This may not be immediately obvious to some people reading this, but I’m black. Just thought I should get the formalities out of the way before we move forward. If you want to get technical, I’m biracial, mixed with black and white, but for all intents and purposes surrounding my experience as a volunteer clinic escort-I am a black woman. I’m about 6 months into volunteering as a clinic escort at EMW Women’s Surgical Center, the only abortion provider in the state of Kentucky. In the beginning, I thought that I would simply show up for a few hours on Saturdays, do my part, then go back home. Nothing more, nothing less. However, that thought was long gone before the clinic even opened for business on my first “Sidewalk Saturday” last summer.
While there are several contributing factors that drive my newfound passion and activism, the one that has remained my top motivator is knowing that my presence can be a form of comfort and security for some brown or black clients and their companions. The walk from the parking garage to the front doors of EMW is brutal for anyone. Unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, it’s hard to even put into words-but I’m sure you can imagine what it’s like. Just trust me when I say that it is absolutely gut-wrenching. Now I’d like you to try and imagine having to walk through that hostility and harassment, but not seeing anyone who looks like you that also supports you and your right to choose.
We’re given lots of helpful information and education regarding the terrible things that antis may say to us volunteers, but I don’t think one can ever be “ready” to experience a person (a stranger, nonetheless) being so unapologetically vocal with their racism. Anti-choicers will say anything they can think of to bully escorts, clients, and companions. Most often it’s merely speculation that they concoct on their own with absolutely no facts or truth. However, if your skin is brown; that’s an obvious physical characteristic that can’t be masked or hidden by our practice of nonengagement.
Though I do get my fair share of racist comments from antis, their bullying isn’t just reserved for us volunteers. If the sidewalk gauntlet isn’t bad enough, when a client rounds the corner to the front of the clinic…it gets worse. When approaching the front doors of EMW, clients are likely to encounter cameras, loudspeakers with microphones and amplifiers, children, large graphic posters, bible readers and even the occasional opera singer. Add in a few MAGA hats and one man who always insists on showing us that he openly carries AND conceals firearms. Because that’s a totally normal thing for people to do at 7:00am on Saturday morning outside a healthcare provider’s office, right?
As ridiculously overwhelming as that sounds, it doesn’t end there for our black and brown clients. Just when you think you’re through the worst of it, nearing the waiting area located on the opposite side of a set of glass doors, you hear someone shout at you, “Black Lives Matter, even on Saturdays!! Maybe not to you though!” That comment never fails to send a jolt through both clients and companions alike. Sometimes I actually can see a person’s body begin to tense in anger. Other times, they’re so caught off guard that a random white man would have the audacity to use something created FOR and BY us as an opportunity to push their own agendas and hate.
I’ve heard antis say some of the worst things imaginable, just to list a few:
“This place is a KKK Paradise! A black doctor killing black babies! I bet the KKK loves that!”
“Honey, don’t you know that this place is the leading killer of your people? They kill more black babies in there than guns.”
“Doesn’t this remind you of slavery? This place kills the most Afro American people!”
“You’re not standing with black women, you’re leading them to murder their babies and have guilt for the rest of their life, you’re just wicked.”
“Sweetie, do you know who Margaret Sanger is? You should Google her.”
“See, that’s why most of you black people are ignorant.”
On one occasion an anti randomly and rather loudly shouted the n-word (Yes, a HARD R) with absolutely no context whatsoever. Six months in and I am still baffled by their antics every single time I step onto that sidewalk. I regularly remind myself that they choose to spend their time harassing and shaming people who are simply attempting to access care that they are entitled to as an autonomous person.
A few weeks ago, a fellow escort paid me what I consider to be the greatest compliment I’ve received in the time that I’ve been volunteering. This escort was my walking partner on that chilly December morning, and together we walked a handful of clients through the 3-ring circus that I have described in this article. As we were returning to our station at the parking garage, my fellow orange vested friend said:
“I am so glad that we have you here. The immediate connection you have with clients of color is an awesome thing to witness. I felt like I didn’t need to say anything at all because it was obvious that there was an unspoken trust between the two of you. That is something most of us will never be able to provide, so thank you for being here.”
And that, my friends, is why I will continue to proudly put on my orange vest for as long as I am physically able. I like to tell clients as we’re walking “If they’re here, we’re here” just so they know that we’re there for them, and I am confident that every single one of my fellow escorts share that commitment. If me simply being present helps ease anxieties or provides a sense of comfort to a person while they are exposed to that level of harassment—how could I not?
Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon! We’ll take a candid look at intersectionality and explore ways to best approach the issue of underrepresentation by POC within the Reproductive Justice space, specifically clinic escorting.