Guest column by Lisa Cunningham
“Planned Parenthood was an invaluable resource for me as I was discovering and exploring my sexuality. Being able to find unbiased, evidence-based information on how to have safe sex as a queer woman, specifics on what queer sex even could be, and links to other womens' experiences made me feel confident and at home in my sexuality — especially when it wasn't considered ‘OK’ within my community.”
— PPWP patient
What is the strongest weapon against the war on women? Using your voice, so say representatives from Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania (PPWPA) when asked what Pittsburghers who want to make a difference can do to help.
It’s hard not to get enraged when you read the news these days. The extreme right is attacking women and the LGBTQ community. An unprecedented number of abortion bans are spreading across the country. The #MeToo movement has put sexual abuse in the spotlight, which can be triggering for survivors. Trans rights are being retracted, and now that Pride Month has ended, the LGBTQ community once again takes a backseat in many conversations.
Even allies don’t have all the answers. Outspoken celebrity advocate Alyssa Milano upset many earlier this year when she said women should have a “sex strike” in response to abortion bans. “Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy. JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back,” she tweeted in May. But why should anyone deny themselves sexual pleasure to fix a problem they didn’t create?
So what can we do? If you have money to donate, there are always local causes worthy of funding. But it’s not feasible for many people struggling to pay their own bills.
One thing people can do locally is volunteer at a local clinic or shelter. PPWPA volunteer coordinator Paula Simon says their most in-demand positions right now are clinic escorts — people who serve as a barrier between patients and anti-choice protesters on weekends.
There are also administrative assistant positions for those with time to offer during the week, helping with data entry and making buttons. Simon says the tasks have an added benefit: they’re largely meditative, and volunteers are encouraged to listen to podcasts and music while working.
But the easiest and most effective thing you can do, Planned Parenthood representatives say, is to share your story.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about abortion and Planned Parenthood: our practices, what goes on, how we get the funding ... and a big part of the advocacy is to curb those misconceptions, especially with some politicians spreading lies and promoting harmful legislation,” says Sara Dixon, PPWPA public affairs manager.
Social media is a great way to enlighten others, they say, because you can reach people outside your bubble. “If you feel comfortable sharing your story in your social network,” Dixon says, “it can really be a great tool to change a negative perception.”
PPWPA is documenting some of those patients’ stories too — like the one quoted at the top of this article, as part of its Health Center Advocacy Program. “We turn collective anger into actions,” says Simon. The goal is to “uplift more marginalized stories,” including hearing more from people of color, LGBTQ, people in rural communities, and people with lower incomes.
“As harrowing as some of this news is,” Dixon says, “it’s great to see how many people support our work and want to make a difference.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about PPWPA volunteer opportunities, or sharing your story, visit plannedparenthood.org/western-pennsylvania.