In a parallel way, the antis and the escorts exist on the sidewalks across the nation, side by side, divided only by a thin line of law and human decency.
Ed shouldered into me earlier that morning and cut in front of me, edging me back and away from the client. The client turned to Ed and said, “And NOW you’re getting in my personal space! Why don’t you just go away? I already told you, No!! I don’t want your brochure. I don’t want to talk to you or hear what you have to say. Now, go away!”
No surprise that Ed didn’t go away or stop, until he stopped at the property line. His highly polished, brown dress shoes sparkled in the morning light. When I told Ed to stop shoving me, to stop pushing me, he said, “You’re the one who’s doing the pushing.” As always, the anti believes his self-martyrdom mythology and will not admit to constantly doing wrong shit.
As I stood on the sidewalk, I heard a deep British voice behind me say, “What you people are doing here is wonderful. Simply wonderful! Marvelous! Thank you so much for doing this. And I really do mean that.”
Turning around, I saw a helmeted bicyclist. A young, handsome, bearded bicyclist with a luscious British accent. What’s not to smile about? So, I smiled.
“Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt what you were doing.”
“That’s all right,” I replied. “Thank you for your kind words.”
“I cannot understand what those people are doing here,” he continued, nodding toward the cluster of antis who stood at the property line, a few feet from the door to the clinic. Old women and men, saying and doing horrible things. Words and actions which would land them in jail if they pulled that crap anywhere else in town.
“I mean,” he went on, shaking his head, “What those people are doing here is truly evil!! They are evil, evil people, terrorizing the people coming here to see the doctor. Complete strangers on a public city street. They are horrible. Can’t they see that? How could they not understand that?”
“I do not know,” I agreed. “We just do what we can, to get people through the mess.”
“Well, I’m going to ask them,” he declared, wheeling toward the entrance.
“May I ask you people a question? Just why are you here? What are you doing here? Don’t any of you people have a job? Yes, a J-O-B; that’s a job, where you go each day, and work for money. Why are you here, terrorizing people? You there! Don’t you have a job to go to?”
The short, older anti with bobbed black hair and glasses, held up her laminated abortion porn poster. The one she had been holding up, facing the glass entrance doors, hoping someone inside the lobby would look out, be stricken by conscience, and stumble out in a flood of shame and guilt, preferably in tears, begging the antis to help them rethink their choice.
The anti woman answered the bicyclist, “I worked for fifty years. I did have a job. Now, I’m retired.”
“Then why don’t you go home, and BE retired? Go home. Enjoy your retirement. No, really! Why don’t you just go on home and be a retired person? Why not do something else good with your life?” the bicyclist asked, truly amazed and curious.
“Don’t you people see that what you are doing here, terrorizing people, is evil? It is. It’s truly evil. Why don’t you just all go home and mind your own business? This is none of your business. None of it. Surely you can see that.”
I walked back to my post on the corner, smiling. We always enjoy the positive comments we hear from the morning people just passing by, on their way to work or to a morning appointment.
A long debate ensued between the Bicyclist Man and the antis. So engrossed were they in their argument, they meandered away from the clinic entrance, standing a few feet away, at the curb. In fact, the antis completely missed a heckling opportunity, as our escort C smoothly walked clients and companions past them and through the door.
What I hope to say here is this: We must reclaim the moral ground. We must call upon the support of our nation. We must realize and remember that the majority of people understand and support reproductive autonomy and freedom and choice. People who are informed do not want to backslide to back alley abortions, coat hangers, and women dying from botched illegal abortions.
Thank you, Mr. Bicyclist, for supporting choice.
Gentle Reader: Thank you for lending us your listening, moral, spiritual, verbal, electoral, financial, intellectual and/or physical support. You truly make a difference and we appreciate your support and encouragement!
On Wednesday, while driving home after escorting, I was thinking about how smoothly things had gone on the sidewalk. When I turned from a busy road to a side street, there were ambulances and police cars at an accident near the expressway on-ramp. Cars were flowing the other way, part of the early morning, rush-hour traffic.
Then I saw a lady standing on the curb to my left. She seemed to be a walker or jogger, waiting for the traffic to clear so she could cross the street. I slowed, then stopped, to give her a chance to cross. The traffic was still flowing the other way in the lane between us. Waiting to cross, she was standing in the grass at the curb’s edge. Then I noticed she was holding a brown plastic Kroger bag in each hand. I thought she was out picking up dog poop from her neighborhood. As a kind driver stopped in the other lane, the lady walked out onto the street.
