LGBTQI Family Planning 101

By Annonymous

I am currently working as a facilitator for the Sherbourne Family Planning Network, which is a network for 2SLGBTQI* and questioning people who are thinking about starting a family or figuring out ways to bring little or young people into their lives. It is important for resources to be available to us to create families for a variety of reasons, the biggest reason being that we deserve it.

Illustration by Eli WiPe 

Many of us go to western medicalized spaces where you should be able to go to a doctor and talk to them about their options of having a family, but this is not an option because of how homophobic and transphobic these spaces can be. It is hard for our communities to access not only good medical services but also supportive medical services.

That then leads us to not actually having the information we need to make really good choices about our own physical health and what is possible for us to start a family. When I say family, I don’t mean just the process of making and having a baby. I also mean the complex and complicated paths to parenthood around adoption and fostering or co-parenting, or supporting a young person that already exists in the world through all of the different ways that families come together. Families for queer people and trans people have always been different. And for myself anyways, I have always looked at how traditionally our communities (BIPOC communities in particular) have always been creating families in different ways that are not based in heteronormative, white-supremacist, nuclear family ways.

The conversation for queer and trans people around what it looks like to bring a baby into their community is a very different conversation than a heterosexual couple that sometimes have accidental pregnancies.   That’s really nice if that’s an option for you, but that’s not always the case for us. Even though many medical spaces say that they are queer and trans positive, that stops at a certain point and does not always include us starting a family. Places like the Sherbourne are important for knowing whatever our path looks like, whether that’s making a baby or supporting a child that’s already in our life.

Start with big questions

First of all, ask yourself: “How do I want to bring parenthood into my life? What does that look like?” think about what your family looks like, ideas about what it means to create a family and also think about your (our) trauma around parenthood and family. There are so many pathways to parenthood for us and with that comes more questions that you should ask yourself. Things like, “How do I wanna have kids?” “Do I wanna have a kid through my body?” “Do I want to support my partner to do that?” “What does this look like in a poly or open relationship?” “Are there are multiple people in my family right now with whom I want to raise a child with?” “Do we want to ask somebody else to carry a child?” “Are there people I am not in an intimate relationship with that I would want to co-parent with?” “Is there a child in my life that I would like to take a more serious role with?”

Get ready for the feels

Family is such a huge trigger point for so many of us because of how complicated our paths have been to becoming who we are. Think through the things you need to work on for yourself, what family brings up for you and how to support and love up yourself in the process.

It can get us thinking about how we weren’t parented or how we lacked parenting. How we wished for some other kind of parenting, or wish that we had more supportive parenting. Maybe we don’t have parents in our lives anymore in the same way that we would have wanted and starting a family is going to bring up all your shit. Prepare yourself! Even though there are so many decisions to make, the thing that I love about our community and about this process is that it is so different than a heteronormative couples; we get to choose how and what and when and why and we get to think through these things in a different way. We get to work through and process these things in ways that the rest of the world doesn’t get to unfortunately because they don’t have to (or think they should).

Co-Parenting

A co-parent is someone who you’re choosing to share parenting responsibilities with; so that can mean that this person is on the birth certificate of the child and maybe not. Now on birth certificates, we have things called “intending parents”. What that means is that if you have someone who maybe you’re partnering with in terms of raising a child whether it be your best friend, cousin, sister or whatever; basically a person in your community this is someone that you would consider to be a “co-parent”. By writing that they are an “intending parent” on the birth certificate you are formalizing that process. This provides us the opportunity to have it reflect what happens in a lot of communities, especially BIPOC communities. BIPOC communities have given us many examples of co-parenting before the term “co-parenting” even existed. A village raising our children is a great example of how co-parenting is a beautiful option!

Have an agreement

Having a formal agreement helps define who is going to be part of a kids life, why for how long and what it is going to look like. It can also set out what will happen if a relationship between you and other parent(s) breaks down. A lot of co-parents will make co-parenting agreements before they take on a child/baby so the terms in a co-parenting relationship are laid out. There can also be an agreement between a donor and the co-parents. It can be as long or short as you all collectively want but it is very important to make sure to develop an understanding of what you want this to look like. There is this great example of a co-parenting family where it was two couples; two gender-queer folks and two gay, cis men who came together to parent a child and so far it has been great for them but they had to set out what this would look like before they embarked on this journey together. You can find their story if you google it, it was featured in Toronto newspapers.

Parenting Collectives

Sometimes instead of co-parenting, parents will create “parenting collectives”. It is the same type of concept, where you’re sharing responsibility for littles with other people (in intimate relationships or not). Sometimes it could mean that you’re bringing in a group of people from the community. We see this in Toronto a lot. There is also different ways to create parenting collectives that are really manageable and amazing and because of the magic of queerness where we have tons of people in the community who we share time with once in a while. It means that this kid gets to grow up with so many different aunties and uncles. To make this work means having a really organized and structured way of getting everybody on the same page about the whole responsibility chart. It really depends again on what kind of situation you’re getting into and why. If you want more information about contracts and what they look like there are lots of drafts online as well as more details on collectives and co-parenting.

