It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.
So, without further ado…
Our first activist in this series is the admirable Aimee Thorne-Thomsen of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and previously of The Pro-Choice Public Education Project!
Aimee Thorne-Thomsen brings her passion and extensive experience in coalition-building, leadership development and communications to the reproductive justice movement. Currently
she serves as the Interim Executive Director for the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, dedicated to supporting LGBTI organizations around the world working for racial, economic and social justice. Before that, Aimée was the Executive Director of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP), where her work focused on creating spaces for and elevating the voices of young women, transgender and gender non-confirming young people in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Under her leadership, PEP completed 2 ground-breaking research reports on young women of color on sexual and reproductive health and rights. She has spoken around the country these issues, their impact on young women, and women of color.
The Pro-Choice Public Education Project is dedicated to building an inclusive reproductive justice movement by raising the voices of young women, transgender, and gender non-conforming young people – something incredibly admirable and necessary if the movement is going to have longevity in the future. Can you talk about why you think there are certain groups of women whose voices are less audible, and if the feminist movement is doing enough to ensure they are heard?
I think ultimately it’s about power and oppression. Young women, especially young women of color and LBTQ folks, are often left out of discussions, organizing and movement work because they are seen as having little-to-no power. And that is based on oppression – racism, ageism, classism, homophobia, ableism, etc. I can’t speak for the feminist movement as a whole, because I think there are multiple feminist movements. That said, I don’t think any of the feminist movements that I am aware of do enough to lift the voices of young people, especially more marginalized communities of young people.
How has technology helped with your activism? Considering the use of technology is an economic privilege, to some extent, do you think the online activism that has been lauded as being far-reaching in fact necessary marginalises certain groups, particularly of youth?
Technology in its broadest sense, has indeed broadened the reach of reproductive justice ideas, the framework and therefore, the movement as a whole. There is a certain economic privilege in accessing technology, and yet certain technology (like cell phones) are ubiquitous. A lot of research has shown that cell phones is the main way that young people, especially people of color, access the internet.
Can you talk a little more about your experiences as a woman of colour and an activist? Was there a time where you felt your issues were being overlooked by the greater majority, and how your identity and personal experiences play into your activism?
My personal life and my multiple identities are the basis of all my activism. My earliest activist experiences sprung out of my experiences with multiple oppressions, especially around class, gender and race. As I’ve grown older, I am much more aware of my own privilege. I have tried to build bridges across to other movements where I can be an ally (such as immigrants’ rights and LGBTQ liberation) and link issues across movements
Reproductive justice seems to be one of the fights that we keep having to repeat, and I feel we have to constantly assert our right to ownership over our own bodies because politicians exploit this particular women’s issue as a tool to other ends. Can you tell us your views on the recent Planned Parenthood fiasco? How do you think we can keep moving ahead with reproductive justice despite the setbacks that keep appearing?
The fight for reproductive justice is ongoing, just as the struggle for human rights is ongoing. What I mean by that, is we should not believe that we will one day win this fight, and we’ll never have to go back and reinforce the achievement of these basic rights. Despite the tremendous strides of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, we still are working through the implementation of and protection of those rights. Reproductive health, rights and justice should be seen through a similar prism. The struggle for reproductive justice is not just about bodily autonomy; it’s also about our rights to create our families of our own choosing, our ability to express our gender(s) and sexuality freely and free from violence. For me, reproductive justice is ultimately about reclaiming power and transforming that power so that all women, men and children have the access to the resources they need to lead healthy lives.
In order to advance reproductive justice, we need people who are focused on short-term fights and a long-term vision. Our political opponents are well-funded and have a long-established infrastructure. We don’t have that. What we do have is our communities. Reproductive Justice comes out of the lived experiences of our families and our communities, and it is an affirming, positive vision for the future. We need secure the funding and develop the infrastructure in order to lift up the perspectives of our communities in terms of identifying the problems and the solutions.
As for Planned Parenthood, I am not surprised by the attacks on them. This has been coming for a long time. I am pleased, however, that so many people in different spheres have come out and affirmed the need for Planned Parenthood and the work they do. I stand with Planned Parenthood and am glad that so many others do too.
The Pro-Choice Public Education Project is one of the greatest resources for reproductive justice and includes legal information – do you think this is particularly important? Why?
Because of oppression and educational access (along with other factors), many young people don’t know that they do have rights. Many women, especially immigrant women, don’t know that abortion is legal in this country, for example. It’s important that we reach out and share this information who have not traditionally had access to it.
You work with a great variety of youth and activists from all perspectives – does this make it difficult to negotiate goals? How can we best locate common target areas and foster understanding?
I’ve never thought of it that way, to be honest. Our work at PEP was to locate the voices of young women, particularly young women of color, queer youth, and gender-non-conforming in the sexual and reproductive health and rights arenas. Sometimes that meant sharing multiple points of view around an issue, such as abortion. We wanted to enlarge the conversations around reproductive justice to not only include young people, but also to acknowledge them as experts and leaders in the work as well. That didn’t always lend itself to establishing simple, clear goals. In fact, sometimes our work was to make things messier and to not sacrifice the voices of some young people to advance the voices of others.
I’ve done most of my reproductive justice work in coalition. The most successful partnerships have been those where all the people impacted by the issues were included in the conversation. When it comes to youth and young people, it’s often older adults who are talking about young people, and more often than not, problematizing and stigmatizing their behavior. A better option is to have young people at the table, setting the agenda, leading the conversation and developing solutions to the problem. In other words, we need young people involved at every stage of the reproductive justice movement in multiple roles and speaking for themselves from their own experiences.
Identifying common goals and fostering understanding requires trust. And trust requires clear, respectful communication and some sense of a mutual vision.
How do you think we, as young activists and students can best make a difference in terms of inclusivity and reproductive justice?
I am not sure what you mean by inclusivity. I’ve been in situations where I was included and still not heard or respected. So I don’t think in terms of inclusivity. My goal is transforming power and locating young people at the center of the struggle for reproductive justice. There are many avenues for young people to engage in this fight, and I think they should find the ones that resonate most for them. Whether its creating awareness through online media, campus and community events, tools or organizing for community resources, comprehensive sex education or a piece of legislation, we need the voices and skills of young people EVERYWHERE.
Everyone can do something. Talk to your friends and family about these issues. Volunteer at an organization like Choice USA, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum and others. Use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other social media platforms to educate yourself and others about the issues, AND add your perspective to the discussions so that young people’s voices are heard. Write to your representative about legislation (both good and bad). Vote. Start your own collective, network or organization. In other words, do whatever you need to do to make yourself heard!!!