Centring BIPOC youth in questions of sexual health and rights

Feb 2, 2021

Centring BIPOC youth in questions of sexual health and rights

Talking Radical Radio

Sarah Edo works with a publication called Nuance. pihêsiw is part of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN). In the context of this year’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Week (SRH Week), Scott Neigh interviews them about what it means to centre Black, Indigenous, racialized, and migrant youth in questions of sexual health and rights.

SRH Week is an annual campaign from Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, an organization that works to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in this country and around the world. Within Canada, they provide both services and educational resources related to sexual health and rights, have a membership of 25 local sexual health centres across the country, and engage in related law reform and policy advocacy work.

This year’s SRH Week is taking place between February 8 and 14, and its theme is “Youth-Friendly Care: It’s Your Right!” As in other years, the goal is to stimulate conversations, highlight the work of partner organizations, and share both public education resources and resources to help clinics – in this case, to help them offer youth-friendly care, including with a focus on things like disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Beyond that, the campaign also aims to recognize that youth are the experts in their own health and their own needs, and that in many contexts the most important work in this area is already being done by youth – like, for instance, today’s guests and their organizations.

Though she is speaking today on behalf of Nuance, Edo is also a Black queer youth coordinator for the Black Coalition of AIDS Prevention in Toronto. Nuance is a digital youth publication that aims to fill media gaps when it comes to sex and sexual health, particularly with respect to migrant voices. As well, it has a fellowship program that allows young immigrant racialized queer writers, artists, and community builders in the Toronto area to build skills and networks.

pihêsiw is a Nehiyaw individual originally from Samson Cree Nation, who currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta, in Treaty Six Territory. They identify as queer and disabled, and they are an Indigenous full-spectrum birth worker and a sexual and reproductive health educator. NYSHN is an organization by and for Indigenous youth that does work related to sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Edo and pihêsiw say that to take up questions of sexual health and rights in a way that centres Indigenous, Black, racialized, and migrant youth looks different in different contexts. But it probably doesn’t look like what your high school health teacher, your doctor, or your public health nurse do. According to them, it is generally holistic, treating sexuality and reproduction as part of a whole, rich, complex life rather than a separate sphere to be compartmentalized and dealt with clinically. It is deeply connected to culture. And in the case of Nuance and NYSHN, it means having a peer-to-peer model rather than a top-down model led by an expert. It means storytelling, it means deep care for trauma, it means humour, it means connection.

And, crucially, to centre Black and Indigenous youth in care, education, and conversation related to sexual and reproductive health and rights means recognizing the relevance of histories of colonization, genocide, and enslavement, and the ways that their ongoing realities and their afterlives still profoundly shape how sexuality and gender are experienced, how trauma is experienced, and how joy and pleasure are experienced.

Sometimes, all of this means challenging mainstream organizations that deal with sexual health and rights to do better. But often, it means letting Black, Indigenous, racialized, and migrant youth who are already doing the work just get on with it – maybe making space, maybe providing resources, but recognizing that they are already in the lead.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Image: Used with permission of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

Theme music: “It Is the Hour (Get Up)” by Snowflake, via CCMixter

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