If someone in your family is going to have a baby:

Let’s say you have decided that someone in your family wants to make a baby through yours or their bodies. You need: an egg, sperm and a place to grow. There are so many different combinations of what you might need and how you might get them if you don’t have one or more of these ingredients. You need to figure out which one you need and what route you want to go.

Things to point out: There is a huge lack of donors in Canada, especially BIPOC donors. Think about cost (how much money are you willing to put into this process) , consider trauma and how it will impact your body and mental health as it can be a very intense physical process (make sure you have lots of support if possible). If you are finding yourself needing one or more of these things (eggs, sperm or place to grow), there are known and unknown donor options. Surrogacy is an option, as is sperm donors and egg donors. If you are BIPOC and are looking for a non-white donor it’s important to think about the community you are in and how you would want to approach someone in acquiring sperm from. This is an option as well as buying sperm from a cryobank, which costs a lot more than a known donor. There is a significant lack of donor sperm that is BIPOC, which is a huge issue for those looking for BIPOC sperm.   If you are unaware about your own fertility, it may be useful to go to your family doctor and ask if they can refer you to a fertility clinic or get blood and other tests done. There are a few really great LGBTQ positive and supportive fertility clinics in the GTA or Toronto. If you want to look into some of these there are links on the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting website.

How will the Law impact our families?

There is actually some pretty important legislation that was recently passed that relates to co-parenting that I wanted to mention. As of January 1st 2017, the All Families Are Equal Act was passed which basically reduces the distinction between types of parents. A parent who gives birth will not have more legal rights than a parent who does not give birth and sperm donors are recognized as donors not as parents. A legal case has already been decided where a donor was recognized as a donor and not held responsible for child support. Multi-parent families no longer need to go to court in order to recognize that there can be many parents involved in a child’s life. The legislation is written in language that recognizes the range of gender identities in our communities. It is no longer necessary to go to court to recognize parents through surrogacy in most cases. When there is a surrogacy agreement in place, and all parents and the gestational carrier or surrogate agree, the parents and the carrier or surrogate can sign affidavits after the baby is at least 7 days old and the parent or parents will be able to register the birth. Additionally, adoptive parents now have inclusive titles to choose from including “Mother”, “Father” and “Parent.”

Adoption/Fostering:

Lastly, there is also the option of adoption and fostering. When thinking about adoption and fostering it is important to remember that the systems that you have to go through in that process are complex and have a long history of being a mechanism of colonialism, genocide and anti-Black racism in this country. Although services carrying out these options have acknowledged this history, there are still disproportionately more Indigenous and Black young people in foster care and in CAS care. If you are going through this route it is important to think about how you are going to honour and not continue to be part of damage and harm to Black and Indigenous communities if you are not connected/from those communities. It’s important to think through what it means spiritually, emotional, mentally for a child to be literally taken away from their loved ones which then leads to you having a child in your life. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be an option, but I do think it’s important to understand the current implications of this system. Perhaps that means asking yourself, how do you instead support Indigenous and Black families that are asking for support, transforming the system instead of taking kids away as well as thinking of ways to support families that already exist.

This is just an overview of all of the pathways to parenthood and options that are available.

I would like to remind the reader that the ways that we imagine and can think of family is infinite. If you can imagine it, it can happen, and so remembering to not feel boxed in by how we understand family but knowing that family is whatever we create it to be. And that is the magic and brilliance of our communities; all things are possible because we’re not boxed-in, we don’t have to be boxed in, we get to choose who we want and how it happens. So, if you can imagine it, you can make it happen; and it does not have to be any other way than what you want it to be.

If you are reading this article and are looking for more resources the best place to go would be the Sherbourne LGBTQ parenting network, their website has so much information on it! They have lots of videos and info sheets that outline different pathways to parenthood.


Eli WiPe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

How Organizers Can, and Do, Make Conferences Accessible for Parents and Caregivers

by Vikki Law

Originally Published by www.Rewire.News

 

I still remember the first Allied Media Conference (AMC) that my daughter and I attended. It was June 2008; I was in the final editing stages of my first book and wanted to start talking about resistance and organizing among women behind bars. My daughter, who was 7 years old and already experienced in children’s programming at various political events, was eager to check out the conference’s newly established “Kids’ Track” that offered a handful of age-appropriate workshops about different types of media.

So I pulled her out of school and we headed for Detroit to spend three days among media makers from across the country. While I attended a training for women of colour, she and the other kids learned about the basics of block printing. While I participated in a panel discussion about incarcerated women’s voices, she learned how to design and cut out stencils, then spray paint them safely wearing a respirator and latex gloves. In between these workshops, she and the other kids (and adults) had a chance to play and have unstructured fun. She cried when it was time to leave; she had made new friends, learned new skills, and had an amazing time.

We returned the next year and were amazed to see that the Kids’ Track had ballooned from three children (and an occasional baby) to nearly two dozen. Since then, the Kids’ Track has grown even more into the “Kids’ Practice Space,” with several workshops specifically for children.

The AMC isn’t the only conference working to ensure that people with children can attend. Though conference policies—and the conversations around them—continue to evolve, many recognize the importance of ensuring accessibility for parents, caregivers, and children, especially when organizing for social change. When this happens, it not only enables caregivers and kids to attend a conference, but sends the message that they are valued members of and contributors to larger movements.

The annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, entitled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” is in its 31st year and has always provided child care.

“It’s not any harder than any other aspect of event planning,” Lucy Trainor, CLPP’s associate director, told Rewire. “It takes time and money to plan catering, it takes time and money to plan events, and it takes time and money to plan child care.” CLPP views accessibility as integral to its mission to fight for reproductive justice; thus, the conference not only offers child care, but also pays for speakers to travel with their children and, if necessary, pay for another adult to attend and help care for those children. “For us, it’s part of a larger commitment to access,” said Trainor, noting that the conference also provides financial support for speakers with disabilities to travel with their personal care attendants and language interpretation.

CLPP’s conference costs $285,000 to plan and produce. It takes place each year at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, which provides in-kind support, such as classrooms and lecture halls for the conference, as well as year-round office space. The college also allows conference organizers to draw on students for child care, which limits those expenses to only a few hundred dollars for supplies. But, said Trainor, “even if you do have to pay for child care, you budget for it.”

Facing Race, a three-day biannual conference dedicated to racial justice, does just that. Organizers have made sure to include child care in their budget since the 2010 conference in Chicago.

“A huge number of people in Facing Race are parents and caregivers,” explained Rosana Cruz, the organization’s leadership action network director. As the conference grew from 1,000 attendees in 2010 to more than 2,000 in 2016 (plus a waiting list of 500), organizers have pondered how to grow to accommodate families and caregivers. “After each conference, we think, ‘That was great, but we can do better,’” reflected Cruz.

For instance, she recalled that the 2014 conference did not have a room for nursing or pumping. As any parent who has ever breastfed can tell you, nursing or pumping requires a space that is quiet; a refrigerator is needed to store breast milk. This year’s conference included a breastfeeding and pumping room. “We also bought screens for privacy and rented refrigerators,” added Cruz. For the 2018 conference, organizers are thinking about expanding to offer programming for children and youth similar to the AMC’s Kids’ Practice Space.

The challenge for Facing Race, which takes place at a hotel in a different city every two years, is ensuring that accommodations work for children and caregivers. “We need to secure a space in a hotel room that’s big enough,” explained Cruz. The size of that space dictates how many children can be in child care. Child-care costs also include paying licensed and insured child-care providers as well as renting cribs and a projector to screen movies when a quieter activity is needed. But organizers see these efforts as integral to building their movement: “What makes it accessible is what makes it a great conference,” Cruz said.

“It’s a little extra brainwork for people who have never had to think about this,” Cruz, who is the parent of a teenager, reflected. “But if you’re determined, this is just a given. Just like you’d value amplified sound or a keynote speaker.” Plus, when put into the context of the entire conference, child-care costs are negligible; for Facing Race, organizers say paying child-care workers and buying supplies makes up less than half of 1 percent of the total conference.

AMC, meanwhile, costs more than $400,000 each year. Child care and the Kids’ Practice Space are only a fraction of that price tag, costing $1,400 and $2,500, respectively. The value of not only accessibility, but creating relationships with future media makers and movement builders, goes far beyond that fraction, Morgan Willis, the conference’s program director, said.

“The money comes next,” said Willis. “Once you figure out what you want to do, then you figure out the money.”

The AMC has never encountered hesitation from funders about child care and kids’ programming costs, which are explicit budget lines. Willis noted that, when seeking funding, AMC organizers explicitly talk about how accessibility—whether for people with disabilities or people traveling with children—can be expensive. “We articulate to grant makers what we’re asking for and why,” she explained. “We’ve never had pushback around accessibility. Funders have responded extremely well to that.”

When the Allied Media Conference began, she said, “none of us had kids. We weren’t thinking of ways to include kids; we were in our 20s.” While the conference has always offered child care, she recalled that the parents and caregivers in attendance pushed them to do more to include the youngest attendees in conference goings-on.

As the years went on and the Kids’ Track evolved into the Kids’ Practice Space, conference organizers, in turn, challenged presenters to make their content more accessible. “What does it look like when someone with very little experience is in your space?” mused Willis. “That’s where we received the greatest amount of pushback, from people used to traditional forms of presentation.” The pushback didn’t last long; instead, what ended up happening is that considering the presence of younger attendees encouraged speakers to present information more clearly, making it more accessible to everyone who attended, regardless of age.

Unlike CLPP, the AMC is not connected to the university where it takes place each year. But, Willis said, Wayne State University has never balked at having child care or kids’ programming on site. Of course, there were questions and concerns about liability, reflecting what Willis described as “a conception of kids exclusively as a liability,” but the conference and university administrators worked through it.

It’s not just conferences centered on social justice that make accommodations for caregivers and children. When Natalie DeYoung Ricci was asked to read her essay about death at this year’s BlogHer, a conference for women in social media, she was pregnant and expecting her first baby to be born the day of the conference. Knowing that first babies often arrive later than expected, she said yes with the caveat that she might not be able to attend. Rather than write her off, the conference organizers agreed to include her. Furthermore, they offered to have her Skype in from the hospital if she gave birth earlier.

