30 April 2009

Spring Lobby Days in DC

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) sponsored a congressional briefing this week on Religious Support for reducing Unintended Pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections among Youth. WATER was among the co-sponsoring groups.

Speakers included Debra Haffner of the Institute who provided an overview of the issues and Bill Smith of SIECUS who explained the importance of passing REAL Sex Education, the Responsible Education About Life Act (S.611, H.R. 1551), which would provide the first federal money ($50 million) for sex education. The $1.5 billion (yes, billion) in federal and state money for abstinence-only programs of the previous administration failed utterly to teach young people how to be sexually responsible.

Ann Hanson of the United Church of Christ (UCC) informed the staffers and others present about the Our Whole Lives religious education curriculum that the UCC and Unitarian Universalists have developed with great results. Emily Goodstein of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice brought the wise voice of young women to the table. Cedric Harmon of City of Refuge Church added pastoral insight from within communities hard hit by HIV/AIDS. Ignacio Castuera, the first National Chaplain of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spoke of the need for sex education within Hispanic communities.

The message of the day was that progressive religious groups are foursquare behind federal funding for sex education and also perfectly wiling to let those whose religious views keep them from supporting it to opt out of programs for their own children. In a democratic society that seems like a fair and prudent way forward.

I walked across the Capitol lawn to Union Station on a gorgeous sunny day to return to the office. I ran into the protest by ADAPT, dozens of people in wheelchairs lined up across busy Capital Hill streets on both the House and Senate sides of the area. They seek passage of legislation to make more choices available to people who receive disability funding (Community Choice Act, S. 683, H.B.1670). They want to be able to live at home rather than have to go to nursing homes or other institutions. Almost 200 people were arrested and hundreds more scaled the steps of the Capitol, some leaving their chairs below, to dramatize their views (

At the same time, colleagues from the third annual Transgender Religious Leaders Summit, co-sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in religion and Ministry (CLGS) and the National Center for Transgender Equality were lobbying their representatives for trans rights. I could not help but think what a new day it is in DC, how there is hope in the air that some of these basic justice issues will be solved in the near future. Ah, spring in a new era.

-- Mary E. Hunt


  1. I, too, welcomed the essence of a new era (along with spring) on the Hill. What a difference it makes to be attending a briefing on comprehensive sex education when we now have a President who supports such a thing, not to mention even uses that language! I sensed a shift in the collective psyche in the room as we discussed the importance of passing the REAL ACT, with the hope that it is actually possible to do so.

    Following the briefing, I attended an afternoon colloquim with other religious groups working on comprehensive sex ed issues. Together we heard from one another about ways our organizations are working to address these issues, discussed what's not getting done that needs to, and brainstormed possibilities and actions for how to meet such needs.

    We also addressed the "common ground" language and ideology surrounding groups working on comprehensive sex ed, asking "What is the criteria for common ground?" and "With whom can we find common ground?" We want to move forward recognizing that a) we don't necessarily have much in common with groups working on sex ed that's not comprehensive, b) there is a tendancy to be fearful and shut down in reaction to this (not necessarily the most effective choice), and c) as progressive groups incorporating a variety of perspectives about sex ed, we in fact do make up much of the common ground!

    I biked back uptown at the end of that gorgeous spring afternoon, hopeful that something fresh for sex ed was in bloom.

    -- Anna B. Roeschley

  2. what a lovely recap! thanks to both of you for being there.