Suddenly, she stopped and squatted down in the road. Surprised, I looked over and saw a tiny, gold and brown Yorkshire Terrier, lying there, motionless. With a sharp in breath, I stared at the miniature collar and the long leash, looping and curving across the pavement like blue, longhand penmanship. The lady scooped up the silky, limp body with the Kroger bags, stood up, and smiled a thank you to the waiting drivers, walking back to the grassy curb. The blue leash trailed strangely behind, upside down, the leash handle dancing along the ground.
Stunned and aware of the impatient drivers lined up behind me, I drove on. A few blocks later, it dawned on me the dog might be injured, but still alive, needing a vet or an animal hospital. Did she have a way to take it there? As I u-turned the car and drove back, I felt sad and guilty for having driven off without asking if she needed assistance, or a ride, or comfort. But I couldn’t find the lady with the little Yorkie. I couldn’t even tell where they had been. I turned back out onto the main road. The ambulance and police were still at the accident on the other side of the road.
Tears in my eyes, I drove on. To me, this was an opportunity for me to be at the right place at the right time, to be of service to another person, and I had only seen the top layer of what might be needed. Yeah, I should have stopped and asked. Yeah, consciousness is about staying aware and paying attention. Yeah, death is part of life and life is part of death.
What, you might be wondering, does any of this have to do with escorting? One of our regular antichoice protesters, Ron, is fond of shouting loudly at the clinic entrance, “Bring out the buckets of dead babies!!! I wanna see the buckets of dead babies! What do you DO with all those buckets of dead babies?!?? All you people care about are trees. What do you do for fun after you leave here, deathscorts? Huh? Do you go kill puppies and kittens for fun? Huh? Is that what makes you happy? Buckets of dead babies and buckets of dead puppies and dead kittens…”
While standing at the corner of 1st and Market Streets, sometimes – - just sometimes – - Fear tells me that any car, stopping for a red light or purring past us downtown, could be an anti-choice extremist. Any one of us could be shot, just standing on the street, because we are wearing the orange vest of a pro-choice clinic escort. To quiet Fear, I quietly whisper, “I fear none, for I love all. The purpose of my life is to help, love and serve others.”
Quietly saying this to myself banishes Fear. It soothes and steadies my spirit. Again, I am just standing there, in the now, not doing anything, feeling calm and aware, just paying attention.
Why am I sharing this story here about a tiny brown Yorkshire terrier and a protester who says ugly things about “babies” and “dogs” and “kittens” and “deathscorts?” Why does my mind even imagine someone showing up with a gun and shooting me or one of my beloved escort friends in cold blood?
It is because we know with the increasingly radical, right-wing extremists, there have been bombs, murders, and hate campaigns which pretend to be “Christian.” Abortion doctors have been murdered. Abortion clinics have been vandalized, bombed, picketed. Abortion doctors, staff, and clinic escorts have been publicly “outed” on WANTED posters and flyers. Those flyers have been distributed online, given to the targeted person’s neighbors, and even their children’s schools. When outing someone, the person’s name, address and other personal information is often included. Escorts have been fired from their jobs within Catholic systems, after the antis called and wrote to the employers. Protesters are pushing abortion porn into the hands of our children as they go into or out of their schools. Anti-abortion laws are chipping away, bit by bit, shutting down clinics, making it incredibly more complicated, difficult and expensive than ever for a woman to get an abortion.
It’s not like you see picketers, or bombers, or vandals at other medical clinics. When did you have to shove your way through a crowd of protesters to get your tooth filled or to get your annual physical? I didn’t think so.
What part of this is American? I ask you, how is this part of living in the “greatest nation on Earth?” How is this still the Land of the Free? This is not the America I was raised to know, love and take pride in. Where is law enforcement? Where is the local mayor? Where are the rights of normal American citizens? Where is the outraged citizenry needed to stand up to these thugs, these bullies, these domestic terrorists?
Yes, we need buffer zones. Maybe not two miles away, as they have for the protesters at the national Presidential conventions, but even a safety zone extending 20 feet away from the door would be better than nothing. The in-your-face harassment, intimidation, and interference (all violations of the FACE Act), and the illegal threatening and intimidation of the abortion clinic providers and their staff, both at the clinics and in their private lives, have been endured for too long. These illegal activities by the “Forced Birthers” must be prosecuted and stopped.
It is worrying, perplexing, irritating, confusing, infuriating and wearying to see this in our society, in our culture, in our community, and on the sidewalk. Never, ever, ever give up. Trust Women. Respect Choice. (End of rant.)
