Written by Nicole Clark.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Let’s Talk About Sex: Love, Legislation, & Leadership Conference, put together by the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in beautiful Miami Beach, Florida. I was invited to be on the planning committee for this conference, and I can definitely say that it was a labor of love. SisterSong, a collective based in Atlanta that focuses on the sexual and holistic health of women of color (Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latina, and Native/Indigenous), originated the Let’s Talk About Sex (LTAS) conference in 2007 in Chicago, IL. Inspired by focus group outcomes of young Black and Latino girls presented by the Pro-Choice Public Education Project, SisterSong set out to see how women of color are talking about sex amongst each other, to our family members, partners, and in our communities. While the feminist and reproductive justice frameworks have changed how we discuss sex and sexuality, one thing remains clear: the intersections of race, gender, economic status, citizenship, religion, and the environment still play a pivotal role in how we discuss sex and sexuality.
With over 80 workshops, one day of information-filled institutes, caucuses, 6 plenary sessions, open mic discussions, breakout group meetings, morning exercise and self-help sessions, and cultural entertainment, attendees of LTAS were entertained, enlightened, humbled, appreciative, and energized. Women from all races and from all parts of the RJ movement gathered together to share ideas about how to move this work forward in our communities, organizations, and among our peers. One powerful moment of the conference was when the attendees were asked to raise their hands if they were born after Roe v. Wade. Roughly a majority of the attendees in the room raised their hands. We’re living in a world where abortion should be readily and easily accessible for all women, but with laws requiring women wait up to 24 hours before their abortion, parental notification laws, and even spousal laws, women are finding it increasingly difficult to access this legal medical procedure. And that’s just in the United States alone.
The LTAS allowed for women of color and their allies to strategize and continue building the reproductive justice movement for us and for generations to come. The theme “Love, Legislation, and Leadership” brought into focus how we can encourage healthy sex-positive conversations on sex, sexuality, and reproductive health/rights/justice in ways that are affirming, invigorating and thought-provoking. LTAS presented a wonderful opportunity to network and socialize, to lead and to learn, to renew and to stimulate, and to remain focused and inspire. And the fact that LTAS was on the beach in South Florida gave the perfect opportunity for us to relax and restore! In the RJ movement, we fight so much for others that we sometimes forget to take time to slow down and provide our own self-care. Attendees participated in sunrise and full moon ceremonies, meditation, exercise, and even some skinny-dipping as ways to renew spirits in order to get back in and fight the good fight.
The LTAS Conference remained true to the stories behind the struggle: the fear of “coming out”, the excitement of the “first time”, the trauma of sexual abuse, and the joy of childbirth. From workshops on sexuality and spirituality to plenary discussions on how to get more young people involved in the movement, SisterSong wanted to make sure that each woman’s voice was heard, be it through the open mic sessions, video taped responses, and even social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It was such an awe-inspiring experience to be surrounded by so much passion, love, and power that women have for themselves and their communities and it allowed for me to not only air out my struggles, but to also share my successes and even to openly acknowledge the privileges that I have in my life that many women never have the opportunity to get. It’s moments like these that force you to stand in your own power and to find your voice, regardless of whether you feel what you have to say is important or not. My take-away from LTAS is that your voice is always important, no matter how long you’ve been in this movement. We are standing on the shoulders of the women who have come before us. This is the movement of our generation.
Nicole Clark is a social worker and sexual health activist who has worked with local and national sexual/reproductive justice organizations, such as Helping Our Teen Girls In Real Life Situations, Inc. (HOTGIRLS), Advocates for Youth, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP), The Cool Girls, Inc., the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition (YWCHAC), Planned Parenthood of New York City, and New York chapter of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Nicole lends her expertise as a consultant with nonprofits and community groups who want to improve their approach to developing culturally relevant and youth and/or gender-positive programming, campaigns, and initiatives. Nicole is based in New York City. Check out her blog and services at http://www.nicole-clark.com