Clara Barton Intern
Creating Change around Gender Justice
In late January Shaya French, our Clara Barton Intern at the UUA, traveled to Chicago to attend the Creating Change conference to meet organizers from across the country who are working on reproductive justice, LGBTQ and racial justice. She planned an event for Chicago area UUs to share stories about their experiences and understandings of gender. Here is her reflection:
I feel like the conversation around gender has evolved rapidly in the past several decades and tends to happen in separate spheres. My friends talk to me about the challenges and amusing moments of being transgender or non-binary* and I occasionally hear from older feminists about fights to be allowed on an all-boys sports team or gender discrimination at work. But rarely do these conversations about the evolution of gender happen in the same space. I wanted to bring people together across generation and experience.
I contacted Ben Polson, a young adult I met through the UU Youth and Spirituality conference on Star Island and he jumped at the chance to co-facilitate this event with me. Ben identifies as having a non-binary* gender identity and uses they/them pronouns. They’re an actor and are really great at pulling a group together by being a bit larger-than-life. We joked that they brought the energy and I brought the logistics. We had 10 people attend, almost all of them were from 2nd Unitarian of Chicago, where the event was hosted. Most people who came were between the ages of 20-55 I would guess. We set it up to have people share stories in the style of a Moth story sharing event—with people voluntarily putting their names in a hat, responding to the prompt “What was a moment when you became very aware of your gender?” After everyone who wanted to had shared, we formed a circle and had a discussion about what the takeaways were.
The gender non-conforming people* who came shared about what it meant to them to be gendered correctly and have spaces where their gender was affirmed. To me this conversation felt really important because I think there aren’t too many spaces where cispeople** get to hear what it feels like to be gender-non-conforming*. More often this gets talked about after someone has screwed up and used the wrong pronoun which is not a great moment for anyone involved to compassionately connect. Ben and I both expected we’d hear more stories about people experiencing sexism or that we’d have the two cismen** who came talk about what it felt like navigating male privilege (neither of whom opted to share). Afterwards we reflected on how we might have chosen a different prompt or required everyone to speak, to have the multi-faceted conversation I’d envisioned. My takeaway is that what mattered most was how warm and light-hearted and affirming the space felt—it was gratifying to be part of creating that vibe and to allow for the conversation that the individuals in the room most needed to have.
*Genderqueer, gender non-conforming and non-binary refer to people whose gender falls somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum. There is a slight variation in meaning—more people use genderqueer as an individual identity and gender non-conforming and non-binary are more frequently used as umbrella terms.
**Cisgender refers to people who have been treated as one gender all their life and their sense of self matches that. So I’ve always identified as a woman which matches my body anatomy and therefore I’m a ciswoman. Cismen, ciswomen, cispeople are all variations of this concept. The usefulness of this term is so that we aren’t left with transgender people and “normal” people.
Shaya French is the latest Clara Barton Intern working in the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff team at UUA Headquarters in Boston, MA. She graduated from Bard College in May 2015 with coursework focusing on ecology, gender and sexua lity, and human rights. A lifelong feminist, in college, Shaya studied workplace discrimination, welfare programs for women and children and how the criminal justice system impacts women. While at Bard, Shaya founded the Anti-Racism Collective to engage more white students in racial justice.
She grew up in the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro and attended district youth conferences as well as conferences at Ferry Beach and Star Island. At the same time, Shaya attended a Reconstructionist Jewish synagogue. Shaya also worked as an economic justice intern for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. She currently volunteers with Black and Pink, which is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies who support each other. For Black and Pink, she’s researched and written newspaper articles about transformative justice—a community based approach to sexual violence. She has worked on feminism, LGBTQ issues, environmental justice, disability justice, prison abolition and anti-racism organizing.
The UU Women’s Federation created the UUWF Clara Barton Internship for Women’s Issues in 2003. The intern originally worked out of the UUA Washington D.C. Office for Advocacy. The Federation dedicated to the internship $200,000, proceeds from the sale of the site of the Clara Barton Camp for Diabetic Girls. The land was sold to the Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc., North Oxford, MA. The Federation also established a fund-raising project, meeting a goal of $400,000, for the internship’s total endowment fund. The year-long internship, with a new intern being selected each year, focuses on social justice issues related to women.
