Next Generation Fellow Spotlight: Eric Shi

By Eric Shi, 2018 Next Generation Fellow 

Growing up, I always thought that I would become a doctor—I wanted to go into medicine in order to benefit those who needed help. As I grew up, I realized that a career in the medical field wasn’t something I necessarily wanted anymore. However, I still carry with me a deep interest in public health. This passion combined with my interest in social justice led me to NARAL Pro-Choice Texas as a Next Generation fellow.

Prior to entering college, I had little to no involvement with anything related to policy and politics and was relatively uneducated when it came to most social issues. In the limited time that I’ve been at Rice University, I’ve had many different experiences that have expanded my understanding of what it means to be civically engaged. When it came to reproductive rights and justice, I aimed to learn more about the scope of issues that they encompass by participating in an Alternative Spring Break trip to Washington, D.C. I was able to meet with many different organizations that are fighting for gender equity and equal access to reproductive healthcare. This experience helped me see that I could combine my interests in health and justice, and it drove me to join NARAL in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of the problems in Texas. I think that activism in Texas is extremely crucial because there is a lack of accessibility and protection here that is afforded to people in some other states, and that makes it even more important to fight for change here.

As a cisgender man, I understand the privilege I hold when talking about reproductive justice. To be the best ally possible, I seek out opportunities like Next Generation so that I can continue to learn and grow and be able to educate others. I look forward to using what I’ve learned through Next Gen and teaching others around me about reproductive rights.

Next Generation Fellow Spotlight: Devin Mendelson

By Devin Mendelson, 2018 Next Generation Fellow

My name is Devin Mendelson and I live in San Antonio. Being part of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ Next Generation program has helped me grow as an activist. As a trans man, there are very limited resources when it comes to finding the right place to get HRT, surgeries, and accessible care altogether. Trans men have little visibility in the reproductive rights movement from being denied healthcare coverage, to having high costs for medications, and that is what has drawn me closer to fighting the system for those rights.

What most people don’t know is how expensive top surgery can be—on average a transgender male will spend $7,000 of out of pocket money for this procedure because insurance either does not cover it, or are more expensive to proceed with insurance. I recently found that through my personal insurance, it would cost $9,200 to have surgery. That is with insurance. And that’s on top of monthly payments for medication and potential travel to other cities if your own community doesn’t offer affordable options for care.

I learned about NARAL Pro-Choice Texas through a former supervisor who also participated in Next Gen.  Because of what she told me about the reproductive justice fight within our legislative system, I decided I wanted to join. I want to be a voice for trans men not just in San Antonio, but across Texas, and to spread the word about the real injustice we all face without proper health care coverage for our individual needs.

Next Generation Fellow Spotlight: Bridget Schilling

By Bridget Schilling, 2018 Next Generation Fellow 

My name is Bridget Schilling and I am a 2018 Next Generation fellow with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, based in Houston. Admittedly, when I moved to Texas for college, I expected the worst in terms of the socio-political and policy landscape and did not foresee getting involved in social activism or any sort of organizing. What I’ve found, though, is a huge community of passionate people who are dedicated to making Texas a more equitable place. I have cared about general equality and rights for as long as I can remember, but did not truly understand how inequity stems from systemic issues before I started getting involved in issues of reproductive and sexual health. My understanding of reproductive justice and the reach of oppression is still growing, but it inspired me to get more involved in doing the work in Texas and I’m so glad that I applied to be a Next Generation Fellow.

I have loved being a part of this cohort of fellows so far. I am heavily motivated by other activists and the energy that they bring to movements. Being a Next Generation fellow has meant getting to know other people who are passionate about reproductive justice and hearing their approaches to advocacy and organizing in their own communities. This year’s cohort is 35 members strong and being exposed to people with so many different backgrounds and experiences has been truly inspiring and impactful. I am confident that the Houston cohort and the projects which we are working on will be able to have a tangible impact. My Houston group has a number of events in the works and I love the way that we have been able to put an LGBTQIA+ spin on the event plans and receive the support of NARAL’s staff throughout.

Being a Next Generation fellow has helped me practice talking about abortion and being a better advocate for an issue that is important to me and so many others. In addition to my own responsibilities as a fellow, I have been lucky to see some of the on-the-ground work that NARAL does in Texas and felt even more inspired to pursue activism and advocacy in my daily life and career aspirations.

Next Generation Fellow Spotlight: Eleanor Grano

By Eleanor Grano, 2018 Next Generation Fellow 

As a transplant from southern California to Texas, I joined NARAL Pro-Choice Texas’ Next Generation program as a way to better understand Texas’ unremitting war against reproductive health care and to find solidarity in a state with some of the most hostile laws against abortion.

Texas can be disorienting if you’re not accustomed to constantly having to advocate for yourself with an insurance provider about covering your preferred method of birth control and navigating against oppressive systems to access your right to sexual and reproductive health care. Since joining Next Generation, I have found camaraderie, bonded with others in my cohort, discussed the nightmare of accessing abortion services as a woman of color, and shared strategies about talking about being pro-choice in immigrant communities.

The most beneficial aspect of this program for me was learning how to find my voice and reframe the way that abortion is discussed within the Latinx community. I have used the skills that I have learned in our communications training to become a contributing writer to Fierce by Mitu, a Latinx media company where I now cover topics about sexual and reproductive health. Additionally, I have been able to able to participate in a social justice translation training to learn best practices when interpreting for immigrants with limited English proficiency.

From my experience in the program, I have found that NARAL Pro-Choice Texas is committed to building the next group of leaders in the reproductive health care community. Additionally, the Next Generation fellowship is a meaningful way to gain coalition building experience, develop meaningful friendships, professional advancement, as well as an opportunity to learn more about reproductive health care in the great state of Texas.

Next Generation Fellow Spotlight: Brittany Schall

By Brittany Schall, 2018 Next Generation Fellow 

My name is Brittany Schall and I am a third year medical student in San Antonio, Texas. I became a Next Generation Fellow with NARAL Pro Choice Texas toward the end of my second year, and it was the perfect transition from my role as co-president of our campus’ Medical Students For Choice organization. This was another way for me to still be actively involved in the reproductive justice movement.

As a future OBGYN and abortion provider, I am learning through the Next Generation program how to advocate on behalf of my future patients. Currently, I will be required by state law to lie to any patient seeking an abortion via the “A Woman’s Right To Know” pamphlet mandated by the state. Instead of discussing their wants and needs and realities of the procedure, I will be forced to tell them lies like “abortion can cause breast cancer,” “many women report feeling suicidal or having post-traumatic stress following the procedure,” and “having an abortion may cause future infertility,” when in fact science and medicine know these to not be true. I will also be forced to impose a 24-hour waiting period on my patients, ultimately because Texas wants to coerce women into carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. All of this is to say that legislators should not have a place in the patient-physician relationship, especially since they are not using evidence based medicine to back their policymaking.

During our Next Generation convening in February, we learned how to foster dialogue when faced with anti-choice rhetoric, how to speak eloquently and succinctly of our passions and purpose, and we also fostered a community of Texans that are fighting every day for reproductive justice, which restored my faith in humanity a tad bit. My hope is that we can force a change in the legislation to end the unjust burden placed on persons seeking an abortion and end the stigma surrounding this common medical procedure.