November 01, 2014
GIVING THANKS FOR WOODHULL | Metis Black
We are a nation built on the principle of freedom and civil rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness - Happiness being that which gives you pleasure.
It’s a radical notion that pleasure is an inalienable right, but that is our heritage. In our current cultural moral swing, however, those rights have come under incredible scrutiny, particularly in regards to our bodies. When sexual freedom comes under the gun by politicians in our nation’s capital, who is it that speaks to defend our freedoms? Quite often it is Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.
What is Woodhull?
The Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance is the only non profit organization working full-time on issues at the cross roads of sexuality and human rights.
Based in Washington, DC, Woodhull is strategically located in the beltway of American politics as few other sexual rights advocates are. The Woodhull Board itself is made up of a unique and varied cast of activists, political and social, that work together for maximum outreach and efficacy.
At Tantus, we are giving thanks to this organization on the front lines of the political battle field, voicing alternative, difficult, and otherwise silenced opinions in order to defend and protect our sexual rights and freedoms. We proudly back them in their mission to Advocate, Educate, and Take Action!
To show our support and appreciation, Tantus will be donating 5% of every online purchase throughout the month of November to the Woodhull Alliance. Purchasers will also receive a Sexual Freedom bumper sticker and donation envelope.
If you’d like to support Woodhull directly, don't wait! Become a voice for Freedom.
The Making of Freedom Fighters
Introducing Woodhull and Ricci Joy Levy
Woodhull is like no other sexuality organization I know— in part because it sees sexuality in the context of human rights, and as such, it actually participates in the political arena. I was introduced to Woodhull last year, and in August I met up with the Board of Directors at Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit 2014. I was lucky to get a lot of one-on-one time with Woodhull’s Executive Director, Ricci Joy Levy.
Ricci is a powerhouse. She is a beautiful, charismatic, grandmother, a stimulating articulate speaker, a thought-provoking political activist, and an overall robust woman who stands toe-to-toe against the foes of justice. I’m honored to introduce her to our readers and give some insight into Woodhull’s organization and their Sexual Freedom Summit.
Ricci, for those who’ve never heard of Woodhull before, can you sum up what Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance is and why it’s important to link sexual rights with human rights?
In one sentence, Woodhull is the only human rights or civil liberties organization working full time on the issues at the cross roads of sexuality and human rights.
Denying the sexual rights of individuals is denying every human being’s right to their own selves— their body, their relationships, their sexual health and identity. Denying sexual rights compromises, without exception, the well being of all people everywhere. And too often, sexual rights are the rights most often ignored by governments.
To quote Dr Barnaby Barratt, “Sexual Freedom is perhaps both one of the highest human aspirations and the foundation of all human rights, the cornerstone for all our civil liberties. It is both source and prerequisite for much, if not all, that motivates human beings.”
Tell us your story. What took you down this political science path (i.e. the rabbit hole) of sex positive activism? How did you get to where you are?
My best friend was a gay man— one of the earliest deaths in the AIDS epidemic, back when it was known as GRID. I watched his struggles, the discrimination, the family issues, and I was so hurt for him. And as we raised our family we heard from more and more young people about their fears and struggles to reconcile who they believed themselves to be with what society expected or demanded they become. I immediately understood that sexual freedom encompassed all the issues I was passionate about — From the right to family, to the right to ownership of your own body, from the right to love as your heart moves you, to the right to read and do what excites you and fulfills you sexually.
Injustice just infuriates me. Unkindness toward another human being hurts me. So when I realized I had an opportunity to change the future, to help create the change I want to see, I stepped forward and have never looked back.
More recently, I had been volunteering with another organization that was so narrowly focused I ultimately took my leave, believing as I continue to believe that without full personal autonomy all other freedoms are at risk. Now I’m at Woodhull and I freaking love it.
We are so used to narrow approaches on issues of Contraception, Consent, LBGTQ, Kink, Swingers, Youth and the Elderly. How does Woodhull address sexuality as a wide scope human rights issue?
If we are able to step back from individual issues and look at the larger, all-encompassing issue of sexual freedom as a fundamental human right, we are suddenly part of a much larger conversation. Every issue, identity and community under the broad umbrella of sexuality and human rights intersects with every other issue.
