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Youth activist Mack Guthrie talks 'My Body, My Story' campaign
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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In the months after the November 2016 election, Mack Guthrie decided he had to get involved with issues he was passionate about. That decision eventually brought him to the My Body, My Story Planned Parenthood of Illinois campaign.

Guthrie had just quit swimming due to medical reasons and wanted to fill up that time with something that was meaningful and would effect real change in the world.

"When I saw the application for My Body, My Story I got excited, and applied right away," said Guthrie. "I already followed Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Planned Parenthood Illinois Action on Facebook, and they shared the application, so I applied and then forgot about it. A few months later, in March 2017, they contacted me and asked me to come down for the group's first meeting. I thought 'Wow, that is great.' Now I am a board member."

When asked why he wanted to be an advocate for reproductive justice, given that he is a gay man, Guthrie said it was something he got interested in during middle school, when he was forming his political philosophy and learning about social justice issues.

His parents were always open with him about these issues, and his high school, New Trier, had a comprehensive sex education program that helped expand his knowledge base.

"It always came back to women's rights and their ability to fundamentally control their own reproductive systems," said Guthrie. "Ever since then, I have been learning more about feminism and how that intersects with other social justice issues, including things affecting my own LGBTQ community."

Guthrie's work with this campaign has primarily been on Instagram and Facebook, designing posts that focus on the needs of the community. The campaign is currently working on storytelling where teens talk about birth control and other reproductive topics to their peers instead of relying on information from adults who might not relate to the issues young people face today. He said hearing other people's stories is a more powerful way to get a message across and learn from each other's mistakes.

"Over the past year we went to other schools for tabling events during lunch periods," said Guthrie. "Sometimes people would share their stories with us. We handed out free condoms and gave demonstrations so people know how to use them. We have been doing workshops to spread the word about our campaign, so students will know how to stay safe and protected."

While working on the campaign, Guthrie said, his favorite moments have been when he pushes teens out of their comfort zone. That's when he knows he is helping them learn about birth control, sex and women's issues on the whole.

"There was a moment where I realized I was most of my friends' go to person on these issues," said Guthrie. "I had one person ask me where she and her friend could get tested for STIs, and another asked me about how they could obtain birth control with her parents' insurance. They knew it was something that I cared about, whether I was wearing a condom pin to school, or just talking about it. I find a way to bring it into a lot of conversations."

One day in his government class, Guthrie was wearing a pin with an IUD on it. An acquaintance from across the room asked him about the pin in the middle of class so he started explaining the benefits of a paraguard ( copper ) IUD to her. Guthrie said one of his friends in the room started laughing hysterically because this interaction had become the norm when the two of them were together.

Guthrie explained that the last time he got an HIV test he took a picture of his finger prick and posted it to his Instagram story to remind his friends to get tested. He said a number of people messaged him about the test and he pointed them to the proper resources.

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) recently unveiled a youth HIV campaign, "Sexperts Slay," and Guthrie took on the role of sexpert to his friend group.

The thing that has surprised Guthrie the most is how misinformed people are about the various facets of sex education. He said that, even at New Trier, the comprehensive information that is taught goes in one ear and out the other because people do not realize how these issues affect them.

Guthrie explained that the internet is a great resource only if one knows how to search these topics. For example, he explained that a cursory Google search on birth control might only show the pill and condoms, but not the IUD or emergency contraception Plan B or Ella.

"I definitely get the "you are not going to have a baby, your partner is not going to have a baby, why are you crazy obsessed with this'," said Guthrie. "A lot of my friends are women, and some of them have had pregnancy scares, so I want to be there for them as an ally. I know HIV is a looming threat over our heads, so I have been able to have conversations with other gay men about HIV and PrEP, using condoms and how to be safe, so ultimately I think it is all tied together. Our material is inclusive of the entire LGBTQ community."

Working on this campaign has changed Guthrie's worldview for the better, he said, because he has been exposed to other teens from diverse communities across the Chicagoland area. He added that there have been some weird moments and he has considered where how he positions himself as a man speaking on these issues. This has resulted in him taking a back seat when there are women present.

"I was the only white male on our board this past year and I think that is really cool, because normally white men are making these decisions or coming up with ideas," said Guthrie.

This past spring, Guthrie graduated from high school where he was the co-editor of the New Trier News and a four-year member of Model UN. He said those two activities prepared him for working with the My Body, My Story campaign because they involve talking to people that might have differing opinions on various issues. Guthrie was also the vice president of communications for Food Taxi, where students collected extra food from the Friday school breakfast to donate to various homeless shelters and other places of need. He also worked at Wagner Farm in Glenview.

Guthrie was more or less out his sophomore year and then in junior year he switched his Facebook profile to note his interest in men. He said everyone in his life has been very supportive.

When Guthrie heads to American University in Washington, D.C. this fall, he will continue his activism through Planned Parenthood Generation Action. Since the My Body, My Story campaign is an Illinois initiative focused on high school students, he will be leaving the board this summer.

Guthrie said he hopes to keep playing in the orchestra ( having been a violinist since he was 4 years old ) in college, as well as work on the newspaper and join an international relations group. He would like to be in the foreign service or go to law school.

In terms of youth activism on the whole, Guthrie said the prevalence of school shootings like the one in Parkland are tragic incidents, but it has been great to see young people come into their own and take charge of issues they care about, including gun control. He explained that the only way to make change is by amplifying one's voice and then going to the polls for every election. Guthrie praises the Parkland activists for creating the Road to Change tour to register voters and talk about the issues.

"The more you talk about issues openly, the less stigma there will be," said Guthrie. "Whether it is about sex, birth control, HIV/AIDS, gun violence, LGBTQ issues, race and/or intersectional feminism, remaining silent is not an option."

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