FtBCon2: Secular Woman Track

Secular Woman's track at FtBCon 2 focused on sexual harassment laws, STEM, 2013 trends, women of color and social justice, and homeschooling.  Below you will find the video for each.

Sexual Harassment Law and You: In the past year anti-harassment policies have become more common at conventions as communities have begun to discuss how harassment can deter guests and ruin the convention experience. But how do these privately adopted policies mesh with America’s public anti-harassment laws? Ken White, attorney and legal blogger, will outline how American anti-harassment laws work, how convention policies supplement them, and how best practices can make them more effective.  There is also a related quiz.

Women in STEM:  Join a group of women working in the fields of science and technology as they discuss issues relevant to being a woman in STEM, how their atheism intersects with their science.


Trends in 2013:  Kim Rippere, Julia Burke, Elsa Roberts, and MA Melby will discuss trends and developments in 2013 at the intersection of social justice, feminism, and equality in the secular movement and beyond.


Social Justice and Young Women of Color:  Kim Veal (of the Black Freethinkers) will join Raina Rhoades (of Rhoades to Reality) to host a panel on the issues social justice and young women of color. They will be joined by Noa Jones and Georgina Capetillo. They’ll be discussing the topic and taking questions from viewers.

Religion and  Homeschooling:  A free flowing discussion about homeschooling, religion, and gender. Reprising the discussion from the 3rd Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion.


FtBCon – Religion and Homeschooling Panel Links


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Catholic Values and Sexuality VS. Actual Sex Education

Catholic Values and Sexuality VS. Actual Sex Education
By Star LaBranche, blogger at Scrapbook of Truth

When I was a teenager my parents informed me that I was going to be attending a Catholic Values and Sexuality class at the church that my family attended. I had already been through several years of sex education in public school by that point and was curious to see what additional information the church was willing to impart to me. At that point I had already started to drift from the church and had begun to question that Catholic teachings that I had endured for so many years. I couldn't even imagine myself as an atheist at this point, but I was pretty sure that I wasn't a Catholic.

The class was one full day with a bunch of other bored teenagers and a married couple in their 60s as instructors. Anyone who talks about how the youth is on fire for Catholicism and they are going to save the church has clearly never been to the church I attended or any of the painfully stupid, ridiculously boring presentations that were supposed to excite me about religion. Anyway, the class started and we were soon being instructed in just what Catholics think that god wants for us when we get married.

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.

Things got interesting when we started talking about abortion. We all know abortion is evil and selfish and when they discussed the procedure they went into every single gory detail about what happens to the fetus. Because something being icky is a precursor to it being morally wrong. We were given handouts about the link between breast cancer and abortion (which doesn't exist) and the link between suicide/depression and abortion (which also doesn't exist). Then we were told a cheery story about a couple who had decided to abort and then regretted it so much that they both committed suicide, leaving a note addressed to their murdered fetus. It was quite clear that if we ever got an abortion, this would happen to us if we had any conscious or humanity.

At this time in my life, I didn't know enough about abortion to refute any of these claims. My secular sex education had never covered it and it was at a time before we had the internet at my house, so I had yet to do any research of my own about it. All of the information that I had ever been given about abortion was Catholic-leaning and completely biased. At that age I was so terrified of the procedure that I thought it would never be an option for me at all because it was so barbaric.

At the end of the class they discussed things like saying no and sexual abuse. Saying no was easy. You would make Jesus cry if you made decisions about your body and sexuality and you had to remain pure for your wedding night. There was very little to it. Anyone who wanted you to break your vow of chastity was someone that you needed to break up with with a smart one liner.

The videos on sexual crimes featured young women being abused by their dads, family friends, boyfriends etc. The actresses tried to look dewy eyed and talked about how difficult it was to listen to their girlfriends talk about kissing boys when they had just been raped by their fathers. This was a time well before the sexual abuse scandal erupted in the church and looking back on it, the idea that I spent several hours listening to Catholics tell me how to avoid sexual abuse while their priests were the most cosseted and protected perpetrators of all makes me feel rather ill.