Ah, I know. It was the last thing you wanted to read. Her name is associated with being a great martyr for the pro-choice/pro-access cause, or she is the demon-come-lately to anti-choicers, a creature of the night with no soul, the high priestess of child sacrifice. Heck, I can’t even print most of the threats this woman has received. Even the most “pro-lifey” of all the “pro-lifers” on Jill Stanek’s site can’t help but comment that due to the emotional issue of abortion, death threats are to only be expected. Not sure how you file that under “pro-life,” but we all know the minds of antis are capable of the great mental gymnastics needed to justify horrible behavior in the name of Jesus.
Now, don’t worry. I’m not here to harp on about antis this week. Nor am I here to lecture pro-choicers about how they should respond to Letts’ video. The fact that I appreciate the risk she took doesn’t really have anything to do with it. The fact that, as a horribly private person the idea of having a video made of me during hugely personal moments is something that I can’t imagine. The fact that I would be far too paranoid about disease to have unprotected sex with many partners (and I have had sex with many partners) does not mean she is stupid or a whore or wrong. It means she took I risk I was unwilling to. It means she had a different opinion.
‘Will she ever get to point?’, you ask. Yes. Yes, I usually get there, but today I am going to sooner rather than later. In spite of the many ways I would have handled Emily Letts’ situation differently, I am still Emily Letts. In fact, all women are Emily Letts. Some are older. Some are younger. Some are different races. Some are anti-choice.
I am Emily Letts even though I would never want to make any sort of medical decision public. I am a private person, and the loss of that privacy would be one of the worst things I can imagine. I freak out at the idea of diseases (and this is partly due to my occupation) so that part of my story would be different. Other than that, the same old movie plot is played out over and over and over.
Women need abortion.
Women behave responsibly and need an abortion.
Women behave irresponsibly and need abortion.
A married woman had an irresponsible fling outside of marriage and needs an abortion.
A woman just loses her job and needs an abortion.
A woman needs an abortion because she doesn’t want any children.
A woman already has 5 kids and can’t afford a 6th needs an abortion.
A woman finds out her fetus is so malformed he won’t live 5 minutes, if he is born at all, needs an abortion.
A rape victim needs an abortion.
A woman whose body is worn out from childbirth needs an abortion.
A woman taking teratogens needs an abortion.
Women who are a long past child-bearing years need abortions, because losing the right to have an abortion is the first step down the slippery slope to women’s ability to control their body, to control their medical treatment, to control their own finances, to work their own jobs and to remain autonomous individuals.
When we allow the government to take away even ONE aspect of our bodily autonomy, we are allowing them to get the idea that they have title to other aspects of our private lives and the choices we make as individuals.
So while we all might not make a video about our abortions, or even tell our own abortions stories, or even be old enough or young enough to have an abortion, it doesn’t change the facts that each and every one us is Emily Letts.
No, not that C-word. I couldn’t resist a chance to say, “Made You Look,” which seemed to be the height of wit when we were all in kindergarten. Yes, I do have a point. Stay with me. I promise I’ll get there.
Last week, when a couple of the escorts asked me to write an article for Every Saturday Morning, I was flattered. Since then, I have had the pleasure of joining a few of them on the sidewalk in Louisville for the morning. I appreciate that they took the time to show me what they, clients and companions experience five days a week. I am still processing some of my first escorting experience but I do plan to write about it at some point. The first time I wrote about antis not understanding what the word “censorship” means. Actually being on the sidewalk really drove home the point that there are a lot of other C-words antis don’t understand the meaning of.
I’m going to skip over the obvious ones. By now, everyone knows that “choice” is the F-dash-dash-dash word, the Queen Mother of all dirty words (to steal a line from the movie “A Christmas Story”) to anti-choice protesters. “Contraception” seems on the way to becoming almost as bad. At best, it is considered a gateway drug to abortion and at worst, it is considered exactly the same as having an abortion.
One fairly new phrase that seems to be creeping into the mix is the line that all women have abortions for “comfort and convenience.” Antis act as if there is a big box on patient registration forms or on surveys designed to collect health information labeled “comfort and convenience” that all women check. Women have abortions for a variety of reasons that they do not have to share with or justify to anyone. Antis have taken research on reasons women give for having abortions and lumped almost all of them under their new, re-labeled category of comfort and convenience.
