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Advocacy Day Reflections

May 28, 2024

Legislative advocacy can feel like shouting into the void. Endless letters and statements answered by generic emails from Legislators and their staffers, followed by anxiously waiting for the result of a floor vote, can negatively affect morale and motivation. I jumped at the chance when I had the opportunity to join fellow advocates and speak directly to legislators twice this month!

First up, I joined SIECUS for Sex Ed on the Hill. This two-day virtual event brought together sex education advocates from across the United States for training and advocacy. The wise folks at SIECUS provided us with a full day of training on the issues impacting sex education. Then they sent us off to educate our elected officials. Comprehensive and fact-based sex education is crucial to raising healthy young people, and access to education is a fundamental human right. It was important to me to “show up” for sex education as a representative of the only organization in the US dedicated to affirming sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. I also wanted to support SIECUS, an amazing ally in the battle against unconstitutional age verification laws. Organizational allyship is invaluable in advocacy work, and I’m glad to count SIECUS among Woodhull’s allies.

After my brain was filled to the brim with awesome facts about the importance of sex education, my group and I met with seven legislators! I was paired with individuals from Michigan and Pennsylvania. We spoke with Republicans, Democrats, Senators, and Assembly Members. It was fun to speak with Congressional staffers about comprehensive sex education. Staffers were genuinely curious and open about the topic. They asked thoughtful questions even when our issue was beyond their scope, as was the case with one staffer whose expertise was in agriculture.

My entry into sexual freedom work and my eventual role at Woodhull started with peer sex education during my undergraduate career. Discussing the significance of sex education felt like a full-circle moment for me. I’m thrilled to report that many of the offices we engaged had positive thoughts about supporting sex education efforts. We had a particularly enlightening meeting with a staffer who made the connection between comprehensive sex education, racial justice, and reproductive freedom with very little prompting from us. Legislators and their staff are pretty busy, so it’s essential to have clear and direct requests for these meetings. In this case, we were asking legislators to sign on as co-sponsors for the Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act (REAHYA) and approve additional funding for two federal programs that support sex education programs – the Division of Adolescent School Health (DASH) and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP). No one we met with could give us a firm “yes” when asked to co-sponsor, and that’s okay. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” my father reminds me. There will be subsequent meetings, letters, and advocacy days, which will all contribute to the eventual passing of REAHYA.

Almost exactly one week after Sex Ed on the Hill, I headed to Albany, NY, with Decrim NY to persuade New York State lawmakers to support the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act (SVSTA) – the bill that would decriminalize sex work in New York State. This advocacy day was personal since I’m a New York State resident. Part of our day in Albany included a press conference with leaders and lawmakers who already sponsor the bill. Our coalition stood on the Million Dollar Staircase in New York’s Capitol building and listened to several powerful speakers proclaim the importance of this bill. The press conference felt more like a rally, with the crowd chanting “sex work is work” numerous times in English and Spanish. Protest signs, matching t-shirts, and pride flags were sprinkled throughout the crowd – a beautiful image. (insert the image)

Over 100 people traveled to Albany to educate lawmakers on SVSTA, but it felt like there were thousands of people as our chants echoed throughout the Capital Building. At that moment, I started to feel more optimistic about the future than I’ve felt in a long time. There is something so powerful about hearing hundreds of voices speaking in unison. The collective voice is louder and more powerful than one voice. Throughout our meetings that day, each group member took turns sharing their experiences with legislators. There were about nine people in my group, and each of us had a slightly different reason to push for decriminalization. Everyone there had a different story, and yet, we were able to unite in favor of this legislation. A group of people who didn’t know each other that morning presented a united front for several legislators and provided them with invaluable insights about their own lives and the lives of those who couldn’t be in Albany, whether for logistical or safety reasons.

While none of the meetings I attended ended with firm commitments from legislators, I left with a sense of accomplishment. It was promising to see so many people united on one issue. I spend so much of my time defending our human right to sexual freedom. To spend a few days with other people who “get it,” people who are working to create a better world for themselves and their families through legislative advocacy was encouraging.

It would have been easy to leave these days and feel blue about the lack of firm commitments from legislators, and there are moments in this work where despair takes over. I’m choosing to think differently. There’s a technique I picked up while training to be a social worker called “reframing.” This is the practice of choosing to look at a situation in a different light. I am choosing to feel emboldened, inspired, and motivated by my time in Albany and on the “virtual” Hill. I’m choosing to feel hopeful about the number of people who took a day away from their lives to make their voices heard. I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t think our collective voice mattered.

Thank you to SIECUS and Decrim NY for bringing us together to remind our legislators who their bosses are. I’ll be harnessing this energy and reminding myself of these feelings when I return to my laptop to type my next piece of testimony or letter of opposition. The best news about these efforts is that they are ongoing. Those who couldn’t physically attend can still write or call their legislators and ask them to support these bills.

Every correspondence, every meeting, every call matters.

Photo of advocates at Decrim NY Advocacy Day

Photo of a group of advocates on the Million Dollar Staircase in the Albany, NY Capital Building. They hold signs and flags supporting sex worker and LGBTQIA+ rights. There is a speaker wearing a red jacket at a podium in front of the crowd. (Photo by Mandy Salley)

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