Although the majority of Planned Parenthood patients are women, the organization also offers services such as STD testing to men. And for Kenny Neal Shults, Planned Parenthood proved to be a life-changing safe haven during an era where there were few such places for gay men.
Shults, who penned a powerful article for The Advocate, was raised in New Orleans. He recalled that in the 1980s, "[t]he gay people I saw were falling apart, and suffering from the social ills that have claimed so many of us — alcoholism, AIDS, depression, suicide, etc."
After a stint in Corpus Christi, Texas, Shults relocated to the more progressive city of Austin. He formed a solid group of friends, but was deeply shaken by the suicide of his 19-year-old friend, Mike. It marked a turning point for Shults: "I wanted to help other kids who might find themselves in Mike’s situation," he writes.
An acquaintance recommended Planned Parenthood. "I had no idea what Planned Parenthood was, but she told me it was a place that welcomed everyone, worked to help women and poor people, and had 'centers' all over the country. It was the place I had been looking for my whole life," Shults recalls.
After an audition, Shults joined Planned Parenthood's acting ensemble and immediately received comprehensive training on sexual education, peer outreach, HIV prevention, sexual harassment, and inclusivity.
"We spent our days off and many school-day mornings in middle and high-school auditoriums performing half-scripted, half-improvised skits about every imaginable social issue," Shults explains. "Teen pregnancy, consent, bullying, suicide, and yes, homophobia were some of the topics we acted out in our half-baked matinees. I always played the homophobe."
"The education department of Planned Parenthood in Austin was made up of people not just dedicated to what I learned Planned Parenthood was known for — contraception and choice — but to principles that transcended any one disenfranchised group of peoples’ needs," he continues. "They saw gays and women and teenagers and people of color as a singular group of people who needed education, support, and help with their sexualities. We were all sexual beings, after all, not just the ones who were best known for the kind of sex they had."
Shults explains that Planned Parenthood education departments have programs for teens that empower young people "to take control of their lives and to help others do the same."
Today, Shults works with Planned Parenthood clinics all over the country to improve and amplify their teen outreach programs. "I’ve helped Planned Parenthoods assure LGBTQ people that they are, in fact, there for them too in ways that excoriate their conservative regions’ icons," he says.