As usual, they miss the mark completely. Not having health insurance and not being able to pay for the cost of labor and delivery is not a matter of comfort and convenience. Not being able to keep a roof over your own head, or the heads of existing dependents because you live month to month and can’t take what is going to be a minimum of 6 weeks off work without pay is not a matter of comfort and convenience. Not wanting to be forced to go through the painful process of labor and delivery when you don’t want to or aren’t ready to be a parent is not a matter of comfort and convenience. Going to the gynecologist for a medical procedure is not comfortable, although abortion is not the blood-soaked, pain-filled nightmare antis like to say it is. It is certainly not convenient to drive 4 hours for a simple, outpatient procedure and in some states it is becoming a weeks-long process with clinics closing and mandatory clinic visits for counseling followed by mandated waiting periods.
What got me to thinking about this was actually being on the sidewalk this week. It wasn’t raining when I arrived but it started coming down pretty hard part of the way through the morning. As I was taking off my vest to put on my poncho, one of the antis felt the need to lecture me about worrying about my own comfort while babies were being murdered. I have never been admonished for putting on rain gear, but I guess there is a first time for everything. Of course, this particular anti was standing under both an umbrella and the awning so she was clearly worried about her own comfort. It is easy to dismiss others need for comfort and convenience when it is not your own. I am pretty sure that the anti who sat in her car to talk on the phone for 10 minutes did so because it is inconvenient to replace your cell phone because it got wet. I am also pretty sure the protester in the expensive-looking suit who spent the entire morning standing under the awning of a business down the block without ever stepping out did so because it would be quite uncomfortable to walk around in wet clothing at work for a couple of hours.
The other C-word antis don’t grasp is “compassion.” Compassion is what I saw from the escorts. People do not get up early in the morning, week after week, to volunteer to walk with strangers to a medical appointment to try to limit harassment without it. Compassion is not shown by repeating the same lines, like a script in a movie, to every person who walks into a clinic. Compassion is not shown by demanding loudly that complete strangers share their reproductive decisions with you. Compassion is not shown by dismissing the many reasons people choose to have an abortion. Compassion is not shown by vague promises of resources that people don’t want and may not be delivered. Compassion is not shown when women who regret their own abortions come out under the guise of preventing other women from feeling the same thing, only to talk all about themselves and their guilt rather than listening.
Compassion is understanding that every person on that sidewalk has their own story. Compassion is understanding that those stories are deeply personal and do not have to be shared with strangers to justify walking into a doctor’s office. Compassion is understanding that shouting an arsenal of anti-choice talking points through a clinic door does not change the reason people are there. Compassion is understanding that people choose abortion for a variety of reasons that can’t always be solved with a free pregnancy test, a non-diagnostic ultrasound, some diapers and Bible classes. Compassion is understanding that women are people with feelings, dreams, lives and problems rather than simply potential fetus containers.
If you have hung with me this far, I will be brief in saying I have my own C-word for what is happening outside clinics and inside our legislative chambers to restrict people’s rights to make their own decisions about health care. It is crap.
On Twitter, there was a discussion about finding “common ground” with anti’s. An anti, who bills himself as a person who “helps pro-lifers be more persuasive and less weird when they communicate with pro-choice people” started this discussion.
Some of the questions he was asking went along the lines of, “Is it right for boyfriends and parents to pressure women to have abortions?” and, “What do you think about abortion if the unborn has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome?” and, “Would you prefer that there were fewer abortions?”
Of course my response was, anyone who wants an abortion should have safe and legal access to it, period. His response, “Well, its hard to have a conversation about abortion if you start by assuming it should always be available.”
Mr. Pro-Life speaker, you want to have a conversation on limiting abortion access and ultimately ending abortion. I do not. We have no common ground. We don’t have to have common ground. It is OK.
More to the point, here are some pretty big reasons why we will never have common ground.
1. You want to make abortion illegal. I do not
2. You want to put stipulations on abortion. I do not.
3. “Counseling” is not a pro-active thing. If you were really interested in counseling, a client would seek you out and come to you with questions and wanting to talk about options besides abortion. We all know that isn’t how it goes. You chase clients down the street and shove flyers at them. You yell at companions and (when applicable) insult their “masculinity” by telling them to “man up” and “bring your woman out of there”. That isn’t counseling.
4. You want to make “pro-life people less weird”. That is impossible. Even if you rounded up all the anti-choice protesters and made them sit through one of your presentations, there would STILL be protesters that don’t listen and do what they want. There would still be protesters that get in people’s faces, stalk, and get physically violent. The harassment and the intimidation would continue, unabated. Therefore, common ground is pointless.
