This weekend, more than 100 North Carolina youth plus many youth allies participated in the nation’s first-ever Sex Ed Film Festival and a youth advocacy retreat. And, we all had a blast – a very thoughtful, educational blast! Here’s a recap, and a reason for hope:
The Sex Ed Film Festival
Those who stayed for the full festival got to see three films:
- Saved!, the 2004 campy comedy about a student at a strict Christian high school who gets pregnant while trying to de-gay her boyfriend. (Her misguided treatment idea, not mine.) Our apologies to the audience for the graphic portryal lots and lots and lots of smoking. Smoking is bad for you.
- The Education of Shelby Knox, a 2005 documentary about then high school student/now feminist activist (and Gloria Steinem roomie) Shelby Knox and her quest to get her backward Texas town to add sex education to the school curriculum. (Sound familiar…?) PS – For those of you who want to keep up with Shelby, she’s a full-fledged Twitter addict who can be followed at @ShelbyKnox.
- The Gloucester 18, an unbelievably sad documentary – and by sad, I mean babies dying, interviewees attempting suicide, and girls having to turn their babies over to foster care – about the media’s invention of a so-called ‘pregnancy pact’ in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
We followed each film with a panel and audience discussion about the films and their themes. Maybe it sounds a little dry, but really, get some North Carolinians talking about church and sex education and you’ve got yourself a conversation… Some highlights:
- Panelist and Carolina Friends School student Emma compared her experience growing up in an environment where both her school and church were proactive in addressing both spirituatlity and sexuality as a part of being a healthy, whole person to that of Rosalee. Rosalee, a Durham-based grandmother, minister, and HIV/AIDS activist, was forced to go before a shame panel and kicked out of high school for getting pregnant at 17.
- UNC professor and overall cool person Jane Brown shared her research on teens sexual media diet. Basically, she’s working to help teens consume a balanced media diet just like nutrition advocates work to help teens consume a healthy food diet.
As a bonus, we had Raleigh’s A/V Geeks create “previews” for each film out of crazy vintage sex ed videos. We weren’t sure we could top the 1970′s “Lucy” in which the titular character wrestles with an unplanned pregnancy, good-for-nothin’ boyfriend Joe, and the worlds thickest Bronx accent. Then we saw the 1980′s “VD: Play It Safe”. All we can say is this: there was a mime, and a song called “Welcome to the gonnhorea club, Sue,” and a montage of gifts no lady wants – like herpes (pictured at right).
Spark! Training Youth to Be Catalysts for Change
On Sunday, we trained a group of 100 young people on advocacy and lobbying at the Rigmor House in Chapel Hill. These youth – super diverse in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and background – are now totally pumped up to tell legislators about their needs on Adolescent Health Advocacy Day.
The best thing about the Spark! training was that the day was almost entirely planned and facilitated by youth. Carolina Friends School senior Dan worked with UNC senior Lee to help attendees understand public policy issues and develop their lobby day messages. UNC student Joe gave a rundown of the dos and don’ts of lobby day: “If you feel you have to dress like Ke$ha, you should do your advocacy work online.” APPCNC staffer Mary Vance and Advocates for Youth’s Abby Rosenstein pitched in to offer some grown-up expertise on community organizing.
The highlight of the day was a lunch keynote by James Wagoner, a longtime activist for adolescent health and current president of Advocates for Youth. James told the youth how he got started as an advocate – by rallying for his right to vote at age 18 at a time when many of his peers were being drafted to fight in Vietnam. He made sure they understood that in the long history of social movements, from lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 to women’s sufferage to the civil rights movement, change was created by normal people like them. James then turned his attention to adolescent sexual health and gave us these tidbits:
- Saying that young people are hormonally driven accidents waiting to happen is both disrespectful and untrue.
- Denial that young people have sex is terrible policy.
- Good sex education isn’t just about the plumbing. We can’t divorce it from the context – relationships. Good sex education is relationship education.
- Countries that view adolescents as ‘adults in transition’ have lower teen pregnancy and STD rates.
- Fear, shame, and denial around sexual health shuts down healthy communication between teens and their partners, parents, doctors, and teachers.
- And an audience favorite: “Science shows that providing teens with condoms is as likely to cause those teens to have sex as giving teens an umbrella is to make it rain.”
As an adult youth ally, I felt incredibly heartened by the amount of enthusiasm and hope the newly trained Spark! attendees showed.
These youth will take their skills to the halls of the NC General Assembly for Adolescent Health Advocacy Day on March 2. We hope to see you there, too!