Girls’ Studies: Activism

I don’t know why, but I was surprised to think of girls as activists. However, after watching some TED talks by girl activists, I realized just how powerful their voices can be, and that we all have a duty to be activists where we can. If we have a story, we should share it. If we have the passion to make a difference, we should do it. Girls like Tavi Gevinson and Natalie Warne are two examples of girl activists.

Today I’d like to highlight a girl activist that I find inspiring. I saw her words on a blog last year, and I was moved by her bravery at such a young age. Her name is Susannah Montgomery. She is fourteen. She is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (my religion). She has a gay brother, and she uses her voice to stand up for him and to make a difference for him and others within our religious culture and community.

Susannah montgomery and family

Above is a photo of Susannah and her family.  Here are the posts she wrote about her experiences.

http://www.nomorestrangers.org/oblivion-a-mormon-teen-speaks-out-for-others/

http://www.nomorestrangers.org/lifesaver-a-mormon-teen-speaks-out-for-others-part-2-of-2/

Here’s a post about her and her family’s activism.

http://www.mormonmentalhealth.org/023-advocating-for-your-gay-mormon-family-member/

I am moved by her because of my own experiences. My dad is gay, and I kept quiet about it until I was well into my twenties. I never dared speak about it, for my mother warned me that we would be ridiculed in the small town where we lived. It turned out that some of my best friends in high school were gay, but they never spoke out either. It was a different time and a different climate. But I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been as brave as Susannah and her family are.

I find her activism endearing because it is done for somebody she loves, her brother. It is done in a spirit of love and to encourage others to be more loving. She doesn’t just promote this with her peers; instead, Susannah talks to teachers and local church leaders, letting them know what our church’s official stance on being gay is. She isn’t afraid to contradict those who are in positions of power, and she does so in an open and honest way.

She is setting out to correct misconceptions about homosexuality. Within my religious culture, as in many others, homosexuality was once thought of as a choice. This incorrect assumption continues to be promoted among people I know, despite our church’s website mormonsandgays.org, which reminds us that it isn’t a choice. This is a change in the way my church has talked about the issue, but many still go by old ideas and beliefs. Susannah isn’t afraid to speak up and correct this.

I have garnered some courage in the last ten years or so. I published an essay about my dad, I presented at a religious symposium, and I talk about it at church. I’m not afraid to help others see my point of view, and I’m not afraid to reveal the nontraditional family situation that I have. I have faced some negative comments and truly rude and ignorant beliefs said as if they were truths. Sometimes I end up in situations in which people don’t know my background and they assume that I have the same bigoted ideas that they do. They begin talking and hating. I speak up and let them know that their words aren’t okay with me. I get up and leave. However, I’ve never been as daring and outspoken as Susannah. There’s much I can learn from her.

What girl activists do you know?

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30 thoughts on “Girls’ Studies: Activism

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  1. Reading Susannah’s posts brought tears to my eyes. If only there were more people like her, with the courage to stand up for what they believe, and as you pointed out, stand up even to people who are in positions of higher power than ourselves. It surprises me that there are still so many smart people in this world who continue to be ‘oblivious’ to this topic.
    One thing I was struck by while reading her post, is that the people who speak out are often not the ones who are being oppressed. I wonder if being straight gives Susannah more courage to speak up for those who are gay, than if she were also gay herself. I would imagine so. Which just means, of course, that we all have a duty to speak up for things we think are wrong, even if they do not affect us directly, because often the ones who are being affected are not always in a position to do so.

    Susannah’s age is another thing that makes this so moving. My children are all pretty shy and not likely to stand up publicly for what they believe, but even the quiet ones can make a difference. I’ve always encouraged my kids to play with the kids who don’t have anyone to play with, or to invite them to play. Even this small kindness can be hard to do, but, as we just read in Susannah’s second post, it could someday save someone’s life, or at least make it better.

    Great post, as usual!

    1. Naomi, you are spot on about the importance of speaking out for others. I love that you pointed that out. Sometimes we may fight when it is something that affects us, but how great is it to fight for others, especially if they need us. And yes, she’s amazing! I don’t see many girls with this sort of gumption and bravery.

    1. Good for you. A colleague once told me that those of us with privilege shouldn’t give it up to achieve equality but instead use it to lift others up. It sounds like what you want to do.