5. Something that may actually help “counselors” do some actual “counseling” on the sidewalk is a buffer zone. A buffer zone may discourage harassing behavior, while still allowing clients TO APPROACH YOU instead of the other way around when they want to talk about options. That would be real counseling. I wonder how many “pro-life counselors” would be ok with that type of arrangement?
At the end of this twitter exchange, the pro-lifer said “I’m just saying that on the night that the #abortionchat topic was on common ground, I found a ton of CG with @LouClinicEscort , but he or she couldn’t find one iota of common ground with me :-/”
My response was this “Anti’s like to make themselves victims on the sidewalk, even as they are harassing. But no, you are the victim here”. Of course, it was all about his feelings. Even as people that he supports push and yell and scream and don’t listen to constant, “NO, GO AWAY, LEAVE ME ALONE”. Of course, its MY fault that we couldn’t find any “common ground”
I don’t have any common ground with pro-lifers, much like I don’t have any common ground with rapists. Stop harassing clients. Stop the guilt and shame. Leave people alone to go to the doctor. Period. Just go away.
(BTW, if you want to see some of the things we discussed on Twitter, I tweet @LouClinicEscort. The “pro-life speaker” in this exchange was @JoshBrahm. Or you can check out the hashtag #abortionchat)
Emotions can run high on the sidewalk, even though it may not always be outwardly visible. If anything, escorts do our best to keep things “normal”. “Normal”, at least in my estimation, is walking to the doctor’s office with as little drama or personal space violation as possible. You know, like walking down any other sidewalk on any other street would be. That is the goal. Minimal nonsense and maximum expediency to the door for the client.
Enter the anti’s. Their goal is disruption. Their tools are harassment, shame, and outrageous statements, but their main goal is to stop the client from walking into the abortion clinic. The shame and nonsense that comes out of their mouths is their most obvious weapon. “Don’t kill your baby. That baby will look just like you. Young man, we are called to protect women, stand up for her.” The litany goes on and on. Their most subtle, and in my opinion the most insidious thing that anti’s do is they themselves get “emotional”. Their voices rise and their voices break and they beg and cry and implore. They also put their bodies in front of the clients and the escorts to impede walking down the sidewalk. “But this is a BAAAAAYYYBBEEEEEEE” is a favorite of the anti that we call “The Cryer”. She often trails behind the clients and wails at their backs. As soon as the client is in the clinic, however, she and others are back on the sidewalk chatting with their fellow protesters. It is so ridiculous for them to be so dialed in and emotional one second, then completely composed the next. It seems fake and a pantomime of someone who actually cares. Not only faking the emotion, but then throwing it into a strangers face.
Another “tactic” that the preaching protesters like to use is while crying and wailing for the unborn, they assign innocence or guilt to a fetus that deserves neither. They plead constantly for the “innocent baby that you are going to kill” and in the next breath “God will judge you guilty of murder”. They talk about the “innocence of the baby in the womb” then “At our birth we are bound for hell.” The double talk that goes on with the sidewalk preachers is constant and ridiculous. Save the baby so it will be bound for hell unless it does what we say. Yeah. Subtle, but not very.
The antis on the sidewalk often approach escorts and clients with an attempt to intimidate by way of instilling fear. How? With clients and their companions there are threats of how “you’ll regret this because you’re killing your baby.” . To male companions of the clients, “ You’re not a real man! If you were a *real* man you would take her out of there.” , “you aren’t a real man if you let her do this, you’re a weasel.” The protestors trying oh so hard to instill fear of a loss of gender identity to men unless they physically stop the clients from entering the building. Its just strange that they would use such a tactless approach. I’ve come to feel that the protestors who use this are not there for the clients and to help them, but for personal gratification, otherwise they might become introspective about their methods.
Anyway. The escorts are threatened with jail, this morning two of us were verbally attacked by the same protestor. The protestor attempted to block physically block clients as they crossed the line on the sidewalk marking the area where the protestors couldn’t follow. The escorts did their best to stand in such a way which would keep the protestor from physically contacting or blocking the client at which point this protestor noted that the only way to draw attention to themselves was to feign some sort of physical altercation. The protestor backed up and started howling about how we almost knocked them over!” How dare you!”. The second altercation was quite similar, but instead of simply saying, “ how dare you”, she stood as close to the line as possible (as is her way) and said , “WE have FOUR cameras watching you. I’d hate to see you go to jail for doing this to me….” and on and on and on. My only response to this person has become, “Stop harassing me.”, this particular person is also well known to me for spouting her racism at me every time I’m present.
