Washington University of St. Louis hosts an annual Sex Week, to “start an open sexual dialogue, encourage students to experiment with sexual viewpoints that differ from their own and to provide wide-reaching sexual education.”
Originally, they chose Bristol Palin to be the keynote speaker for the event. Wash U was going to pay her $20,000 to speak about sexual responsibility. After having a baby in 2008, teen mom Bristol Palin embarked on an ironic campaign to advocate for (obviously) ineffective abstinence-only sex education. Students at the university did not think she was qualified to speak to them about sexual responsibility; they mounted protests and gathered petition signatures to have her dropped from the event. At a meeting last week discussing whether to keep Bristol Palin at the event, students packed the room in protest, and a college freshmen held up a sign saying: “Can I get paid for an accident too?”
Kate Walsh, star of “Private Practice,” Tweeted about the issue:
“Welcome to the Idiocracy! RT @elliekirsh: @katewalsh please join students at Wash.U. to boycott Bristol Palin’s speech on abstinence. What does she know about college or abstaining?”
Wash U is right in dropping Palin from the event, but not for the reasons mentioned above. Age is not a disqualification, and neither is the fact that she didn’t attend college. It is not her experiences that disqualify her, but her political and moral positions. I know several teen moms who are fantastic advocates for sexual responsibility. One girl I know became pregnant in high school after receiving a lifetime of abstinence-only education from both the classroom and the Church. Shockingly, she was taken by the moment after meeting a guy, and they had unprotected sex. She is now in college and raising a beautiful baby, but her message is not a hypocritical one of condoning sexuality. Rather, she now advocates for education programs that give teens complete information to make informed sexual health choices. She realizes that if she had learned that it was OK to insist on using protection, she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant. And she uses this story to make sure other young people are able to make more informed choices.
It is Bristol Palin’s stance on what form of sex education students should receive that makes her a poor choice for this event. She advocates for abstinence, and abstinence-only education, following far right social ideology, when she could be a fantastic advocate urging students to use birth control. Instead of realizing that the programs she supports DO NOT WORK, she blindly insists that abstinence (only) is the way to go. A speaker bent on restricting information should not be paid $20,000 to speak at an event aimed at fostering an open dialogue.
Kudos for students organizing around this issue, and for making sure Bristol Palin’s message would not be featured at this event. And Bristol, there is still time to reconsider your position and become a powerful advocate for comprehensive sex education.
Dan Jubelirer is a 2010 Netroots Fellow at Amplify, a youth-driven community dedicated to promoting sexual health and reproductive justice.