Forward Focus: Elicia Gonzales on making abortion accessible in the age of COVID-19 - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 27, 2020 11:00 am

Forward Focus: Elicia Gonzales on making abortion accessible in the age of COVID-19

For the first in our ADVANCE interview series, Women’s Medical Fund’s Executive Director explains how the organization prioritizes abortion funding while centering anti-racism.
“Lucky for us, people who support abortion access are the most dedicated, loyal supports ever.”

Elicia Gonzales is a queer, Latinx licensed social worker with a masters in human sexuality education. She is also the executive director for Women’s Medical Fund, an organization that since 1985 has worked to ensure and expand abortion access through direct service and community organizing. Gonzales serves on the Bread and Roses Community Fund board and is the cofounder of the SEXx Interactive Collective. Gonzales lives in Fishtown with her amazing wife and cat — named Justice, of course — and is originally from Denver, Colorado.


Generocity: Did you attend ADVANCE 2019? If so, what was your biggest takeaway? What did you learn that you have since implemented in your own organization, and what were the results? If not, how can ADVANCE 2020 help your organization solve one of its current dilemmas?

Gonzales: Sadly, I was unable to attend this event. We are hoping that this year’s event will inspire us to consider how to put an end to white professionalism when (if??) COVID ends. We were really inspired by the article that Generocity did in April and want to implement best practices moving forward that honor each team member as a full human being. We also hope to learn from others about how best to embody and embed anti-racist practices in our strategic planning process, and moving forward in our daily work.

Generocity: Generocity’s ADVANCE focuses on “advancing” both your mission and your career. What are the benefits of hearing from other organizations in the Philadelphia social impact sector? How have professional development experiences helped you deliver on funding goals for your organization?

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Gonzales: We greatly value professional development at Women’s Medical Fund. Staff have participated in various opportunities that help to enhance skills and increase capacity. We have a very broad understanding about what “counts” as professional development. For example, we provided financial reimbursement to one staff member who completed an abortion companion (aka “doula”) training. Another staff member worked with a coach for a couple sessions about trauma-informed supervision. The Executive Director works with an Executive Coach regularly to ensure she gets tailored support in helping to drive the organization through its continued evolution. Professional development must encompass more than just increasing intellect, but support the body and spirit, as well.

Generocity: 2020’s economic turmoil has significantly impacted, largely in a negative way, the livelihood of our socially-driven organizations. Has your organization found any creative ways to preserve budget, raise donations, or acquire new funding? We understand this is a sensitive topic; please do not feel obligated to answer.

Gonzales: Lucky for us, people who support abortion access are the most dedicated, loyal supports ever. People continued to prioritize abortion funding despite the economy and competing needs.

Generocity: In July, Generocity launched TRACE (Toward Response and Community Equity), a year-long initiative tracking Philadelphia’s response to a pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism. In the midst of COVID-19, how has your organization adapted to meet the changing needs of your stakeholders? What do you hope to learn at ADVANCE that will help you better serve our community?

Gonzales: We started working from home March 13th and had to transition our Help Line to accommodate remote work. We purchased two laptops so that our access xounselors could continue operating the Help Line five days a week. We also subscribed to Zoom so that we could continue meeting as staff, board, and volunteer community organizers. We hosted a successful spring fundraiser where we educated our community about self-managed abortion care. Our fall fundraiser will happen online, with an ’80s trivia event. We will host a storyshare in November to help dispel myths about abortion and remind people that most individuals who get an abortion are parents already or will go on to parent. Our community organizers also implemented a reproductive mutual aid effort and distributed condoms, emergency contraception, and pregnancy tests to folks needing these supplies. Staff and volunteers also made homemade protective masks for volunteers and a partnered abortion provider. We want to learn how to deepen our engagement with people most impacted by abortion restrictions.

Generocity: Our nation is currently grappling with the many ways systemic racism infiltrates our society: it affects our policing system, our education system, housing, health care, and more. Through your work, how do you advocate for racial equity? How can ADVANCE help you create a more diverse, inclusive, equitable organization?

Gonzales: We are working to center on anti-racism and are committed to making this a practice for staff, board, volunteers, and (ideally) donors.  In the coming months, we will issue a public statement about our commitment. We have already begun interrogating our internal practices —everything from hiring practices to fair/thriving wages and benefits. We completed an “Undoing Racism” training that unfortunately caused great harm to Black staff/volunteers so we are in a process of “repair” right now. We are deepening our engagement with people who call the Help Line, the vast majority being Black and brown (demonstrating the disproportionate impacts abortion restrictions have on BIPOC). Through ADVANCE, we hope to learn how to advance racial equity through all parts of our work, including the way we interface with donors. For example, will we accept donations from someone who is explicitly racist — such as saying that their money is to ensure no Black people have babies (we have sadly encountered this in the past, though it’s rare).

Generocity: During these physically isolating times, innovative technology has become increasingly important. How has your organization used technology to solve the unique challenges posed by COVID-19? What has helped you, your team members, and your stakeholders stay connected?

Gonzales: Staff, board, and volunteers use Zoom for meetings and events. Volunteers, and as of last week — staff, too, use slack to engage in more casual connections. Working from home means that the typical office chatter and camaraderie is compromised. Slack is giving staff the chance to have more light-hearted, unplanned exchanges (i.e. pics of pets, new home furniture, funny GIFs, etc.) This kind of bonding helps keep morale high and ward off negative feelings associated with too much isolation.

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Gonzales is the first profile in our Forward Focus series, a series of stories highlighting the experiences and work of nonprofit leaders in Philadelphia. The goal of the series is two-fold: 1) to provide insight on shared challenges in the social impact sector and 2) to help nonprofit professionals get the most of Generocity’s virtual ADVANCE conference on Nov. 12.

Learn more about ADVANCE and register for the free conference today.

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