I’m just confused about what world the antis live in, they’re so amazingly narcissistic.
This morning though there were 14 clients, 10 Antis and 8 escorts. So at least there was a good number of escorts to watch out for each other and to witness the awful behavior of these people.
This protestor seeks some sort of hierarchy within the escorts, when they feel threatened this A* seeks out a specific escort ( I’ve witnessed this occurrence multiple times over my time of escorting) and tells the escort to control another one of us. There is no leadership here, no hierarchy and for that I am so grateful. Upon informing the A of this however, the A turned this into a weapon against the escort who is nothing if not kind and engaging with us, ” Well, you act like you’re in charge.” sarcastic and biting to be sure. I’m just amused at this pattern this A has when they don’t get a reaction out of the initial escort they’re threatening they approach this particular escort and badger them incessantly.
Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice. There is a lot to be said for making a point to create a space – a whole conference – for activists, advocates, academics, and service providers to caucus about the challenges they face in their communities around a so many topics. These issues (birth, pregnancy, abortion, HIV, sex, LGBTQIA health, education, economic rights, racism…) face so many attacks, and it is important for those of us working to address these challenges to be able to learn and share with each other. it’s amazing how much there is in common, but surprising to learn how very different things are in other places (and, based on my observations, some things are worse than you can imagine, in a place you probably haven’t thought of…)
So, I feel very fortunate to have been given the chance to attend the Take Root conference for a second year in a row, thanks to the support of Louisville’s Reproductive Rights /Justice communities.
In addition to the support I received from our local folks, I was especially honored to be invited to sit on a panel by the Take Root organizers. The panel I took part in was titled Visions for Our Movement: Service and Practical Support in Red States. I was proud to represent the Kentucky Support Network, and the Louisville Clinic Escorts alongside individuals from Backline, Trust Women in Wichita, Cicada Collective in Texas, the Bay Area Doula Project, and Defending the Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi. It was exciting to stand alongside folks who are also doing client based support work based on the various challenges that are faced by folks in different places. One of the most unifying (and gratifying) points that was shared by a number of us was the powerful experience of being a space holder, and a story bank of sorts, as we offer an informed ear over a hotline, or a steady hand on the sidewalk, to people who are dealing with stigma, a lack of support, a deficit in resources, and other barriers. Hearing that point being made by other people, and knowing how large of a piece it plays for me in the work I do was very satisfying.
After my panel, there was a followup session with breakout activities where small groups from different places collaborated on various topics. I was excited to brainstorm with a range of folks about ways to move the conversation away from just abortion in order to cultivate a unified movement towards justice across lines of difference. We talked about how important intersectionality is in this work. How it is vital for reproductive rights advocates to ally themselves with folks working on voter rights, HIV advocacy, LBGT health, economic human rights, mental health, on and on… so that we are able to stand together as we fight, because it is impossible to separate the various aspects of a whole person’s complex identity. We cannot expect people to forget that their skin is brown, or their kids are hungry, or that they need access to healthcare, because we also want them to lobby for voter rights, just like we can’t expect a transman to ignore the importance of pap smears while trying to adopt a child with their partner who is up against the fact they have a non violent marijuana charge from ten years ago on their record… for example.
On top of the two sessions about practical support, I attended two other workshops. One entitled HIV, Self Determination, and Cultural Safety explored the challenges faced by people in various circumstances and we heard from panelists doing work on a national level through various orgs, and on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi. A major takeaway from that discussion was that HIV is not the problem for lots of folks that are positive. The problem lies in a lack of access to care, and in systems that are constructed to continually oppress people who are already facing a lack of resources.
The next session I attended a presentation called We’re here! We’re queer! We’re sober!: Assessing Ourselves and Our Environment. This presentation focused on intentional sobriety, or intentional use of substances, as a way to foster conversations about safety, stigma, and the reasons why we are taught to suppress our desires, and trained to feel like we need substances in order to be comfortable in intimate settings. We also talked about the problematic nature of a culture that is built on buying and consuming substances as a way to feel like we can come together in spaces that are supposed to be “safer” spaces to be ourselves in.
