By Amy Kaplan, Social Media Intern
On June 30, over 200 people gathered at the Massachusetts State House to advocate for three bills that would expand access to sexuality education and health care. I was lucky enough to be among them. The morning kicked off with an organization fair and a speaking program before everyone went off to lobby their elected officials. Here are the moments I’ve been thinking about ever since Sexual Health Lobby Day.
Young voices were given the attention they deserve
The first thing I noticed at Sexual Health Lobby Day was the number of teens and young people who filled the room. Young voices also took front and center during the speaking program, alongside the inspirational remarks of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Members of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts’ Get Real Teen Council, a Planned Parenthood Generation Action activist from Boston College, and high school members of the peer leadership program for Citizens’ Family Planning and Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs stepped up to share their experiences and motivations for lobbying.
As these remarkable young people took to the podium, I was struck not only by the passion of their speeches, but by the rapt attention they received from the adults in the room. It’s easy when looking at the landscape of political activism in America to feel like no megaphone is ever big enough, no gesture grand enough, no protest staunch enough to motivate real change in a timely way. But watching so many adults listen to these young people, I realized the voices of young people standing up for themselves and their communities are exactly what we need to remove barriers to comprehensive sex education and health care. Young people deserve more spaces like Sexual Health Lobby Day to make their voices heard.
It turns out that policymakers are just people
Sexual Health Lobby Day activists met with over 60 legislators or their aides, many of whom also attended the speaking program. As someone who had never participated in a lobbying event before, I had always envisioned policymakers as faceless people in tall buildings behind huge mahogany desks, impenetrable to the influence of lowly citizens such as myself. But lo and behold, here they were, men and women happily standing around, chatting, and eating muffins.
When it came time to meet with my representative, Denise Provost of the 27th Middlesex District, I was prepared for the meeting to be professional, of course, but also stiff. But as Representative Provost welcomed us into her office, offered all five of us chairs (including her own desk chair, leaving her standing), and asked what she could do for us, I realized: this woman is one of us.
As she spoke to us about the three bills on the table, concerning comprehensive sex education, patient confidentiality, and contraceptive coverage equity (all of which she co-sponsored), I saw that Representative Provost was herself a tireless advocate of sexuality education and health care access, and that it was I who should be asking what I could do for her.
United we stand
In the close of the morning’s speaking program, Planned Parenthood board member Jamie Sabino bemoaned that she never imagined she’d “still be talking about birth control” in her sixties.
The room replied with chuckles and sighs of solidarity. And for a moment, the light feeling that I’d been carrying in my chest all morning flickered. “What if I still have to talk about birth control when I’m 60?” I wondered. With restrictions to health care access becoming law in many states across the country, this sad vision doesn’t seem impossible.
However, based on what I saw at Sexual Health Lobby Day, I have a lot of hope for the future. Looking around the room at the impassioned faces of health care providers, legislators, social workers, advocates, teenagers, and others who had come together to make our voices heard, my concerns were quieted. Despite the disheartening setbacks in reproductive rights we’ve seen in the last few years, Massachusetts has the potential to be a leader on these issues.
Sexual Health Lobby Day gave this pessimist hope. So join me and ask your state legislators to support legislation that will make Massachusetts a healthier place to live. If there’s one thing that I learned from Sexual Health Lobby Day, it’s that anyone can make their voice heard.