SEAT 2009 is a Success!
On Saturday, March 21, 2009, the energy and excitement in the air were palpable as 34 diverse participants from all over the country arrived at the Carlyle Suites Hotel in Washington, DC, for the fifth annual Sexuality Education Advocacy Training (SEAT). Youth, young adults and adult allies began gathering in the conference room, everyone introduced themselves, shared their reasons for coming, and began to build a network that would, over the course of the training, help them all to become knowledgeable and effective advocates for comprehensive sex education in their public schools and communities.
SEAT brings participants together to discuss sex education as a religious issue and its impact on young people, queer people and people of color. The three and a half day training includes inter-faith sharing, anti-racism and oppression training, community organizing and skill building sessions, lobbying training and lobby visits with Congressional staff. One of its strongest features is that SEAT is not only intergenerational but interfaith as well; drawing participation from Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ, and for the first time this year, Reform Jewish congregations.
The team of staff and organizers included representatives from Advocates for Youth, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and the United Church of Christ. We were delighted this year to benefit from the skills and resources of the Religious Action Center’s staff, who coordinated lobbying efforts and trained participants so that they would feel comfortable and competent during their visits on Capitol Hill.
SEAT participants excelled this year as they worked to build a strong community, shared in interfaith worships, and supported each others’ voices while lobbying. Rabbi Michael Namath led a Jewish Havdallah service to open the conference. On Sunday, everyone traveled to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA, to listen to a beautiful bell choir and hear UUA President Rev. William Sinkford’s sermon on religion and sex education. Before heading out to lobby on Monday, participants were led in prayer by Sandy Sorenson from the United Church of Christ.
Success stories abounded as everyone came back together after a long day of walking between House and Senate offices. The group asked their congressional representatives to end federal funding for ineffective abstinence-only education programs and to support the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act (H.R.1551; S.611), which would create a federal funding stream for communities that choose to implement comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate sex education.
Two participants from California visited the office of their House Representative Laura Richardson, (CA-37) who had previously supported abstinence-only education. The staff member they spoke to expressed the Congresswoman’s dissatisfaction with the results of abstinence-only education as well as her willingness to both co-sponsor the REAL Act and call for an end of federal funding for abstinence-only programs. Many participants felt empowered by their lobbying experiences, and several cited it as their favorite part of SEAT. One added, “I am so thankful that a program like SEAT exists. I can't wait to see the fruits of our labor when the REAL act passes with flying colors!”
Zoe Paddock, a fourteen-year-old Unitarian Universalist from Gloucester, MA, was photographed on her lobby visit and interviewed for an article in the Boston Globe. Of abstinence-only education, Zoe says: “You hear... you have sex, and then you'll get a disease, and then you'll die.... a lot of abstinence[-only education] is based on fear, and I don't think that's the right way to go teaching anyone about anything."
As the training came to a close on Tuesday afternoon, everyone created a plan to take the work they had begun at the conference back to their own communities. One participant described what she got from SEAT: “I realized... how important it is to be a loud voice for comprehensive and inclusive education.... I felt empowered to stand up and speak my truth more often and in more places.”
There is no doubt that the participants in SEAT 2009 will remain connected to each other and committed ensuring that the young people in their home communities learn everything they need in order to best care for their own bodies, minds, and spirits.