Too often we find ourselves in a purely political battle for rights to be granted or restrictions to be removed. Those fights are vital and must continue. But by adding in the reality that in every single civil rights battle we are fighting for human rights, we broaden the terms of engagement and shift the conversation to one where the United States has already, in one treaty or another, affirmed that we have that right. Civil rights are granted; human rights are ours simply by virtue of our humanity. What is granted can be taken away - one need only look at the whittling away of Roe v. Wade for a perfect example.
We work by providing political support for sexual rights in civic battles. As Woodhull Alliance we have been able to mobilize the necessary experts to: stop a mother in Texas from losing her child because she is a lesbian and involved in the BDSM lifestyle; successfully lobby to end shackling of incarcerated women in labor in the state of Florida; and testify for marriage equality in DC while insisting that the rights of one group cannot be secured at the cost of the rights of another (the marriage equality legislation would have removed the domestic partner registry).
If you have a need for an expert to testify on behalf of sexual freedom, we’ll find one.
The Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit
I’ve been to a lot of sexuality and industry conferences, and there is nothing like the Sexual Freedom Summit. I am so glad Ricci invited me. The Summit really opened my eyes to many current political issues and the possibilities of Woodhull. It was an exceptional example of effective communication and negotiation between diverse issues and groups.
I have to admit, though, that as a political junkie my favorite seminars were the nitty gritty sessions led by lawyers. Take Lawrence vs Texas. The presentation was so amazing that I tried to twitter feed my way through it. Listening to the lawyers who helped change how sex toys are bought and sold, then hearing the inside scoop of the Marriage Equality case (which they felt confident would be presented to the Supreme Court after the elections), was jaw dropping. With seminars like these, I was I left wanting more. More. More.
Explain the Sexual Freedom Summit. What is it and what do you envision it as being in the future?
Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit is a unique gathering of individuals representing a vast diversity of issues and concerns. Conversations are based on and include a focus on our human rights, deliberately and thoughtfully seeking opportunities for collaboration by identifying where issues and concerns from one community intersect with others.
The Summit brings together people from many different levels of work. Adult sexuality education professionals get to talk to researchers, who in turn are talking to activists, who are talking to organizational leaders, who are talking to attorneys and health care professionals who are all talking to impacted individuals.
The Summit is where the conversations happen. This is where we bring together people who wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk to each other in order to envision the change we want to see, and then outline actions to achieve that change. That’s our motto: Advocate, Educate, and Take Action!
What is it that Woodhull needs in terms of resources and people?
We rely on individual donors to support the work that we do. We need money (this is inelegant, but I’m not sure what else to say). Oh, a volunteer to work on social media. Our social media person, Justyn Hintze, is on sabbatical getting her Masters at Widener University, which leaves me doing a very inadequate job. LOL
When are you accepting submissions to present at SFS15 next August? And what kind of seminars are you looking for?
The call for proposals will go out in early November. We are looking for workshops that focus on the issues of the day: training seminars for political and social change; social media for social change; etc.
When does the registration begin?
March 1st, but the year comes up fast, trust me!
Why should readers come to DC in August?
Beats the shit out of me. It’s hot and humid.
OH!!! You mean the Summit! LOL. Seriously, they should come to DC in August because that’s where it all comes together, where we envision the change we want to see and where we mobilize to effect that change. It’s where we focus not on what’s wrong but rather on how to create the world in which we want to live.
For that kind of empowerment, you just have to be there.
© Tantus, Inc. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Metis Black is a Pleasure Revolutionary: the Founder and President of Tantus, Inc. The realization of her sex toy manufacturing company in 1997 helped to change the profile of sexuality products by mainstreaming silicone products and educating the industry on material safety and sexuality.
Metis' success has brought her accolades inside and outside of her industry. Her articles on material safety standards in sexual products and the chemistry of personal products such as lubricants have been widely published. Some of her publishing credits include American Journal of Sexuality Education, Good Vibrations Online Magazine, On Our Backs, Adult Novelty Business, XBiz, and The Free Speech Coalition. In 2015, she was also elected onto the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance's Board of Directors.
Over the last decade and a half, Metis has proven to be a champion for sex educators and a mentor to other small business owners.