Outside of workshops, I was delighted to see faces, familiar and new, as we exchanged cards and smiles on the way to lunch or in the halls between sessions. The highlights for me included hearing from Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women during her keynote address where she spoke of people being denied bodily autonomy and other human rights for the simple reason that they were pregnant. Her speech included the stories of people who were not just being denied abortion access. She spoke of a woman who was threatened with arrest to comply with a doctor’s wish to perform a medically unnecessary cesarean procedure, and told us about multiple people who were jailed in an attempt to prevent them from having abortions including one woman who was sent to jail from a hospital without examination, where she died of an ectopic pregnancy.
The conference was closed out with an incredible closing plenary by Deon Haywood of Women with a Vision who gave us a picture of what is going on in New Orleans where there is a staggeringly disproportionate number of women (especially black women and black trans women) who are being prosecuted for sex work and “crimes against nature” (such as anal sex, and oral sex). As a result, these women are being placed on the national sex offender registry which carries countless repercussions on their entire lives, including but not limited to their rights to raise their children, and also the ability to find a job.
I am very thankful to be part of such a supportive community here in KY that allowed me to access such an amazing and inspiring broader community so I can learn and continue to strengthen the work I do. Here’s hoping I can go back next year.
here are a few links for more projects that I was fortunate to make connections to this time around:
On gray, rainy mornings things tend to go askew. We spend our walks up the sidewalk being careful not to get poked with an antis’ umbrellas, dodging puddles, watching for clients and knowing that it is usually going to be a bit longer out in the weather. Accidents, traffic delays and poor visibility add extra time to the clients drive to downtown.
Inevitably, one or two of the clients will be running late. Extra pressure to find a close parking space and check in for their appointment time adds to the stress of the morning. Toss in a dozen or so protesters with Bibles, prayer beads, pamphlets and multiple graphic signs to navigate around and things can really crank up the pressure for most clients.
This morning a late-arriving solo client hurriedly pulled into the parking lot of the crisis pregnancy center next door to EMW. She took the nearest open space, got out and fairly dashed down the sidewalk into the EMW without as much as acknowledging escorts or protesters alike.
We always advise parking at one of the paid lots or meters in the area. The privately-owned parking lot behind the CPC does not cost any money, but it is most certainly not free. Escorts are not allowed on their private property to let the clients know this is not the abortion clinic. We feel helpless as we watch clients who upon realizing their error try to leave. The people from the center come out to greet them and manage to loiter in the way; prohibiting access for them to move their car and leave, while “counseling” them, sometimes to the point of tears. One of the more vocal women has even stood in the way of a client shutting her car door unless they slammed her with the door in the process.
In her rush to get parked and into the clinic, this client parked a little too close to the cars along the front of their building. A person from AWC approached the escorts and stated that the car was blocking a staffer’s car and the client had to come out to move it right then. We all felt that this was a two-fold issue. Of course the car might be in the way if the other driver had to leave immediately, but with a tiny bit of maneuvering once the car next to it left they would be able to get out with ease. We thought the other reason was they did not get an opportunity to “counsel” her with their views on what is the right choice for her.
Were we thinking too deep into their ulterior motives maybe?
I went into the clinic waiting room and quietly explained the situation to the client. She looked up with a clipboard full of papers and a pained look on her face and said “I’m already late. I just don’t think I can go back out there and listen to them say those things to me again. Can you please move it if I give you the keys?” “I will try,” I told her. “They can be very hostile and uncompromising with escorts.”
A quick decision was made to take off my vest and not represent the escorts. I would go as an average person on request of the owner to move their vehicle. Keys in hand, I walked down the sidewalk to the parking lot. At their property line I was met by several staffers from the CPC. I explained the client asked me to please move her car as she was busy filling out paperwork and already running late. A reasonable person would have understood the situation. After all, the goal was to move the car out of the way ASAP. Right?
“No, absolutely not, that would not be a good idea. She must move it,” I was told. Were they afraid I was going to go on a bumper car style spree and damage other vehicles on the way out of the parking lot? Perhaps key a few doors for the fun of it on the way past? Were they concerned about the liability of letting someone other than the owner drive the car?
No, of course not. They did not want me to move it because they wanted another chance to talk to the client. They can talk to me all they please. I don’t engage. I don’t care what they have to say. It has no impact on my life or who I am as a person. Their opinions of me matter not one bit.
As I walked back up the sidewalk I talked with the other escorts about how to best prepare her for moving the car with the least amount of conversation and stress for her. At the same time I was thinking in the back of my mind, what sadistic pleasure do these people get out of harassing people with their tactics?
I went back into the waiting room and explained to her that they would not permit me to move the car for her. They asked that she be the one that moved it. With that, a tall man seated behind us stood up and said that he had overheard the entire conversation and he would move the car for us. He explained the CPC staffers would have nothing to say to him. With that statement, I think I heard the whole waiting room exhale in relief.
