Author, editor and feminist activist Gloria Steinem will appear at a sold-out dinner Wednesday celebrating the 80th anniversary of Planned Parenthood of Western New York, followed by a talk in the UB Center for the Arts.
The local Planned Parenthood affiliate holds an annual celebration, but “this year is our 80th anniversary, so it’s an extra-special event,” said Karen J. Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western New York. At the talk, she says, “Gloria Steinem will speak about Planned Parenthood, the world and the history of women’s rights. Every time I have seen her speak, she talks about the history of the women’s movement and where it has led us to today. She is very involved with Planned Parenthood; she is one of our biggest fans, and we are one of her biggest fans.”
Steinem, 79, was president and co-founder of Voters for Choice, a pro-choice political action committee for 25 years, then served as president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund when it merged with Voters for Choice. She also co-founded and serves on the board of Choice USA, a national organization that supports young pro-choice leadership and works to preserve comprehensive sex education in schools.
The local Planned Parenthood group “is one of the oldest affiliates in the country,” says Nelson.
Western New York Planned Parenthood has its roots in the Family Relations Institute, founded in Buffalo by Esther Sawyer and May Carter in 1933. This was 20 years after Margaret Sanger established the American Birth Control League, the precursor to Planned Parenthood, in 1913 in New York City. Four years later, Mrs. Paul Schoelkopf donated a medical office for the Niagara Falls Maternal Health Association, which later joined with the Buffalo organization. The name Planned Parenthood was chosen in the 1940s.
In its five health centers and mobile unit in Erie and Niagara counties, Planned Parenthood provides testing and care for cancer, gynecological problems, menopausal issues and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. It also provides birth control and abortion.
The group says that almost 13,000 people, 90 percent of whom have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, receive family-planning or related care each year through Planned Parenthood of Western New York, which “provides reproductive and family health care, promotes responsible and healthy sexuality, and protects choice.” In 2012, the organization says it reached 22,000 young people through its community education and outreach programs.
The sold-out $175-per-person dinner, catered by Oliver’s, will be preceded by a cocktail hour with Steinem at the UB Center for the Arts.
“Our supporters are really jazzed up about this,” Nelson said. “I think it’s great way to celebrate our 80th birthday, by bringing someone of such a national stature in. She’s really an icon in the women’s movement.”
Steinem’s office said she was not available for an interview with The News in advance of her appearance because “unfortunately, Gloria’s travel and writing schedule is very tight.”
Steinem is working on a book, “Road to the Heart: America as if Everyone Mattered,” a book about her more than 30 years on the road as a feminist organizer.
This will be at least Steinem’s fourth visit to Western New York since she became a prominent women’s rights activist in the late 1960s, co-founding Ms. magazine in 1972.
She traveled to Western New York in 1975 to appear on a groundbreaking locally produced PBS show titled “Woman.” In 1986 and in 1988, she appeared at the Chautauqua Institution to participate in forums on the American family.
In 1986, she discussed surrogate mothers, sperm donor fathers and other technological aids to conception. She said scientific advances had the possibility of “profoundly transforming ideas of what childbirth is.”
In 1988, during a breakfast interview with The News before her talk on “Family Ethics,” Steinem was handed a note by a young woman expressing her pain and isolation at being one of the few lesbians at the conference. During the interview, in comments that reflect discussions today, more than a quarter-century later, Steinem vowed to address same-sex couples. “Families are people who are committed to each other, who want to be together and who care for one another,” she told The News. “People choose to be in families; they aren’t just born into them. And they can be of the same gender and still be a family unit.”
On her website, Steinem writes that if she had been trying to predict the future 30 or 35 years ago, “I think I would have been surprised that we have majority support on pretty much all of the issues now. In the beginning, we were so subject to ridicule – even to the charge that we were going against nature — that to see majorities in public opinion polls now would have been a big surprise.”
However, she writes, “I guess 35 years ago, I thought we had more of a democracy than we actually do. Majority support doesn’t help unless the majority is active and votes – but the opposition minority votes a much greater proportion, so we often lose by a narrow margin.”
Tickets for Steinem’s talk, which begins at 8 p.m. in the UB Center for the Arts, will cost $35 for students and $50 and $65 for non-students. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at UBCFA.org or tickets.com or by calling 1-888-223-6000.