It goes without saying that there was no mention of any kind of sexuality other than heterosexual. Anyone who wasn't straight was completely whitewashed from the presentation. As far as the church was concerned, they didn't even exist and certainly weren't worth talking about. But I hadn't really been expecting a section on anyone who didn't identify as straight, so it came as no surprise.

The entire Values and Sexuality class contained nothing about the human body, how it works, or the nuts and bolts of actual sex. But why would it? We were teenagers and telling us about how sex works would have undoubtedly made us want to go out and try it, so best to keep us in the dark. I'm just thankful that the church I attended didn't have one of those ridiculous Purity Balls.

All in all, the class just backed up what I had already been taught. That sex was wrong and dirty, except in very specific, Catholic circumstances. That making your own choices regarding your body and your sexuality were evil and against god's ultimate plan for you. By the time I left the class, I was still confused about what I believed in a religious sense, but I knew that Catholic "values" weren't for me.

About the Author:
Star LaBranche is an atheist scrapbooker with an interest in women’s and gender studies, true crime, pop culture, and writing. She currently lives in the middle of nowhere with her fiance and their two dogs. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Women’s Studies, which qualifies her to write blogs about vaginas.

In her spare time she papercrafts, watches documentaries on Netflix, plays video games, and attends as many drag shows as humanly possible. Star volunteers in the community and works for scrapbooking company. Her favorite things in life are animals, cheese, learning new things, nice people and exploring the world. She currently writes for GodSwill Ministries, runs the blog Scrapbook of Truth, and guest blogs whenever she can.

Like Voldemort To Wizards: How Christian Homeschooling Made Me A Sex Ed Advocate

Like Voldemort To Wizards: How Christian Homeschooling Made Me A Sex Ed Advocate
By R.L. Stollar, co-founder of Homeschoolers Anonymous

I learned about sex because of a Boy Scout merit badge.

My older brother and I were on the way to a Boy Scouts meeting. My dad was nervous the whole time, seeming to stall until the last moment. I am not sure if this conversation would have ever happened naturally. But it did happen, if it only happened because it had to.

My brother and I were working to get our Family Life merit badge in Boy Scouts. Part of earning that badge was learning about sex. Someone had to give us "The Talk," and — since our Boy Scout troop was a primarily Christian homeschool troop — that responsibility fell on our father. To learn about sex from anyone other than one's parents was a cardinal sin in my Christian homeschool culture.

Most of the drive was awkward, because we knew we were about to get The Talk. I do not think The Talk necessarily has to be awkward, but it was for our dad. You could feel it in the air. As a result, The Talk really materialized on the 15-minute drive. Never, that is, until we pulled into the parking lot of the rundown Baptist church where our troop met. Then it was do or die time, and my dad gave us a quick summary of lovemarriagepenisvaginababy. Boom.

That was the extent of my Christian homeschool sex education growing up. It lasted less than five minutes.

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.

In that universe, "abstinence only" was not an abstract concept but a concrete reality. I never learned about condoms, or how to use them. I never learned about STDs. As a male, I never learned about menstruation. That was a taboo topic; my parents referred to it as "that time of month" and all I knew was that it was something embarrassing and icky that only women talk about and men just need to know to avoid women during that time.

When I hear people arguing for abstinence-only education these days I cringe. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, "You don't really want that!" I know what that education looks like because that is the education I received. It was a sham to even call it "education." It was rather an absence of education. The so-called "abstinence" was an abstinence of knowledge about biology and empowerment about consent.

It did not help me in even a single way.

It did not discourage me from eventually having premarital sex. All it did was make me utterly ignorant of the reality of sex. It did not keep me from so-called sexual immorality. It made me incapable of acknowledging and processing my own experience of sexual abuse as a child.

