Young Sexuality Activists: Madison Kimrey
Madison Kimrey is, in a word, amazing. You might know her from the letter she wrote to Phyllis Schlafly a few months ago, but that's not the only thing she's done that's so fantastic. She contributes regularly to the online magazine Liberals Unite, and maintains her own blog as well: Functional Human Being. While her writing is elegant and thought-provoking, that's not the only form her activism takes; she's not afraid of participating in the occasional protest march, and is more than willing to add her name to a petition for a good cause. You can connect with her on twitter @madisworldofpie, or via her Facebook page, NC Youth Rock.
What got you interested in politics and activism initially? Was it a specific event or experience, or was it a more gradual process?
Being interested in politics was a gradual process. I grew up watching the news and I always went to the voting booth on Election Day and voted in the kids' elections online. Hurricane Katrina happened when I was 4, and when I saw the devastation and the people trapped at the Convention Center, I went and got a box and started packing toys out of my room because it resonated with me that those kids had lost all their toys. That was probably the first time I made a personal connection with something I'd seen on the news and thought about what I could do about it. Throughout my life I've participated in several typical volunteer opportunities such as the food bank, community yard sales, and afterschool tutoring.
Last summer, I was made aware that a children's museum in Jacksonville, FL, where my friend played when he was a little boy, refused to renew a family's membership at the family rate because that particular family had two moms. A lot of people I knew were working to raise awareness and to try to get the museum to change its discriminatory policies. That was when I was first really fired up to get involved in activism. I helped get the word out on social media and learned what a powerful tool that could be for connecting people. I saw how ordinary people coming together over this one event were also furthering the cause of equality as a whole. At the same time all that was happening, Moral Mondays were starting here in NC and that got me paying more attention to what was going on with my state legislature.
You’ve mentioned in several places that your activism is focused on women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the humane treatment of animals and, obviously, youth involvement in politics. Why those issues in particular? What is it about those topics that gets you especially fired up?
I grew up knowing members of the LBGT community and with kids who have two moms or two dads. I've also grown up in the South, so the issue with LBGT rights and discrimination is an issue I've always had an understanding of. It's also one of those issues that is easy for people to do something about. Anybody can make the choice to not treat bigotry as "a matter of opinion" and stand up for others when someone is doing things like using the word gay as an insult or is talking about denying the basic human rights of others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I've always loved animals. I rescued a dog from our local shelter two years ago. He's a Shiz-Tzu/Lhasa Apso mix and had been living, according to the shelter, "primarily outside." It makes me so sad to think of him living that way. He is the most loyal, loving creature ever and is always by my side. He went through training and got his Canine Good Citizen certificate from the AKC. The hardest part of that for him was allowing a strange human to pet him without acting scared. He was obviously either mistreated or wasn't socialized at all in his first year of life. A few months ago, I adopted a cat from the Wake County ASPCA. Even if you aren't able to save an animal's life by giving him or her a home, you can sponsor an animal or donate money or supplies to a shelter or by volunteering your time.
Most of my life, I never knew women's rights were in as much danger as they are. I knew people who personally wouldn't have an abortion, but I had always thought that people wanting to take away that choice from women altogether were sort of a fringe group. It was when I saw Wendy Davis and the people of Texas standing up for women's rights that I was first made aware that state legislatures were passing laws that would affect women's healthcare and shortly after that, my state legislature passed what has become known as the Motorcycle Vagina bill. When I become sexually active, I plan to use birth control and I want that to be affordable and accessible. When I found out that women have been fighting for over 90 years for equal protection under the Constitution, I started to learn more about the ERA and I believe that the time has come to get that ratified.
Youth involvement in politics is necessary because my generation is going to be running things soon and we have to start now to build the kind of future we want. Also, we can't ignore issues that directly affect us right now, such as determining the sex education curriculum in our schools. We need to be heard and we have a place at the table in making sure the decisions that are made are made in our best interest.
Last year, you were called a “liberal prop” by Pat McCrory, the governor of your home state of North Carolina. That sort of sentiment - that young people are incapable of thinking for themselves and therefore must be doing what their parents or other adults tell them - is far too common. What do you think needs to happen in order to change those attitudes?
Young people have to start standing up for ourselves and our generation. Part of this is our own fault because more of us are not getting involved. But adults should be held responsible also because when you send a message to young people that they are not capable, you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. If certain adults are not going step up as leaders, it's up to us to do this ourselves and encourage and empower each other. It's important to note though that there are many adults who are supportive of young people's involvement and welcome our contributions. While it's important to call out those who hold attitudes detrimental to our future, we have to acknowledge and show gratitude for the leaders who taking their responsibilities to our young people seriously.
How do you think adults can best support young people to speak up and get involved, without taking over the conversation or speaking FOR young people? What do you need from us (maybe just getting us to sit down and shut up sometimes)?
We need to listen to each other with the attitude that we can learn from each other. Adults need to realize that young people aren't living in their past and our future is not their present. They need to stop projecting themselves onto young people and stop condemning our culture. A great example of this is attitudes regarding technology. Yes, most young people today are constantly connected. Just because we are different does not make us less than. Also while I want to see more young candidates running for office and haven't made the decision as to if I would want to run someday or not, realize that not every young person who is active in politics has current aspirations to run. You don't do this with adult activists. While it's nice to know young people have that support, it can discourage some of them from being active just because they get the impression the political arena for young people is limited to that and it's not.
Lastly, do you have any advice for young people who want to get involved in making change, on whatever issue they’re passionate about, particularly young people who might feel that they’re limited in what they can do because of their age?
Nothing you do is too small. Pay attention and talk about the issues that are important to you. Send an email or make a phone call to the people who represent you and let them know how you feel about the decisions they're making. If you're too young to vote, you can still register other people to vote and you can still use your voice. These are the most important things. Third grade girls in Chicago got legislation passed to protect animals recently. You are never too young to make a difference. Use whatever talents you have whether it be writing, drawing, music, whatever it is, to help raise awareness. Stay true to yourself. Keep it real.
Want to check out our last young activist profile? Find out about pro-choice activist Steph Herold here.