it is now coed and called Randolph College). I came out my freshman year. For now, my plan is to move to Nashville, Tennessee post graduation, and even though it is another reported “buckle” of the Bible Belt, I appreciate the culture of Nashville, albeit its Christian associations and Christian university, Belmont.
           
I am a secular lesbian, two traits that are not evident by my appearance. I look normal, act normal for the most part, and choose to present myself in a fairly conservative manner. While I can respect the nature of religious organizations and some of the people involved therein, like my psychologist and the tattoo artist, I will not change my own perspective to appease the consciousness of the sometimes seeming majority, which, given my current, prior, and future locales, is indeed the majority.