Ricci’s son was born a week early. She contacted the organizers and asked if she could bring him. Not only were organizers willing to accommodate the new mother and infant, but they encouraged her to take as many breaks as she needed, bring him on stage with her, and bring her husband to take the baby from her if needed.

Exhausted from giving birth four days earlier, Ricci only stayed for her session. She said that not only organizers, but attendees welcomed her and her young son. The experience inspired her. “This is my first baby,” she told Rewire. “To know that I could still have a professional life outside of being a mother meant a lot to me.”

The experience also set her expectation that other conferences will be as flexible. “It demonstrates goodwill towards inclusivity of families,” she said. “Many writers struggle. Child care is not always affordable, or even an option.”

BlogHer does offer child care for attendees. “It’s very key for us,” Jenni Ottum, the public relations director of BlogHer’s parent company SheKnows Media, wrote in an email to Rewire. “We actually have a digital storytelling and a media literacy program called Hatch that takes place live during our conferences so kids have a place to go where they learn while their moms do the same thing.”

Some conferences are already seeing children return as teens and young adults ready to participate in the larger conference goings-on. Trainor has seen people who initially came to CLPP as children with their caregivers returning to participate in the larger conference as adults.

About one-third of the children and youth who attend the AMC return the following years. And now, conference organizers are beginning to read workshop proposals from people who first came as young children.

“We reached an interesting challenge in 2015 where the content for the Kids’ Practice Space was so good that the adults were knocking down the door,” recalled Willis. The number of adults crowded out children from attending two of the kids’ sessions. Another conference organizer asked, “Can we ask some of the adults to leave so kids can get in?”

Recalling that particular scenario, Willis added, “With over 350 sessions, you’d think you’d find something that wasn’t for kids!” But the popularity of the workshops indicated the quality of the programming offered to children and youth.

“I’m sure that there will be a very short time before we’ll be seeing people say, ‘I was 12 at the conference in Baltimore or Dallas and now I want to present my own workshop,’” reflected Facing Race’s Cruz.

The organizers of Facing Race, AMC, and CLPP see accessibility for families with children not only as essential, but, as Cruz puts it, an act that “pushes back against the rugged individualism that is a hallmark of white supremacy. So it’s not, ‘I don’t have kids’ or ‘I don’t need translation,’ so why should I pay for this? It’s ‘I love this conference because people who are monolingual, people who are deaf, people who have kids can come here.’”

They also note that, while child care is offered, none of the conferences require children to stay sequestered in separate spaces. “We think children deserve to be in these [conference] spaces,” said Trainor. “It’s positive to have younger members participating in these discussions. Children are not a distraction.”


 

Vikki Law
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist focusing on intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Her next book, Your Home is Your Prison, critically examines proposed “alternatives” to incarceration and explores creative solutions that truly end mass incarceration.

Black Mental Health & Self Determined Futures

by Louise Boileau

A friend went to a youth shelter when it was cold. He was in distress, having a mental health crisis. He was told firmly to leave, or else they would call the police.

In July 2015, police arrived at subsidized housing unit at Eglinton West and Gilbert Ave, and murdered Andrew Loku within 20 seconds of seeing him. His house was a block up the street from Horizons for Youth, a shelter where my friend was living at the time.

The question has come to my mind helplessly many times: Where does a Black person in a mental health crisis go when they need help?

Left Illustration by Eli WiPe 

There is no safe place to go in this city when experiencing crisis where a black person will not be treated as a threat; including in one’s own home, be that a shelter or a private residence. It is a tired fact and one that requires urgent attention, that Black youth are treated as a problem in Toronto, on many institutional levels.

If reproductive justice is the ability to raise children in a community that is free from violence, it must also encompass mental health, and our ability to receive culturally relevant supports without being isolated or removed from the community, whether it be by child welfare, push out from school, incarceration or institutionalization.

 In the school system, Black youth experiencing anxiety, depression and trauma (which can manifest in many ways), are often summarized as having behavioural issues and are discarded. Expulsions as early as grade one show the incredible reach of anti-Blackness – that a child could be considered not worthy of an education and so lacking in hope for their potential that they should be isolated from their peers and “expelled” from opportunity. The treatment of Black students, and the problematization of Blackness at early ages is consistent with Black overrepresentation in the criminal system.

 Although Black communities represent 3% of the general population in Canada, we represent 9% of the prison population. People with mental health challenges are overwhelmingly filtered into the prison system. So, the chances of a Black person with mental health challenges spending timae in prison at some point in their life is extremely high. Furthermore, mental health challenges such as psychosis and paranoia are so extremely stigmatized, those who experience these symptoms are ostracized and isolated especially when they are most in need of support.

A Punitive Model Across The Board

When you begin to look at the methods of management in the education system, prison and hospital systems, the approach to Black students, youth and adults are very coordinated.

It seems that each uses a punitive approach to trauma, where Black people are being punished, ostracized and further traumatized for needing support, expressing anxiety, depression or distress, even though we are experiencing some of these things as a direct result of the hostile environment we are in.

In psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, there seems to be a chronic issue of overuse of force and restraints. On paper, restraints are meant to be used as a last resort measure. For those who are unfamiliar, to place someone in restraints is to secure them to a bed using straps. First, however, the person is forcibly sedated, sometimes by as many as 8 people (as a friend recounted), and then have their pants brought down so that they can be injected with a sedative in the buttocks. Then they are transported to a bed, and secured with the restraints for an unspecified period of time. A friend recounts being placed back in restraints whenever a nurse who didn’t like them would come back on shift. When she left her shift, they would be released. This is against standard protocol which dictates that restraints are to be used only in extreme situations, where staff either fear the “patient” will harm themselves or somebody else. So their discretion on using restraints lies on their perception of whether or not the “patient” is a threat. It is unreasonable to assume that anti-Blackness never plays a role in their decisions.

Placing a person in isolation is another approach, on paper, used to maintain “patient” or worker safety. However, I have also known it to be used in reaction to something a “worker didn’t like” about a patient, where the patient was then placed in isolation for a period of weeks, and was disallowed from contacting family or advocates. The use of isolation has drastic negative mental health impacts on any person, as has been documented in relation to the use of solitary confinement in prison and remand centres, where most of Canada’s imprisoned population are kept awaiting trial.

Remand facilities receive no resources or training in terms of caring for a person undergoing mental health challenges. Their primary go to, for the “safety” of the person imprisoned (the inmate), is to place them in solitary confinement. Furthermore, people are often denied their right to healthcare, medications or otherwise while in remand. The numbers and demographics of solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons and remand centres is not publicized, similar to the numbers and demographics of deaths inside both prisons and psychiatric institutions.

A Picture of The Mental Health System in Ontario

The mental health system in Ontario is a network of services and institutions, that follow two models intended to work together. The first is the the community based model which is meant to allow people access to support while staying within their communities. and The second is the institutional or medical model, which includes both inpatient and outpatient programs such as CAMH. The community model of mental health services is relatively new and certainly not perfect. Many services are rarely accessed by youth of colour, or and present services are often not culturally relevant.

Only two services in Toronto, that I am aware of, provide services focused on racialized people, and there is only one that provides counselling specifically for Black people in all of Canada. Across Boundaries, and The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) which runs as a program out of CAMH.

The SAPACCY program began in 1996 from community concerns over the amount of Black youth incarcerated for drug related crimes. It was proposed to the ministry and then amalgamated into the CAMH Queen and Shaw location. The SAPACCY program, due to lack of allocated resources is currently hanging on by a thread with only one counsellor with an unusually large caseload, and an even larger waitlist. The waitlist includes only those people who qualified for the services because they are in the catchment area. CAMH recently received a donation of $100 million. It appears they are determined to allocate these funds entirely towards “high-risk” research and the hiring of “top scientists,” in the midst of our current housing and resource crisis. What they intend to research, and how this is suppose to help anyone, I am unsure.

Toronto Police Services & The Mental Health System

The mental health system in Ontario maintains a tight relationship with Toronto Police Services (TPS). The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which is intended to respond to mental health crisis, is a partnership between Toronto Police Services and participating hospitals. The team is a mental health nurse and a police officer (who may or may not be trained by the TPS in mental health awareness). To what extent they receive any training on de-escalation is entirely unclear. The Mobile Crisis team is only available between the hours of 6am and 11pm. TPS is usually the first point of contact for people undergoing mental health crisis. Police officers may bring the detained person to a hospital, where they will be kept for anywhere from an hour to several weeks if admitted. Or they may be charged with an offence and placed in remand.

To call the police in the case of a crisis, is to risk the death of yourself, your family member or friend. But this is the only option presented in a mental health related emergency. Even if a person calls the MCIT, they are still calling the police. There is little assurance that this is in anyway a safer option. At the many times I have made a list in my head of the greatest risk to my family members’ life, police interactions was always the one I feared most.

 The only route made available to access mental health care in crisis is the trauma of police services, and the trauma of psychiatric institutionalization. If we must cope with the pain inflicted on us by those systems that we are asked to call supports than we have very few options at all within the current structure of mental health care.

Community-Led & Self Determined Futures

Because of shame and exhaustion it is often difficult to seek out community or support services. Although we must teach ourselves how to navigate systems and how to survive, there is little space to share these tools with each other.

Intercepting the Pipeline to Prison is a project, lead by Black youth, to address the intersection of mental health, anti-Blackness and criminalization. It is a project created to share survival skills and strategies and to document our experiences. We have developed workshops in three streams: Youth Justice and Advocacy, Family and Community and Creative Solutions. The workshops provide skill building on safety tools for interactions with police, getting access to advocates while in remand, daily self care and coping methods, discussing mental health in our families, the ways we do support and advocate in our families and communities and how to strengthen them, and designing the kind of supports that we would like to see gain funding. In these community conversations we will have the opportunity to pool our knowledge and skills and create take-away resources for each other. The workshops are written from a lived experience perspective, with supports from our organizational mentors such as Legal Swipe. The Project also includes a short documentary interviewing Black youth on their experiences surviving, accessing services, living and creating.

