Fighting for Sexual and Reproductive Rights
One man’s fight to change the stigma surrounding Planned Parenthood.
By Danielle Zulkosky
Abortion and Planned Parenthood. To many Americans, these topics are stigmatized and grouped into the same category. People think of women, reproductive rights and women’s health when talking about Planned Parenthood. According to the Planned Parenthood website, “One in five American women have trusted Planned Parenthood for healthcare at some point in their lifetime.” However, one man is changing the stigma of it being a women’s only organization.
Louis Marzella says, “Planned Parenthood is a place for all people, not just women. We have testicular screenings and LGBTQ services. No matter your gender identity Planned Parenthood is there for you. I see reproductive and sexual health care as an issue for everyone.”
Marzella is a sexual and reproductive rights activist who works as the Public Affairs Coordinator of Planned Parenthood Nassau County, where he oversees volunteer programs, advocates for pro-reproductive health policy, and develops community advocates as well as youth organizers on college campuses.
He first got involved in LGBTQ+ activism as a student in his university, SUNY Geneseo, and that opened the door to many other connected social issues such as those Planned Parenthood handles. He said, “I think that’s the the cool thing about activism, you work your way up the ladder of engagement and you can be a leader and help other emerging activists develop into activists.”
He elaborated on why he chose Planned Parenthood specifically, “Planned Parenthood seeks to empower all individuals to have control over their sexual and reproductive lives, regardless of race, gender identity, income, ability, sexual orientation – you name it. This intersectional approach is what immediately drew me to Planned Parenthood and is still the aspect of our work I value most.”
For many, fighting for sexual and reproductive rights is a side job, but Marzella has been able to make it his full-time career.
“I love so many things about my job, but my favorite part is that I have the incredible privilege of being able to do what I love for a living. Social justice is a great passion of mine, and this is the first paid job I have had wherein I get to focus on social justice during the 9-5 hours.” Marzella continues saying, “especially in this tense time wherein social justice is more important than ever, I know that I would have a hard time distracting myself from everything going on to focus on a job for which I have no passion.”
Ryder Smith is a Public Affairs Intern at Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, who said that Marzella embodies the message of Planned Parenthood in his work.
“Planned Parenthood is all about care – no matter what. Louis works crazy hours and deals with crazy political onslaughts, all to make sure people can continue to fight for everyone to have access to reproductive health care,” Smith said. “And this health care is for everyone, not just women, and I think Louis doing this work helps more people understand that!”
“These issues impact us all,” Marzella said. “We all need to have the information to live safe sexual and reproductive lives. We all need to have access to health care services regardless of our gender identity so it is an issue that impacts everyone.”
Camila Herrera is a Field Organizer of Planned Parenthood Nassau County who works for non-partisan voter engagement efforts. Her position allows her insight into the impression the public has about Planned Parenthood.
“I don’t think Planned Parenthood is alone in its perceived gendered narrative. I think this a problem in many other fields with women or someone gender non-conforming being the ones breaking barriers,” Herrera said. “We are more than a women’s health center, we are fighting for sexual health and reproductive rights and having men work here shows that we want to represent and empower the patients and communities we serve whether it’s women, men or gender non-conforming.”
Marzella’s job is further complicated by attempts to defund the organization, and he said, “Because we are in an era fraught with unprecedented attacks on reproductive health care access, my department needs to be nimble in addressing situations as they come.”
Fighting for patients’ rights and breaking down obstacles to health care is an important part of Marzella’s work.
“Something that we have been saying a lot recently is that we are facing unprecedented attacks at the federal level on our rights to access sexual and reproductive healthcare services. In addition to the attacks to access those services there have been so many attacks on marginalized communities,” Marzella explained. “We know marginalized communities are those who are bearing the brunt of these attacks on access to healthcare because they already face the barriers to accessing these services and so it’s a really important time to be advocating for those rights.”
Marzella continued, “All social justice issues are connected to each other. The people most vulnerable are the ones with limited educational opportunities, they also face racism, xenophobia, homophobia and all of these disadvantages can compound on one another so it is important to advocate for these issues.”
Herrera noted that Marzella’s work and voice in these turbulent times make him a focal point for the organization. “I think the work he does in and out of the office, speaks to his values and shows that he is a proud advocate for sexual and reproductive rights,” Herrera said. “He is involved in Planned Parenthood’s electoral work and is vocal about standing alongside candidates, community partners and members that support our work.”
Smith said that having a male presence in a public role helps to change the perception of the organization. “I think having men there helps break down two narratives: that men cannot be reproductive health activists, and that only women need reproductive health care. Because everyone needs reproductive health care – men, women, and people who identify outside of the gender binary – everyone should do what they can in this fight for access to reproductive health care.”
Recently, advocacy groups and individual activists have been on the rise. According to a study from a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll one in five Americans has participated in a political protest or rally since the start of 2016 and 19 percent of them are newcomers to activism.
Marzella finished by encouraging people to continue this upward trend in advocacy, “I would encourage everyone to get involved in some form of advocacy because no matter who you are there is always some issue that affects you. I would encourage people to search for events and bring friends because there is power in numbers and stand up for what you believe in.”