Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi’s Chattanooga staff spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday afternoon after news of their hiring sparked weeks of organizing and outrage against the organization.
Kamari Sharard, the local community organizer, and Chequita Webb, the public health educator in Chattanooga, said they were working to build support in the region for better access to reproductive health care and to address shortcomings. gaps in sex education.
âWe think people deserve accurate information,â said Webb. “We trust our parents, we trust families and we trust young people to make decisions that are consistent with what is best for their bodies and their lives, with the appropriate resources to do so.”
The ongoing controversy around Planned Parenthood in Chattanooga dates back to March, when abortion rights opponents began to organize after news broke that the organization was hiring two staff on time. full in Chattanooga. The organization has not had a full-time staff member in Chattanooga since 2005, and it has been almost 30 years since an abortion clinic operated in the city.
Chattanooga staff spoke at the Sanctuary Wednesday afternoon. Sharard said she grew up in Chattanooga and struggled to understand her sexuality without proper education. Sharard was motivated to join Planned Parenthood to help the next generation, she said.
âThe necessary information I needed to make informed decisions about my body and my livelihood was willfully denied to me by the adults in my life, including teachers,â said Sharard. “These people let me down. I had to figure it all out on my own.”
(READ MORE: Emerging group of abortion rights activists in Chattanooga face an uphill battle)
The community organizer will focus on building relationships with community partners and those interested in volunteering, while the health educator will provide training to youth and adults on topics such as STIs, disease control. births, healthy relationships, abstinence and consent, staff said.
Rumors about the positions spread in the months following the announcement of the openings, including speculation that Planned Parenthood would open a clinic in Chattanooga or work with public schools to provide sex education. The organization said it has no immediate plans to open a clinic in the city and, by law, cannot work in the public school system. Hamilton County schools denied any partnership in June when misinformation circulated.
In May, Calvary Chapel Chattanooga encouraged its members to get involved in the fight against family planning, including signing a petition for the school board and donating to support unproven abortion reversal treatment that has little research on its safety or effectiveness.
Calvary Chapel leaders raised concerns with the Hamilton County School Board in June, saying parents should be responsible for educating their children about sexuality.
“We want to maintain our values ââand continue to focus on families to educate their children about sexual health and empower parents to make the decisions when it is time to have more detailed conversations about gender and sexuality at home, âAnne Roth, a member of the Calvary Chapel, told the school board in June, reading the church’s petition.
More than 2,600 people had signed the petition on Wednesday.
Frank Ramseur, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chattanooga, told the school board at the time that there is broad and growing local support for the current sex education program, which is superior to anything Planned Parenthood offers.
Brandon Gilvin, Senior Minister of First Christian Church, joined Planned Parenthood staff at Wednesday’s press conference and said he was disheartened by the actions of some local clergy.
âWe are called to speak the truth in all things and not to bear false witness,â said Gilvin. “And I have been disappointed with the disinformation that has been disseminated in our community by other people of faith and other members of the clergy, especially when this disinformation can put other people at risk.”
(READ MORE: Abortion opponents mark Chattanooga’s only clinic closed 28 years ago)
Gilvin said his denomination, Disciples of Christ, offers age-appropriate sex education to fill the gaps left by public schools that teach abstinence only. Planned Parenthood would provide a similar and necessary service, he said.
âWhile we counsel our young people until they are mature and responsible enough to make decisions about their sexual activity, I believe that the best way to prepare young people to make those decisions is to know that they are ready is to ensure that all young people have access to comprehensive, honest and non-judgmental sex education, âsaid Gilvin.
The state sets the health and wellness learning standards for local schools. For example, in grade six, students learn to “identify the difference between abstinence and risky behaviors and why abstinence is the responsible and preferred choice for adolescence,” as well as “identify how the media influence risky behaviors associated with teenage pregnancy â.
Sharard said given the backlash over the past few months, there is a lot of work to be done in the community.
“I am excited to be part of the force that is changing the culture in our city to allow us to speak openly about sex, abortion, consent, healthy relationships, so that we can break the stigma and build a community where we support and hold each other. “
Contact Wyatt Massey at [email protected] or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @ news4mass.