We are creating spaces where we are able to talk about things we have never felt safe bringing up in mental health care spaces, institutional or otherwise: Anti-Blackness as we see and feel it in the mental health system, Caribbean perspectives on mental health, spiritual affliction, “pray it away” and stigma in the Church, spiritual or religious supports that we need, how the option of medication can be complicated by medical trauma, self-determination and the need for supports where people look you in the eye and understand you beyond the idea that you are an impossible problem.

 We believe it is within the community; friends, family, partners and chosen family that long-term support for mental health come from. And any service or support that a person seeks along the way should strengthen their chosen support circle.

 There are many directions to work in and issues to tackle; prison reform and abolition, deinstitutionalization, and the creation of Black-focused mental health supports that strengthen the community. There are conversations and actions happening now in regards to Anti-Blackness in the Peel Board lead by community, the scrapping of the SRO program (s/o to the many people who worked tirelessly for that), the Black Youth Action Plan, and the 10 year health accord that will see $1.9 billion allocated to mental health initiatives in Ontario over the next decade.

 It is a very important time to document our experiences, demand resources, and lead solutions as we connect the conversations on Anti-Blackness to mental health and the criminal system.

 If you are interested in getting involved in the project as a youth, mentor, interviewee, creative collaborator, researcher etc., or you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch by email at interceptingthepipeline@gmail.com or by phone at 647-207-9376. We are also interested in Indigenous community collaboration on the project.


Lou Boileau
Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Eli Wipe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

Where are We Now?

by Asam Ahmad

It’s January 2nd, 2018. I’m speaking with Loretta Ross on reproductive justice and what that means in 2018. So Loretta, I guess I’ll start simply by asking you just that: Where are things at with reproductive justice in 2018, and where do we need to go from here?

LR: I think we are in a very good place, because we are more determined, we are more visionary, we are more focused. So that’s always good. Now what we’re up against is a neo- fascist president in Donald Trump. We are facing incredible rates of maternal and infant mortality in communities of colour. Some of us are still in mourning because people are dying at very young ages. Erica Garner just died, very young, 27 years old, with a young child. So we’re up against repression but at the same time we are fierce and focused and determined. We are also kind of surprised, because the reproductive justice movement has not only built a movement of women of colour in the United States, but that it has travelled globally so that people are using the human rights framework for laying claim to bodily autonomy, freedom to determine their sexuality, if and when they’ll have children, how they’ll have those children, and claiming the rights to raise those children in safe and healthy environments. And so I keep getting astonished by the power and the reach of the RJ framework.

Definitely. Here in Canada as well it has been taken up a lot, especially by Indigenous women, and there has been a lot of organizing happening around reproductive justice and land sovereignty. You brought up Erica Garner. Can you speak more to how you consider her death an issue of reproductive justice?

LR: Well, first of all the fact that her father was brutally murdered by New York City police and did not receive justice, meant that she dedicated her life to making sure that somebody atoned for her father’s murder. That had to have had an impact on her as she dealt with her pregnancy and her other health conditions. And then there is the real question of whether or not she was able to really take care of herself post-partum. Was she able to get the adequate post-partum care that she deserved? 27 years old is too young to die. I guess any age is too young but as a new mother it is especially painful. And so I don’t have any facts but I have my suspicions about whether she was able to take care of herself and receive the care that she deserved. But I don’t have any suspicions about… I know for a fact, that the stress of losing her father to policebrutality had to have had an impact on her life and her pregnancy.

You spoke recently with The Nation magazine, and you stated that “when we created reproductive justice in 1994, it was for this political moment.” And you just spoke a little bit about the neo-fascist onslaught we’re facing right now. Can you expand on that a little bit?

LR: Well, RJ was created because Black women felt that any analysis of reproductive politics that didn’t include an analysis of white supremacy was inadequate and impoverished. So, given that we’re at this moment where white supremacy is a lot more visible to a lot more people than it has been in recent history, I think that’s part of the attractiveness of the RJ framework, because it looks unflinchingly at white supremacy and. We look at neoliberalism, at misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, we can make the list. But every marginalized social location doesn’t have an adequate analysis of white supremacy, and that I think is one of the strengths of this framework because we look explicitly at whose bodies are privileged and whose bodies are disadvantaged and why.

Right. Thank you. One of the things we’ve spoken about in the past is the difficulty of building solidarity across difference. Here in Canada there is beginning to be more of a focus on violence against Black people and also the violence that Indigenous women face on this continent. Often times, however, people consider those to be two separate issues. I guess I’m wondering how you feel about building solidarity across that kind of difference where both issues are so urgent and so pertinent but people can’t always see the interconnectedness.

LR: Well to answer, I’d probably have to start by looking at identity politics. Identity politics was a framework created in 1977 by the Combahee River Collective that was supposed to be used to determine what identities each person possesses. And how those identities are threatened by structures of oppression. Unfortunately, identity politics has become misused so that people think it’s just a statement of their identity and that they don’t have to pay attention to the structures of oppression that not only affect their identities but other identities. That is not the role of identity politics. You’re supposed to find out who you are and – now that you know – figure out what you’re going to do about it in terms of ending the entire matrix of oppressions. And so, I think it’s taken a bad turn into people finding and seizing on their identities as if their identities are the only ones that matter. One of the things I’m working on in collaboration with

you and others, like Alicia Garza, and others is trying to create a calling-in culture so that we understand that we cannot build a united human rights movement if we are busily micro- dividing ourselves in the face of fascism. The fascists don’t care about our micro-divisions except for how they benefit their intent to oppress and in many ways wipe us out.

