Jonathon Reed, 21, is an activist from Ontario, Canada who is graduating from Queen’s University with a degree in Outdoor Education in 2016. Jonathon currently works in the climate justice movement with the Break Free From Fossil Fuels campaign, the People’s Climate Plan, 350 Kingston, and the RYSE Youth Council/Earth Guardians. Jonathon is also very passionate about gender justice, particularly working with youth and transgender allyship.
Why is the climate justice movement the movement you feel called to?
A lot of my work is around mentoring youth, and something that inspired me to do this type of work is the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child, specifically Article 6 of the declaration which states that every child has the right to be alive. So when I look at what’s happening with the acceleration of climate change, I think we’re denying children that right. We’re denying them the right to live in a healthy, livable world. Not only are we denying children that right decades from now, we are denying children that right here and now, across many different vulnerable populations across the planet.
What was/is your experience of conversations around sexual health, reproductive rights, and family planning? Was it taboo to talk about growing up?
In my family, it was definitely not taboo to talk about. My family has a relationship centered around unconditional love, so conversations about who we are, meaning gender and sexuality, were always accepted. Growing up, I felt like I could ask my family about the questions and concerns I had, and I felt openness with my family when I started to learn about sex.
Also, when I was 12, I was involved in a youth initiative within the United Church of Canada for AIDS awareness projects of the Christian Council of Tanzania and Positive Youth Alliance.
I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, but growing up in Ontario, I had access to an education system where the approach to sexual health information is relatively better than the U.S. From what I remember I started to learn about puberty in Grade 5, and then sexual health education in Grade 8. Now I think by Grade 7, students in Ontario are expected to know symptoms of STIs and how prevent unintended pregnancy. Ontario has a pretty progressive sexual health program!
How do you see climate resilience and environmental issues connecting to family planning, reproductive rights, and/or sexual health?
For me, family planning and reproductive justice relate most obviously to equity and justice for women. So if we only provide rights to half the population, meaning men, then we will only see half of the population benefit.
When it comes to the climate movement, women are the most impacted by “climate chaos,” and women are also at the forefront in creating climate resilience. We see women all the time rising to protect their communities and the environment. So I think we need to continue to empower women and ensure their rights so they can continue to lead in this way and have power in deciding what their destinies will be.
If we forget to connect environmental issues to reproductive rights, what’s at stake?
I think if we forget intersectionality in any environmental movement, the result is a movement that works toward a goal at the expense of others. The result is a weakened movement.
What’s also at stake is autonomy, especially for women. I think more self-determination means more resilience and the Women at the Center infographic explains that really well, better than I can, so I’m happy someone has articulated that.
Why is it important that young people take a stand on these issues? What’s the power young voices bring to the reproductive rights movement?
I think we’re still in a paradigm that believes that children don’t have sexual identities, and I think it’s important for us (young people) to challenge that — because we do, and that mentality is outdated. Youth are coming out at younger ages these days and are becoming sexually active at younger ages too. This is good in that our society is becoming more accepting. However, we need to provide younger people with information and resources to protect themselves. So if adults don’t recognize that we have these identities and are having sex, how are they going to support us in making healthy sexual and reproductive choices?
Also, I think parents have a natural desire to protect their children, so if young people stand up and say “this is how you can better protect us,” then I think adults will listen. We as young people need to leverage that. In addition, I’ve seen that parents are motivated by the fear and terror of what their children will be facing in future. I see lots of parents beginning to join the climate movement because they want their children and their children’s children to have a safe and healthy planet.
In your opinion, what are some ways we could begin to break the taboos around sex talk and family planning?
I think we could have more actions and campaigns. Again, look at Ontario’s sex ed system, an obvious policy achievement. I think other reproductive rights groups and organizations need to look into how that was done and learn from that example. Education can go a long way when it comes to sexual health and healthy reproductive choices.
Also, I think there’s a lot men can do. In Ontario there are groups like White Ribbon and Next Gen Men that are doing cool work around ending sexual violence towards women and education about consent and stuff like that.
I also think that universities have a big role to play. There’s been lots of media about university campuses having high rates of sexual violence, and universities need to take more accountability for protecting women and people from being sexually assaulted.
This question also makes me think of all the issues there are with patriarchy and masculinity in our society. When it comes to sexual health, we have a societal expectation of sexual dominance and invulnerability. To be a real man you are desirable, not vulnerable — so how many men will have health issues and not go to the hospital because they should tough it out? I think that can apply to why men won’t get tested or use protection — it relates to their masculine views of not being vulnerable.
What do you think the United States’ role should be in promoting access to voluntary family planning around the globe?
I could be wrong but from what I know the United States (especially particular states) is pretty far behind other countries that are more progressive on these issues, so I think the US should be focused on learning and adapting new policies that better provide access and diminish discrimination and stigma associated with family planning, contraception and sexual health.
The U.S. is already a role model worldwide, which is questionable at best, but they should use that role with intentionality to reframe issues that aren’t at that stage in other parts of the world. I think US groups should find ways to support the grassroots, which are often women-led movements for change rooted in their local politics and culture.
Your generation is facing unprecedented environmental threats. Have you thought about being a parent in the future? And if so, how do you (and your peers) feel about bringing new life into this world given the environmental threats we face?
I want to be a father more than anything else. So, on one hand, I believe there is always good in the world, and so you shouldn’t let fear rule your decisions, and I won’t let the crisis prevent me from doing something wonderful. But I do feel concerned about how big my family will be and our impact on a suffering environment. I feel confident that I can be a parent that teaches my children sustainable morals and values that they will carry on in their life and pass on to their children. I have good thoughts about being a parent because in a world so full of death and oppression, new life is one the best things we can offer.