Imagine Otherwise: Elicia Gonzales on Reproductive Justice and Latinx Queer Advocacy

Imagine Otherwise: Elicia Gonzales on Reproductive Justice and Latinx Queer Advocacy

November 29, 2017 Podcast

 

How can we put reproductive rights in conversation with racial and economic justice? How are queer Latinx communities and other queers of color leading the field in comprehensive, queer-positive sex education? What can we do to make space for multiply marginalized people within ALL advocacy organizations?

In episode 53 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Elicia Gonzales about how reproductive justice organizations can better incorporate intersectionality (and why they should), the role of Latinx and other queer of color movements in Philadelphia’s radical history, why pleasure is a right not a privilege, and why Elicia puts listening at the center of how she imagines otherwise.

Guest: Elicia Gonzales

  • Elicia Gonzales is the Executive Director at the Women’s Medical Fund in Philadelphia and co-founder of the SEXx Collective that creates ongoing sex-positive community events. She has worked in the social justice field for more than 19 years on issues ranging from reproductive justice to queer Latinx social justice. She is a licensed social worker and has masters degrees in social work and human sexuality education. Elicia has served as adjunct professor at Widener University’s Center for Human Sexuality Studies. From 2009 to 2016, she served as executive director for GALAEI, a queer Latinx social justice organization. Elicia serves on the Boards of Bread and Roses Community Fund, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA, and Camp Sojourner Girls’ Leadership Camp. She also serves on the Jonathan Lax Scholarship committee of the Bread and Roses Fund and on the advisory committee for Red Umbrella and Red Ribbons. She was a fellow for the Rockwood Racial and Gender Justice for HIV movement. Elicia lives in Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood with her amazing wife and cat (named Justice, of course) and is originally from Denver, Colorado where her beloved biological family resides.

We chatted about:

  • Elicia’s work at the Women’s Medical Fund (02:35)
  • The importance of intersectional reproductive justice and sexual liberation (06:35)
  • Elicia’s past work with GALAEI (09:40)
  • Sexual education advocacy (13:02)
  • Connections between Elicia’s academic and activist work (15:17)
  • The interplay between creativity and social justice activism (16:31)
  • Imagining Otherwise (18:37)

Takeaways:

  • On the Women’s Medical Fund: “Women’s Medical Fund has been around since 1985. It was born from the hearts and minds and passions and outrage of some early radical feminist organizers who saw that since the 70s, the Hyde Amendment has ensured that people who are on Medicaid can’t use that insurance to pay for their abortion. Seeing that this was coming to Pennsylvania, this group of radical organizers got together and said ‘What can we do?’ The first person literally got into her own pocket, got 250 dollars and said “I’m going to give this to someone who needs an abortion and can’t pay for it.” Lo and behold, the Women’s Medical Fund was born, although back then it was called the Greater Philadelphia Women’s Medical Fund. It has retained virtually the same simple mission, which is that we generate revenue and put it into the hands of people who are not able to afford this basic human right.”
  • Intersectional approaches to reproductive justice and sexual liberation: “What we’re doing at WMF and what we recognized when I was at GALAEI is that we folks who are well intended need to do a lot of work to lay the foundation to do this work with any sort of integrity. One of the lessons I learned is that you need to have people at the table who are closest to the pain (a phrase I heard used by the group POWER, which is an amazing interfaith organizing group). If you don’t have folks whose real lived experiences are impacted by intersecting systemic oppressions, then you can’t really claim to be doing the work with any sort of justice….What does it look like for us to create a space in which we invite folks who call the helpline or who don’t have the funds to pay for abortion or don’t have access to healthcare or have unstable housing? What are we doing to ensure that we are a space that’s affirming their identities, and not exploiting folks or fetishizing their experience? Doing this work means ensuring that voices of marginalized folks are elevated and are at the front and center.”
  • On GALAEI’s queer Latinx approach to HIV/AIDS: “Similar to abortion, HIV does not live in a vacuum. It is really the epicenter of a lot of different isms, ie: racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, white supremacy. We knew that we needed to expand our work beyond just HIV so we expanded the work to include and to evolve into a social justice platform. We also started to identify ourselves unapologetically as queer and Latino, which was a departure from us wanting to serve everybody in Philadelphia, which ended up making invisible the needs and the resources for Latino communities….We also relocated our offices out of Center City into an actual neighborhood that is 90% Latino. It was really important that if we were working with community, that we be in community. And so the office is now located in Norris Square Park, and the organization is partnering with folks around that park who have historically just done some really incredible stuff like Norris Square Neighborhood Project and Adan Mairena from West Kensington Ministry.”
  • Why sexual autonomy is so important to social justice: “Since middle school , I’ve been guided by the notion that people should have the right to do what they want with their bodies and that pleasure is a right, not a privilege. If you’re able to control the body of a person through reproductive restrictions, which bathroom a person should use, or how many children a person should have, there’s virtually nothing that you then can’t control in that person’s life.”
  • On the need to check one’s own privilege: “I’ve learned that I need to use my ears more than my mouth. I think that sometimes flies in the face of what you’re taught in school. I’ve said this (I teach at Widener): I tell my students all the time…you’re the expert, be the expert, step into your power and know your worth. But at the same time, in order to do this work and to do it well, we also need to be teaching folks and talking with folks about how we listen to other people—really listen to the underlying values that are coming out when that person speaks. Listen for the commonalities in our experiences and hearing about their pain and hearing about their strength and figuring out where there are common bridges between our experiences. You never get to the end of knowing and it’s important for us as we do this work together to be humble and to continue to stay open to other people’s ideas, strengths, and resources, to recognize the expertise in the room, and to really be thinking about ways that you can continue to check yourself. How am I exercising my own privilege in a positive way? Where am I taking up too much space from somebody else who should be having this conversation with you right now? Am I working to elevate the leadership of others who aren’t necessarily front and center? These are the things that I personally am continuing to grapple with and trying to do what I can to hold myself accountable and encouraging other people to do the same.”
  • On Imagining Otherwise: “It’s trickier to envision what world you want to live in. It’s a lot easier to think about the world that you don’t want, especially now with everything that we’re bombarded with and confronting. It’s a lot easier to say that I don’t want that or I don’t want this. But, I want the world that we experienced on Halloween night (to put it simply!): communities coming together without bias and without suspicion, without fear of being attacked or judged….I would love to have a world where there’s more of that: more focus on what does happiness look like, what does it look like for us to collectively be creative, enjoy the simple things in life like walking in the park with loved ones or cooking together, dancing, laughing, all of the things that we feel sometimes are not possible when we’re also fighting against all of the -isms that exist in our world.”

More from Elicia:

Projects and people discussed:

About Imagine Otherwise:

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/episodes. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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About the author

Christopher Persaud:

Christopher is a Digital Media Associate at Ideas on Fire, as well as a writer and scholar whose work touches on new media studies, queer and feminist theory, and science and technology studies.