I think that it’s really important for us to really be self-critical of where we’ve let identity politics create movement silos. And why these silos will not serve us to create a united movement against fascism.

Do you feel that identity politics is still a useful framework for moving forward?

LR: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You need to know who you are otherwise you bring your confusion to the movement. So yes you need to know who you are and you’re own social locations and the oppressions that affect you. But that is just the beginning step, that is not the end of the process and the problem is people see the process as the destination. The destination is full human rights for everyone, but in the process you have to find out who you are and have an assessment of what you bring to a multi-vocal and multi-identity struggle.

 You also have a book that was recently published. Do you want to big that up?

LR: Haha yes. In November 2017 I published a book with Feminist Press called Radical Reproductive Justice and it’s about how we can use the RJ framework in radically new ways to critique white supremacy and neoliberalism. It is an anthology with more than 20 authors and co-editors, and we talk about RJ through a lot of lenses, through the lens of trans issues, through the lens of indigenous issues, as well as African-American, AAPI, Latinx, on and on, so we show the elasticity of the RJ framework. It is available from Feminist Press in November 2017.

Thank you so much for making the time to speak with me, Loretta.

LR: Thank you.


Asam Ahmad
Asam Ahmad is a poor, working-class writer, poet, and community organizer. His writing tackles issues of power, race, queerness, masculinity, and trauma. His writing and poetry have appeared in CounterPunch, Black Girl Dangerous, Briarpatch, Youngist, and Colorlines. His poem “Remembering How to Grieve” can be found in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Loretta Ross
Loretta J. Ross is a co-founder and the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, a network founded in 1997 of women of colour and allied organizations that organize women of color in the reproductive justice movement. She is one of the creators of the term “Reproductive Justice” coined by African American women in 1994

Coming Home: An Interview With Tina Reynolds

by Savannah Taylor

I had the privilege of chatting with Tina for the second time for The Peak about her work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in the state of New York. My intention upon interviewing her was to chat on what has led her to where she is today. Admittedly, I expected a play-by-play account of all the brilliant advocacy work she has done. However, what ensued touched on something much more beautiful and something many of us can relate to… Family and sisterhood.

Do you wanna introduce yourself and what you do?

Tina: I am the co-founder and chair of WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling Her Story), which is a volunteer organization that is led and run by currently and formerly justice-involved women. We’ve been around since 2008, and we’ve done some phenomenal things, like changing legislation and policy and bringing about laws that impact women who have experienced incarceration. Two years ago, I began working at The Child Center of NY to develop and implement A Vision for Tele-Visiting (AVTV), a program that offers the logistical, emotional, and wraparound support to assists families in maintaining meaningful relationships during a parent’s incarceration and preparing for a successful reentry into family and community life. We provide reentry support, family support along with youth activities, leadership development and tele-visits, as well as mental health support and wraparound services, such as job placement assistance and benefits counseling. The Child Center has a powerful community presence, reaching more than 26,000 children a year. It’s located in Queens, NY, which includes neighborhoods where the numbers of children impacted by parental incarceration are among the highest.   What better place to offer services to children with justice-involved mothers?

So WORTH, from what I remember from the last time we chatted, came out of your own experiences from being incarcerated, correct?

Tina: Yes! WORTH came out of the experiences that I had and many other women had from our incarceration. We came out of prison with a feeling that there was not much ready for us to become successful and remain out in the free world. So, we began by having conversations amongst ourselves to see how we could support each other and support our sisters coming home.

Did you wanna touch more on your new program that WORTH is focusing on now?

Tina: We are focused on our partnership with The Child Center to provide services through AVTV, which in turn focuses on mothers and children within New York State Facilities, for women in NYC who are housed in Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities. We also offer tele-visiting services within Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center for women, where we offer services to families, youth, and mothers with children. There is this tele-visiting boom happening within the nation, and not all programs are thinking about the relationship between the child or family member and the justice-involved person. Here in New York, there are organizations like The Osborne Association, Hour Children, and The Child Center who always put the child first, and honour the relationship between the child and his or her parent.

It is important to offer supplemental services to physical visits–although it is very important for children to see, feel, and touch their parent through physical visits–in addition to offering families a safe space to heal and move forward with their lives. We have three sites in Queens and a tele-visit can basically be done every day. We facilitate visits in Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities, as well as Rose M. Singer centre in Rikers Island 1.


1. Westchester, Bedford, Taconic and Rikers Island are all prisons located in the Tri-State Area

It’s interesting because the program originally started out with the focus on just the state facilities, but after talking with the CEO of The Child Center, Traci Donnelly, she agreed we should offer tele-visiting to women with children because there was the possibility of continuation of services if Mom was transferred up state. She also envisioned us working with youth and opening visits up to families.

Before you were with WORTH and before you started organizing, who was Tina? What was Tina up to?