As I have grown older, and both shared my story as well as heard other stories of former homeschool kids, there are so many similarities between our experiences. Sex felt like something dirty and secretive and repressed up until one's wedding day, and then magically it was supposed transform into something holy and beautiful and celebrated. Sex was something only men wanted, that was given by women in exchange for love. (I am aware now, too, that this harmful stereotype transcends Christianity and homeschooling.) Men were incapable of controlling their physical desires, always on the brink of the sexual sin of lust. So much so, that women had to carefully don the most modest of clothing to avoid causing men to "stumble." Men were also only attracted to women and women to men, thereby precluding any conversation about the existence of LGBT* individuals.

And foremost of all: sex education, that insidious tool of the evil secularists and humanists, was a weapon of Satan. It was described in classic misogynistic terms: a "temptress," a "whore of Babylon," hired by the Prince of Darkness to lead public schoolers astray. Us homeschoolers, God bless us, we were spared that temptation, as our parents took it upon themselves to raise us righteously, without sex education and its spurious ways.

But dreams run red lights and crash into the curbs of reality awfully hard.

As I hear more and more from former homeschoolers, I hear the same things I myself experienced: that what we were "spared from," what we were "blessed" to avoid, could have really helped us. No matter how hard our parents tried to keep us unstained from "the world," the world happened. We grew up. We made mistakes, got drunk, did drugs, made out, had sex; some of us were sexually abused and raped — all the things that happen outside of Christian homeschooling, too. The only difference is we had zero tools to process those things.

It is because of my very experience as a Christian homeschool kid that I am an advocate for comprehensive sex education.

I believe in comprehensive sex education because all people have the right to be empowered. I believe in comprehensive sex education because it is vitally important to know your body, respect your body and other people's bodies, and understand how to stand up against those people who both want you ignorant of your body and aim to disrespect your body.

Depriving children of that knowledge, for whatever ridiculous religious reasons, is nothing less than educational abuse. It is not pleasing to God or god or anything that is allegedly holy. Ignorance is a unholy prison. Forced ignorance is one of the most soul-crushing experiences one can have.

Children need to be educated about their bodies because that is how children learn how to respect and love them and each other's.

Children need to be educated about sexuality because sexuality is a fundamentally important part of being human.

Children need to be educated about consent because rape and sexual abuse happen in every community and every culture and you are living in a daydream if you think it will not happen in yours.

The more I learn about the universality of body-shaming, rape culture, and abuse, and the more I hear about how these things happen every day in Christian churches and conservative homeschooling communities, the more I see why sex ed is an absolute must. When we are afraid of sexuality, when we are afraid to talk bluntly and honestly and openly about our bodies and our emotions, we are giving power to those who want to take advantage of our ignorance and our silence. When we are blinded by our ideologies and unwilling to see every human being as worthy of respect and safety, we are giving power to those people advancing shame and bigotry. When we are afraid to name That Which Shall Not Be Named and speak about it plainly, we are only adding to the power of those in our communities — homeschooling, Christian, secular, and otherwise — who will abuse it.

I wish I knew about sex from something other than abuse. But my parents and my homeschooling community could not have changed that, no matter how much they wish they could.

Yet I also wish I knew how to talk about sex from something other than a Boy Scout merit badge. And that is something that my parents and my community could have done differently.

I have spent the last decade catching up on what I missed, on the lessons I never learned. It can be an awfully embarrassing process, but it is a necessary one.

About the Author:
R.L. Stollar is co-founder and Community Coordinator at Homeschoolers Anonymous, a cooperative online project by former homeschoolers. He is also a founding board member of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving homeschooling communities for future generations by educating homeschooling families about mental health and child abuse. Ryan was homeschooled from preschool through high school. He spent his high school years as a speech and debate competitor in the HSLDA-created National Christian Forensics and Communications Association and was one of the original student leaders for Communicators for Christ, now the Institute for Cultural Communicators. Through high school and college, he taught speech and debate to thousands of homeschool students across the nation with CFC conferences, a HSLDA National Leadership Retreat, Cedarville University, the University of Oregon, and elsewhere. He has a B.A. in Western philosophy and literature from Gutenberg College in Oregon and a M.A. in Eastern religions from St. John’s College in New Mexico. Ryan is the former volunteer News Editor of Eugene Daily News, a hyperlocal community news source in Oregon.