Dismantling heterosexism, one retreat at a time

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

by mai doan

Picking berries, planting herb gardens, swimming in ponds, going on a night hike then laying on the dock to watch a meteor shower. These were some of the things Forward Together youth did this past weekend on our infamous summer retreat at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. Sounds dreamy right? But how is learning how to garden useful to our work around Sex Education Justice? What do meteor showers have to do with access to resources, rights, and recognition?

During these retreats, we make particular effort to reconnect to the land, the sky, and our bodies in a way that our every day lives in Oakland don't always allow. During these retreats, we allow ourselves to be inspired by our environment-- one of health, sustainability, magic, and beauty-- to more deeply re-imagine what our lives could look like if we were the ones making all of the the decisions that impact our bodies, relationships, and communities on the daily. During these retreat, we have less police presence, less smog, less fast food, and less cell phone reception and more space to be, breath, digest, and hear each other. During these retreats is where we get the deepest work done.

This retreat was particularly powerful. As leaders pushing a new vision for sex education in Oakland, we have a responsibility to not reproduce the very systems that are harmful to young people and their communities. A huge part of this work is challenging the pervasiveness of heterosexism* in our families, schools, communities, health clinics, sex education curriculum, and ourselves. Away from the confines and expectations of their day to day, our youth were able to do some deep work examining how heterosexism operates in their lives, both in terms of privilege and oppression. We looked at how we could dismantle heterosexism through language, and what allyship and representation should and shouldn't look like. We talked about power, both interpersonal power and institutional and corporate power, and how all forms of power weave through and around us in a complicated web; that we have a responsibility to push towards justice where we can using the tools we have at our disposal, whether it be our bodies or the words we use.

Now, post-retreat, we are gearing up to put these newer understandings into creative and political power. This Thursday at Oakland Speaks: Youth Share their New Vision for Sexuality Education Justice, our young folks will be sharing skits, poems, videos, and art pieces that express their experiences as it relates to sex education, and will also be launching their report, detailing the state of sex education in OUSD from students' point of view. Oakland Speaks is just the beginning (a big, powerful, and fun beginning!) to this transformative work around sex education. We hope you can come support our young people who have been working so hard to push the boundaries of what young people have access so that they can be their powerful selves.

* Heterosexism, is the assumption that everyone is, or ought to be, heterosexual and that heterosexuality is the only 'normal,' right, and moral way to be and that, therefore, anyone with a different sexual orientation is 'abnormal,' wrong, and immoral.

mai doan is the SAFIRE Organizer at Forward Together.