SIECUS turns forty.
As I read through these articles, the old cliche phrase "the more things change, the more they stay the same" immediately sprang to mind. While we have made a great deal of progress in the last forty years, looking back also shows us how much more we can, and must, accomplish.
THE PROGRESS WE'VE MADE
In some areas we have made remarkable and visible progress. The first excerpt on sexual orientation that we are sharing with you, for example, is a 1965 response to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The physician who wrote the JAMA article described homosexuality as a "dread dysfunction" and suggested that "the homosexual" suffers from "shame and despair." Although these words seem shocking today, it is worth remembering that at the time homosexuality was still considered a mental illness.
Clearly we have come along way since 1965 when SIECUS was one of only a handful of voices arguing that this view of sexual orientation was misguided, inaccurate, and incredibly harmful. Although prejudice and discrimination have not been eliminated, today gay and lesbian individuals are able to enjoy more rights than ever before. Perhaps the most visible societal changes related to this topic, however, are those that have occurred in the popular culture. Homosexuality has gone from an unutterable taboo to a frequent and accepted subject of television, movies, and music.
PEAKS AND VALLEYS
In other areas, advocates of sexual and reproductive rights have spent the last four decades on a rollercoaster ride characterized by peaks of tremendous success and valleys of disappointment. Nothing embodies this as much as a woman's right to safe, medical abortions.
In 1973, proponents of abortion rights saw their greatest victory with the ruling in Roe v. Wade in which the U.S. Supreme Court found state laws banning abortion in the first trimester to be unconstitutional. While many had hoped this would put an end to the abortion debate, in the years since, advocates have witnessed numerous attempts to limit this right, many of which have unfortunately been successful.
In this issue we share some telling snapshots from the history of the reproductive rights movement since the decision in Roe. The first excerpt explores a 1978 Congressional decision to restrict Medicaid funding for abortions. Although the author suggests that these restrictions are likely unconstitutional, similar rules exist today, making access to abortion very difficult for low-income women. We have also included an article from 1991 that discusses the "gag rule." Advocates were particularly shocked when it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as it censored the information about pregnancy options that health care providers could share with clients. The court decision was handed down duing the first Bush Administration, since then advocates for reproductive rights have watched as this rule was lifted by President Clinton, and its international counterpart "the global gag rule" reinstated by George W. Bush.
Many people describe the current Bush White House as the most hostile administration in history when it comes to reproductive health and freedom. Today, advocates are battling the ban on so-called "partial-birth abortion" as well as numerous other efforts to restrict the access to abortion that we had hoped Roe v. Wade would permanently afford to all women.
A LONG WAY TO GO
Reproductive rights is sadly just one of many areas of our work in which we still have a great deal to accomplish. As you will see from our excerpts, since the early days of SIECUS we have discussed the need to recognize the sexuality of disabled individuals and to help them receive the information, education, services, and skills they need to become sexually healthy. While we have certainly made progress in this arena, I still receive calls nearly every week from educators frustrated by the dearth of information and resources on this topic. Similarly, in 1968 we identified improved training of sexuality educators as a pressing need and nearly four decades later, despite many efforts, educators are still left wanting more.
But what is perhaps most striking is the writing by young people that was published in 1967 and 2003 and that we have reprinted for this issue. The young men who wrote to SIECUS early on to express the need for sexuality education in their schools are now in their fifties, yet their modern-day counterparts, young people who could easily be their own children, still face the very same needs.
FORTY YEARS OF ACTION
Those who have served as SIECUS, staff, board members, and supporters over the years have a great deal to be proud of, and I am particularly proud to be leading this organization in its 40th year.
As I read back over the reports from other anniversaries, I am once again compelled by our history. I am delighted to say that we have continually identified new areas in which our work was needed, and each time we have worked hard to make a difference.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, SIECUS identified a need of individuals to have access to information and resources and responded by creating the library and the SIECUS Report. As the AIDS pandemic became a reality in the 1980s, SIECUS recognized the need to tackle this important issue. Through our school health project, we work with state departments of health and education to strengthen school-based HIV-prevention education. Later in that decade, it became clear that we needed to develop a presence in Washington, DC in order to help shape positive public policy--today, our policy department is larger and more influential than ever before.
Throughout the 1990s, as attacks against sexuality education intensified, we worked to create and expand our community advocacy project in order to provide resources and assistance to parents and educators struggling with these issues. SIECUS recently celebrated 10 years of tracking and responding to these controversies and we continue to talk to parents, evaluate curriculum, and produce valuable resources for community members.
In the early 1990's SIECUS identified the international field of sexual health, rights, and education as a place where we needed to play an increased role. Since that time, SIECUS has worked with colleagues in diverse countries around the world including Cameroon, Ghana, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and Yemen to help improve access to sexual health information, education, and services.
THE NEXT 40 YEARS
Turning 40, however, is a time not only to take pride in your history but to look strategically at your future.
Clearly, the need for our core programs still exists. Young people and adults alike are now bombarded with messages about sexuality, yet reliable, accurate sources of information remain hard to access. SIECUS will continue to help provide information and work to make it accessible to all.
Too many young people go without high-quality, comprehensive sexuality education because of lack of support, resources, and teacher training. SIECUS will continue to train teachers and advocate for young people's need to learn about their sexuality. This fall we face what looks to be a remarkably close presidential election, the outcome of which will undoubtedly affect policies related to sexual health and reproductive rights for years to come. SIECUS will continue to set and lead a proactive agenda to help secure these rights. And, as the HIV/AIDS pandemic enters its third decade with few signs of letting up worldwide, SIECUS will continue to work with international colleagues to help increase access to vital information and services.
At the same time, SIECUS will, as it always has, grow and expand in response to emerging issues. As schools face increasing challenges in their efforts to provide sexuality education, SIECUS will look toward other venues, such as youth development organizations, to reach young people with a message of healthy sexuality. As the United States deals with increased immigration and migration and shifting demographics, SIECUS will increase our efforts to help educators provide culturally competent sexuality education and resources. And as the gap between rich and poor in this country becomes larger than it has ever been, SIECUS will take a hard look at how socioeconomic status affects sexual health.
While I am excited to move in all of these directions, I am sure that there are many issues that will emerge in the coming years that we have not yet considered. In truth, the ability to address emerging issues is one of my favorite parts of leading SIECUS. As an organization we have always honored our history while still continuing to evolve and become stronger.
I, for one, can't wait to see what the next forty years brings.
Tamara Kreinin, M.H.S.A
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|Title Annotation:||From the President; Sex Information and Education Council of the United States|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2004|
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