She quickly agreed and we gave him the keys. I walked back with him to show him which car it was and where to best park it for her. As we turned the corner, the staffers turned with anticipation only to be surprised as this gentleman purposefully walked over to the car, got in, started it up and left. I could barely suppress a smile as I thought of this man, who did not know either one of us, stepping in with one small gesture that spoke volumes of his compassion for others in times of need.
Thank you sir, whoever you are. Your simple act of moving a stranger’s car meant more than many of us could convey that morning.
Escorting has allowed me to see the best and worst of human behavior, often at a dizzying rate. Some mornings I am thankful for a long quiet drive home. It gives me time to process what I have seen and heard. This allows me to make better choices on how to interact with clients and make sure I am doing what is less stressful and most empowering for them. Everyone is an individual and it is not a one size fits all approach. It is always their choice on whether or not they choose to speak with us at all, escorts and antis alike.
One morning I was standing along the curb as a car pulled up. As I approached the car, I could see the client and her companion tense up. I stopped a few feet away and waved. The window rolled down a few inches and a sharp voice asked “What?” I pointed to my vest and identified myself as a clinic escort and asked if they had an appointment today. They nodded. I gave a very quick summary, approximately when the doors opened and what to expect from the antis on their way into the clinic. I asked if they would like me to walk with them. They replied no, and they didn’t want to talk to anybody either. I assured them if they changed their mind and wanted someone to quietly walk with them just wave for one of the escorts wearing the orange vests over and we would return.
As I turned to stand back at the curb, I nearly collided with one of the male antis rushing over to speak with them . While they were rolling up their window he was loudly stating “I am not a protester. I just want to talk with you about some options you have not considered.”
Not a protester? Alright I thought , this could be interesting. What is he planning on discussing, the pros and cons of metered parking along the street or the day rates of the lots and garages in the area? Yeah right; unlikely.
From my vantage point several spaces down I watched as he circled the car from driver to passenger, speaking at them through closed windows. He was repeating one of the many similar scripts they all have: free housing, free education, free medical care, open adoptions, loving Christian families waiting for babies. It kind of reminded me of the drive through Safari when I was a kid. Some of the animals like the giraffes and baboons were fun to watch as they approached your car to peer in on you. Others like the tigers and lions were scary and you were glad for the safety of your car; hoping they lost interest quickly and backed off. I wondered how these people saw the actions of this man.
When the clinic doors opened, I stepped back over to the car and informed the client that the building was now open. I again backed off about fifteen feet or so to give them the space they requested, but close enough to get in stride if they changed their minds. Not the case with “Mr. I Am Not A Protester.” He began to very closely follow them up the sidewalk. By now his words had become a blur to me as he kept at them. Part way up the sidewalk they were joined by a female protester with her pleadings of, “Don’t kill your baby. You will always be a mother.”
Repeated requests from the client and her companion to the antis went ignored. The “Please leave us alone, Please go away,” turned into, “Get out of my face! Leave me alone!” I made eye contact with the client to see if she wanted me to step in and walk with her to try and give her some space. The look I got back was not of someone needing assistance. It was one of someone needing answers. She looked at me and loudly stated, “Do they EVER listen?” Sadly, I shook my head no.
They made their way down the sidewalk with the mini circus in tow. Only at the property line did they manage to finally get free of their persistent chasers. A few more words preached at the now closed doors and the antis turned their attention to the next group headed in.
harassment (either harris-meant or huh-rass-meant) n. the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial and social prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious.
It seems like a pretty simple definition to me, but in this country it seems to be tolerated if it is in the name of religion and saving the unborn.
However, with these tactics becoming more public and the growing backlash against the oppressive regulations and laws passed in the last few years, I see it starting to change. A recent arrest of a protester in Albuquerque, the removal of the sidewalk blockers in Jackson, MS on December 4, and the protest-free space created by Portland, Maine’s city council give me hope.
I may be just one voice, but I have found others to speak with and we are being heard. From Wendy Davis and the women of Texas, the voters of Albuquerque, New Mexico and the many tireless volunteers who make sure every day women seeking access to abortion services do not have to face these sidewalk bullies alone. We are 1 in 3. We have a voice. Don’t be afraid to speak up and use it. We can push back against the draconian laws that are forcing women back into the underground network of illegal and unsafe abortions.
Together we can make the difference.