Tina: (laughs) well that’s a long time ago. I really did not know who I was; I knew who I wanted to be, though. I knew I wanted to help women and children. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I became involved in an organization and began sharing my story about my experience as an incarcerated woman. I had been home for about 12 months? I began pursuing an undergraduate degree and raising my last two children and reuniting with my other children, changing my life through the love of others and being really grateful for being out. So my primary focus was on my family because I have seven children and I’d been out of their lives for so long. In the first 5 years, my efforts were to basically reunify with my own children. To establish a relationship with them or assist them with establishing a relationship with each other. They were raised by various family members throughout the tri-state area…so they were pretty much dispersed throughout New York and New Jersey. Reunification is difficult and challenging. I had to swallow my pride, be strong, give voice to my emotions, and remain humble. My main focus was for my children to have a relationship with each other, grow and live happy lives. I am happy my family stepped in and supported them through my incarcerations.

It sounds like you had a very solid foundation of focusing on your family unit. Did that carry over to your advocacy work and WORTH?

Tina: It certainly carried over. My family experiences through my incarceration and the unification process with my children certainly intersected with my work. I often found myself speaking with sisters who had experienced the same situations and the challenges of unification with their own families and children. They were facing the challenges of the choices their family members had made who were taking care of their children in their absence. So, I always wanted to make sure I focused on those issues in regard to reproductive health but also family stability once Mom came home. Because it’s so important! Mothers tend to think about their children during their incarceration. They think and wonder about their safety and who their friends are and whether they’re faring well and things that they have missed as far as conversations–as well as, the “firsts” in any child’s life; regardless of how old they are, there are always “firsts” that happen in your child’s life that you are definitely missing if you are incarcerated and you can’t get those times back. So, I’ve always been about doing the work but also realizing that there are challenges around re-establishing relationships with those you love. And continuing to strengthen those relationships as you are out, being true to yourself and asking your children to be true to themselves and coming up with some specific guidelines of how you would engage with them and how to be with them. Since you being there physically is such a big missing in their lives during incarceration, even if you see them regularly, speak with them regularly during your incarceration, you are still not there. Each one of my children are different people and each one of them have/had different needs. While they wanted me in their lives, there were certain things that they wanted from me and I had to realize my own limitations. Not always monetarily, but emotionally, because as I was growing through my process of being home, I was also growing through my process emotionally   of being the person who I am today. I hadn’t really spent that much time learning who I was, and so I could do things but I wasn’t attached to the emotion behind the things I did.   I wanted to be attached to the emotion; those were the most difficult challenges because I had spent so much time without feelings in order to survive in a very selfish and selfless world.

How do you feel like your communication/unification process has changed since you started your advocacy work to now?

Tina: Well, basically, so much has happened in my advocacy work in relation to my children. I’ve been an editor in an anthology, Interrupted Lives: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States, where I shared a story about my last daughter and reuniting when she was 20 years old. Now, some 9 years later, she is in my life and she has three children and is married. My other children have gotten married. My daughters were married first and have strong and stable relationships with their husbands. My sons are not married yet. My children and I have always communicated, and my communication is unique to each child. I speak with some more than others. However, we have always communicated. It has transformed over the years into a relationship of dignity and respect and love. My advocacy work is all my children see and know I do, they observe my commitment and dedication to others.   They are an integral part of my growth. Advocacy is an integral part of my growth, sisterhood is a big part of who I am.

Do you feel like WORTH is a place for women to come and rebuild things that have been lost or forgotten while they were incarcerated?

Tina: So even WORTH has transitioned and transformed into something different. We closed our office in Manhattan a few years back and now we’ve been working specifically on this tele-visiting. . Our mantra has always been “once you’re a member of WORTH you’re always a member of WORTH” because it’s a volunteer organization. Women were inspired and moved towards gaining employment and seeking a higher education while volunteering at WORTH. It’s always been a volunteer program and because of our movement women have gone on and done different phenomenal things for themselves in their lives. They come back and touch base and we end up being in certain spaces together. We were able to join as a group of women to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. It is always inspiring to meet so many women across the nation who have been impacted by incarceration and gone on to do phenomenal things. So, WORTH has grown as I have grown, and it hasn’t looked like something that I wanted in the beginning, but when things transform, it’s just like relationships with your children. You have this idea of how this relationship is going to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna turn out like that. So, how do you adjust to the ways in which it does turn out and how can you keep moving forward knowing that that’s your position in the world and that’s the purpose you’ve been placed here for? So, through the transition of WORTH, in many ways, it’s not where we were before, but what can we look like in the future? So working within the prison now, we’re looking at it from a perspective of having leadership coming out of the facilities we are offering services in. Having the women come in and join us in this process and guide us from that place (because we’ve been home a lot longer) where they see the impacts of incarceration on themselves and their families being different within this world of social media and technology. We have to give folks that are coming out a safe space and a chance to be fully self-expressed.

How would you describe WORTH now then? Is it still a sisterhood?

Tina: It is still a sisterhood! It is always and will always be a sisterhood of women. There are so many women who have been a part of WORTH that it will never not be a sisterhood. Because of our experiences–some of us have experienced incarceration together, gone through education together or organized together. So, it will never not be a sisterhood… We are continuing the work moving forward, we’re just doing it differently. It’s sort of transformed into something else.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.