  2. Emily, thanks for sharing. The only way to combat bigotry and misunderstanding is for more people to talk openly about their history and show we are all the same. I just wrote these words in a related context a few minutes ago, but per Oscar Hammerstein’s play and movie “South Pacific” bigotry has to be carefully taught. The converse is also true. Our younger adults and children could teach some adults about the inappropriateness of bigotry. It will take people like you, Tavi and Natalie to help others realize this. Take care, BTG

    1. You’re right. It must be taught. I like what you say about sameness, because I have been focusing on difference for the last few months. I think it is okay to be different and to accept difference, but your comment made me realize that when we all share our differences and learn to empathize, we realize that we are all the same as human beings.

      1. Well said. The more we are different, the more we are all the same. One of my favorite commercials was the Coke Super Bowl one where people of different origins, languages, etc. were singing the same patriotic song. People want to belong and be recognized. Thanks for liking my post of this morning all along the same lines.

  3. Hi Emily! A brave and strong read that is. Susannah is a confident girl and her voice is a need for the world we live in today.
    In India same sex marriage is still not permitted by law and incidentally it was just a few days ago that the Supreme Court recognized transgenders as third sex. In my opinion one should always have a choice to be able to portray who they really are without a fear of rebuke or being outcast. Then only we can have said to be living in a free world without prejudices.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing – love this!

    I recently met a young women who did a video for her leadership project for the Girl Scouts on teen dating violence and that it is just not physical but mental and emotional as well as power and control – pretty powerful – once I get a link I will certainly share her message with you and her readers.

    My mother was a special education teacher and she taught me and my brother to not judge and to certainly not label and take the time to get to KNOW the person instead. I love learning about cultures and history. I have met some wonderful and amazing people as well as some great learning lessons and life experiences too.

    Have a Great Day:)

    1. Wow, that young woman sounds amazing, and so does your mom. I think anytime we share experiences it is powerful, and we can learn so much from each other. It sounds like your mom knows what she was doing!

  5. When I read the title and first paragraph of this post, I immediately thought of Malala. She is such an incredible young woman and an inspiring activist. I really want to read her book; it is one of a large number of titles on my TBR list! I haven’t heard of any of the three you mentioned but I’m heading off to read/listen to their words now.

  6. Great post, and good for Susannah! I’m really enjoying this series because my youngest sister is 12, and it gives me things to talk about with her beyond books and crafts (though those are fun, too!). I wish I knew more girl activists, but your post reminds me of my high school best friend, who was always active in movements to help the poor and the hungry (she still is), and my sister-in-law’s wife, who came out at 14 and has been an LGBTQ*-rights activist ever since. I admire them both very much.

    1. It is neat to think that the stuff from my girls’ studies class is giving you more to talk about with your sister. It has with my daughter too. So fun! And it sounds like you know some cool and brave people.

  7. This post really touched me! Thank you for sharing. My girlfriend is Mormon, but detached from the church. We live in Southern Illinois, and being gay is a huge no no. This girl is fighting for freedom for her brother. It’s amazing and needs to be shared. I am going to reblog your post. Thank you so much again. I read the essay about your father you posted on here and it was very well written as well. We are people just like everyone else. 🙂 thanks.

    1. I am glad that you connected with it, and thank you for sharing your story. There are a lot of resources for LDS people, not necessarily church-connected, for your girlfriend if she needs it. The website where Susannah posted is one of them. Carol Lynn Pearson is another of my favorite LDS activists. She has a few books that might appeal as well. And yes, you are both human beings!

  8. There are many activists that are Arab and Muslim and they are women. Al Jazeera did a piece a few years ago about Filipina abuse in Jordan. It is women and girls that are fighting this battle and it isn’t over mundane matters as some feminists but actually protesting misogyny. Women who cry against female mutilation and the kind of abuse by fathers who rape and kill their girls.

    1. Thank you for sharing this example! You highlight the tension between the type of feminism that focuses on white women and their privilege and the type that is more inclusive and fights global problems. The women you describe are brave and I support their fight. The misogyny they face is horrific.

  9. Thanks, Em! Your post was insightful and thought – provoking. I truly admire brave girls! I was oblivious to the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter – day Saints has a website about gays. I’ve now had a chance to look at it and I’m glad it’s out there. I have more to learn but I’m happy to say I’m a little less oblivious.

    1. I’m so glad this helped to “educate” you. 🙂 I guess Susannah’s activism worked! I think a lot of people are oblivious to it, which in my surroundings has led to a lot of misinformed comments. Thanks for taking the time to look at it!

  10. People appreciate ‘untraditional relationships’ in but my views are quite the opposite. I strongly believe that something against the nature should not be appreciated. Well its just the difference of opinion as I do not consider talking about gays is a brave attribute. Its only in fashion now.

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