UUWF Clara Barton Intern for Women’s Issues
What the Experience Meant to Them
Hanna Christianson (2013-14)
“I hope the next Clara Barton Intern will continue to work on both local and national reproductive justice issues, partnering with those both in and outside the traditional women’s rights movement. It is time for us to draw from our interconnected web by supporting other social justice issues, and in turn, garnering support for reproductive justice.
“I could not be more proud or privileged than to have worked beside each of you these past ten months. While I acknowledge there is still much to be accomplished in the reproductive justice movement, I have great faith that this group of dedicated advocates will successfully lead the charge to see full reproductive justice for all.”
A 2013 graduate of Guilford College, Hanna double-majored in Sociology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. During her senior year she coordinated a conference on Women and Sexuality and interned at a women’s advocacy organization.
Jessica Halperin (2012 – 2013)
“The UUWF Clara Barton Internship provided an environment in which I could develop a strong professional network in Washington D.C. and a set of skills for organizing, advocacy, and communications that I needed to move my career forward. The internship allowed me to test my calling as a faith-based policy advocate, which, I found out, is work 1 will be glad to do for a long time.
Jessica has been an active lay leader in Unitarian Universalism since she was a youth and she serves currently in several leadership roles at the national level. A native of Pittsburgh, Jessica is a member of the Universalist National Memorial Church and a 2008 graduate of Earlham College.
Orelia Busch (2009 – 2010)
“The UU Women’s Federation Clara Barton Internship opened doors for me to work on the cutting edge of progressive faith-based organizing nationwide. I participated in the struggle to bring more justice to women, young people, and sexual and gender minorities in a meaningful way because of the internship. I will continue my work and spiritual seeking as a social justice leader for the rest of my life.”
Orelia Busch grew up in Madison and graduated from UW-Madison in 2004 with degrees in Human Development and Family Studies, Psychology, and Women’s Studies. Orelia was a Service-Learning Fellow at the Morgridge Center for Public Service during her time at UW-Madison, and she continues to integrate community-based, experiential learning into her life and work. She sees Peace Corps as the ultimate service-learning experience. Her time in Africa combined cultural exchange, meaningful service to her community, and intentional reflection to build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. Orelia currently lives in Washington, DC where she works in the field of progressive, faith-based advocacy and organizing. She is completing a fellowship with the local Jewish social justice organization Jews United for Justice, and she is an active member of All Souls Church, Unitarian, where she has helped lead service-learning trips to New Orleans. Orelia enjoys cooking and eating with her housemates and biking around DC, which is almost as bike-friendly as Madison.
Grace Garner (2007 – 2008)
“When I began my position as a UUWF intern I was a recent graduate who thought she knew it all. My passion was unfiltered. That quickly changed as I began working with a diverse group both in and out of the office. Through weekly theological reflections, intense debate, and many heart-to-hearts with the incredibly supportive staff, I realized that my passion could still shine if I simply took a deep breath, counted to five, and listened before I spoke. Now as I prepare to become a lawyer those skills are being put to good use. My passion is still raging but now I know how to carefully craft a message to explain my argument effectively and without raising my voice. This is possible because I learned how to listen.”
Meredith Schonfeld-Hicks (2006 – 2007)
“The UUWF internship introduced me to the world of advocacy and faith based organizing. It helped me understand the impact that I could have as a leader to inspire individuals and congregations to tell their stories and take action on a variety of issues including sexuality education and reproductive rights. My professional growth and leadership were grounded in my UU faith and helped me connect my personal values with professional advocacy work. I carry this strong connection into my work today and feel grateful to have been mentored and supported in my UUWF internship.”
Meredith is a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a B.S., Sociology and Women’s Studies.
Kierstin Homblette (2004-2006)
“As the UU Women’s Federation Clara Barton intern in the UUA’s Washington Office, I was challenged to grow as a leader, as a social justice advocate, and as a Unitarian Universalist. For the first time, I was asked to consider deeply what my Unitarian Universalist faith called me to do and be in the world, and I was encouraged to put that calling into action. This experience helped me discern a calling to Unitarian Universalist ministry, specifically a justice-centered ministry, which I have the incredible fortune to be pursuing today.”
Rev. Kierstin was ordained in 2014 at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden Colorado. Watch one of her sermons.