Imagine a place where everyone was able to experience sex and sexuality in whatever way felt good to them. Where people could live as their authentic sexual selves without fear of discrimination or judgment.
A Brief Chat With Mandy Farsace from Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit
Sounds pretty good, right?
Well, actually, it exists, if not always in the larger world then in a conference called, fittingly, the Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit, which will take place on August 3-6, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia.
The conference is in its seventh year, so if you're a sex blogger, educator or activist, you've probably heard of this conference. If you aren't, it's worth making note of. Not only is it a place that affirms sexual freedom as a fundamental human right, it's also an amazing place to listen and learn about just about every aspect of sexuality, sexual rights and sexual politics. As the date of the Summit approaches, we talked to the organization's Assistant to the President/CEO Mandy Farsace.
Kinkly: One of the stated goals of Woodhull is to make sexual freedom a "fundamental human right." What would that look like?
Mandy: We, at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, believe that sexual freedom is already a fundamental human right. However, it is constantly being threatened. A world where sexual freedom was not threatened would be a world where people of all genders would not worry about having to access reproductive healthcare or trans/gender affirming healthcare. It would also be a place where consent was always recognized and asked for, but if sexual assault did occur, then the victim would not be blamed. It would be a world where folks who are queer could love without fear that they would lose their children, families, or jobs due to discrimination. It would be a place where sex education was not constantly under attack by whichever administration happens to be in power. It would be a place where we could define our families however we want. Ultimately, it would not matter who was in office because we would live in a place where we could live as our true authentic selves without fear.
Kinkly: Is there any particular focus or theme this year?
Mandy: The Summit does not have a specific theme, but we do have some new and exciting programming planned. This year, we have five tracks of workshops in addition to our general workshops. Our tracks are: body politics, racial justice, sexuality and disability, sex and the law, and family matters. We are also dedicating a good chunk of our programming space on Friday to a group of workshops focused on how to advocate and get involved in the political process called Orchestrating Change. Given the current political climate in the U.S., we felt it was important to give our attendees tools to take home with them that will help them to get involved in their communities and local governments.
We're also partnering with an organization called In Our Own Voices this year. In Our Own Voices is an organization based in Albany, New York, whose mission is "is to work for and ensure the physical, mental, spiritual, political, cultural and economic survival and growth of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of color communities." They are going to be leading a day-long institute on Thursday, August 3rd, called "The Color of Choice: Working at the Intersections of Racial and Reproductive Justice." We also have a special keynote speaker opening up on day on Friday, August 4th. Geoffrey R. Stone will be talking about the history of Constitutional law and the effect it has had on sexual rights. He will also be signing copies of his book "Sex and the Constitution" after he speaks.
Lastly, we have some amazing social events happening. First on Thursday, we have a Digital Content Creators Meet 'n Greet organized by the #Blogsquad followed by JoEllen Notte's Sex Geek Salon. We are also screening the documentary "Trapped" that evening and having a Q &A afterwards with Dr. Willie Parker. Dr. Parker is the only remaining physician performing abortions in Mississippi. We are awarding him with a Vicki Sexual Freedom Award this year, also. Our other Vicki Awardee is Loretta Ross, who is a lifetime reproductive justice advocate.
Our attendees are a broad and diverse group so their interests vary widely. However, I can tell you that they have a lot of interest in the intersections of sex and disability. We have had a track dedicated to disability for two years running now. They are also very interested in being in a conference space that is accessible. Not only accessible to people with disabilities, but to people who are economically disadvantaged.
Kinkly: Diversity and inclusion appear to be central goals in your organization. What do you do to ensure that such a broad range of voices and experiences is heard at this conference?
Mandy: Diversity and inclusion are important, but we are most focused on making the Summit accessible to all who may want to attend. Conferences have a history of being exclusionary based on the price it costs to attend the group of folks they cater to. Most conferences are academic in nature and tend to leave out those who may not have advanced degrees or university funding. We are always trying to think of ways to make the Summit a more economically accessible place. Some of the ways we've done this is to create many opportunities for free registration through giveaways with our sponsors and volunteer opportunities. We also work very hard with our host hotels to keep a low room rate during the Summit and we create a roomshare board so folks can find roommates to split the cost of a hotel room with. Our speakers also pay a "pay what you can" fee to allow them to present without worry about what a registration would cost. We've also tried to work with sponsors and supporters to create scholarship opportunities. In 2016, we hosted a scholarship with the amazing Smitten Kitten and this year we are working with the #Blogsquad to give away three scholarships.
To make the Summit space more physically accessible we created an accessibility committee. This committee looks at issues of accessibility prior to the Summit and gives us suggestions on how we can improve. They also serve as a group of people who can address the concerns of attendees related to accessibility.
One more way that we've worked to be more inclusive and diverse is through partnerships with other organizations. Woodhull is a primarily white organization and we recognize that. We partnered with The Women of Color Sexual Health Network last year and In Our Own Voices this year to reach populations that we don't. We also want to highlight the voices of folks of color, folks with disabilities, folks who are poor and other marginalized groups.
Kinkly: We've heard a number of sex educators and bloggers refer to this conference as "life changing." Why do you think it has such a profound impact on people?
Mandy: I can only speculate on this one. I think the Summit has had an impact on people because we have worked so hard to create a space where people can feel "free" and connect with like-minded individuals. It is not often that I am in a space where I feel totally comfortable and open. The Summit is that place for me. No one will judge me based on how I look or what I choose to talk about in regards to sexuality. It is comforting to be in this bubble for four days every year. When I'm at the Summit I feel like I'm home and when I leave I feel recharged and ready to continue the fight for sexual freedom. I can only hope that the Summit feels this way for our attendees, too.
Kinkly: What do those who may be interested in attending Woodhull need to know?
Mandy: If you would like to attend the Summit, you need to register via Eventbrite by July 30. The rate is higher if you register on-site during the Summit. I'm not sure there is much else that one would "need to know." But attendees should come with an open mind and be ready to respect all other attendees. That is a must!
The Summit is for anyone who believes in the right to sexual freedom. You do not need to be queer or kinky or sexual, at all. The Summit is a learning space and everyone is welcome. I would also encourage folks to read the tweets from last year's Summit using #SFS16 so they have an idea of the content.
Want to learn more about the Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit? Check them out on: Woodhull's Sexual Freedom Summit Website
Or, you can read what some of our favorite bloggers wrote about their experiences last year:
Sex is a bit like a secret society; everyone's doing it, it's just that no one talks about it. Kinkly's mission is to start that conversation, answer your questions and help you discover new and exciting things about sex, love and your body. We guarantee it'll be illuminating, enlightening, fun ... and a little kinky. And that's OK with us.
No innuendos, no judgments and no apologies, just fearless, straight-up talk about sex.