A few years ago, some students at Ponte Vedra High School had an idea. Let’s host a beauty pageant for guys, they thought. Sort of a spoof, but just for fun. And we’ll charge people to come see it, and we’ll give the money to charity.
The annual Mr. FINtastic contest was born (Go Sharks!), and it has been a smashing success. This year’s winner is PV High senior Matt Gibson, an affable guy with a mop of curly brown hair and an easy, toothy smile. As winner, his prize was the honor of choosing which charity received the money raised by the event.
He chose Planned Parenthood.
Enter a bevy of small-minded, anti-intellectual, insular adults whose comments on Facebook were so ignorant and petty that I had to close my computer to keep from coming unleashed. Note: Ponte Vedra, Florida is a wealthy seaside community southeast of Jacksonville.
Planning for this pageant began last November, with contestants having to commit themselves, fill out paperwork, and reveal their charities of choice. Gibson chose Planned Parenthood. “It never occurred to me how big it would get,” he told me. “It was just a cool way to choose things that don’t always get the focus they need.” He never thought he would win.
The night of the pageant, audience members received programs which profiled the contestants and listed their charities of choice. There was Gibson’s name, along with his picture and his charity: Planned Parenthood. No secrets. And he won! His buddy, Connor Dowd, was runner-up. They and the pageant committee were thrilled – approximately 600 people attended, and raised more than $6,000.
A few days later, Gibson and Dowd and everyone else involved had moved on to the rigors of senior year when one of them received a note about a Facebook post. The poster, a Ponte Vedra Realtor who specializes in luxury properties, had written that she was “stunned & saddened” and “shocked” by the money going to Planned Parenthood. She further publicly posted a letter to the PV High School Principal Dr. Fred Oberkehr. It read, in part: “Planned Parenthood, an organization whose roots were spun in eugenics, should NOT be considered a charity, nor should ANY of our families be subject to supporting them. Just consider the name itself: “Planned Parenthood.” The so-called ‘charity’s’ name would imply that all children are “planned.” Even if you can pass the litmus test of being planned, please verify with your parents that your mother’s pregnancy was in fact “planned.”
Fact: Planned Parenthood was founded by nurse and activist Margaret Sanger who believed in giving women reproductive choices. She was known to espouse some views about class and reproduction that, while commonplace in the early 20th century, have since been thoroughly discredited. In truth, Sanger founded PP as a way for women to improve their health and status in society by determining when they wanted to bear children. Improving women’s health remains the organization’s mission to this day.
The Realtor’s Facebook post went on: “Please imagine, what life, (or not, in the case that you were not planned) would be like?”
This woman’s post spawned dozens of responses from men and women equally outraged that a senior in high school had made a thoughtful decision to support a cause.
The school administration initially blinked. They called the pageant committee together and said they weren’t allowed to give the money to Planned Parenthood because the organization isn’t a 501c3 organization. The students were baffled – administrators had known about the charity list for months. But the Ponte Vedra Realtor was thrilled – she posted a note she had received from a school official confirming that Planned Parenthood was off the table. “It’s divine intervention!” wrote one woman under the post.
That night the students who had been involved in the pageant had dinner together and came up with a plan to rally their fellow PV High students – Instagram posts and Snapchats and texts urged all who supported the students to wear black the next day. Gibson and the rest of the pageant group went home and started researching. They immediately learned that Planned Parenthood is indeed a 501 c3. Dylan Howick, who had done the lights for the show, started sifting through school and county rules and regulations. He found nothing to prohibit Gibson donating the money to Planned Parenthood.
The next day, dozens of students wore black and rallied before class. Later, Gibson and the rest of the crew met with Dr. Oberkehr, the principal. As they began presenting their case, Oberkehr stopped them. “We’re on your side,” he said, according to Gibson. “It’s in my best interest to serve the students.” Sniff. I might love this man.
By this point, the issue had turned bitter and ugly. Not among the students – most of them had rallied behind Gibson. Even kids who didn’t support Planned Parenthood believed Gibson had a right to choose the charity. But the adults – may they all be perennially watched over by St. Hubert of Liege, the patron saint of mad dogs. They accused the students of ignorance. They felt personally harmed by Gibson’s decision. They made fun of liberals. They mocked the March for Women.
One man accused Gibson’s supporters of being drunks, and when a recent graduate of Ponte Vedra High School took umbrage at the comment because her mother had died from alcohol-related causes, he responded that he didn’t want to hear her “sob story.”
The whole pageant, incidentally, was organized and produced by a group of articulate, smart, 12th grade women. Last year, a group of them founded a Young Feminists Club on campus, and Gibson was the first guy they allowed to join. Yes, men can be feminists. I’m married to one, in fact.
Gibson, the day of the pageant, had participated in a downtown Jacksonville “Rally for Change,” and the day after the pageant he joined his friends at the Women’s March. So he’s liberal (yay!!), but more importantly, he’s engaged in the community. He, his friends, and the women who put on the pageant have developed into educated, thoughtful, independent thinkers. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Many of them have already been accepted into multiple colleges; they have plans to be part of the solution to the world’s problems – not part of the sniveling, baseless arguments that are currently paralyzing both our government and society.
Listen, the argument about Planned Parenthood is for another day. The argument about abortion is for another day. Planned Parenthood does indeed provide abortions, but it mostly provides needed birth control and other health services to women who would otherwise go without care. If you don’t believe women should have access to affordable birth control, well, I pretty much have no use for you anyway.
The great positive here is that the school supported the kids, and recognized their rights as both adults (many of them are 18) and as members of a diverse functioning society.
The other plus? People who’ve learned about Gibson’s story have been donating to Planned Parenthood. You can do that, too, if you want to support the students. Click here to Just Say No to busybody, shallow grown-ups who think it’s okay to bully young men and women into thinking a certain way. Per the students’ request, none of the donations will support abortion services. “Our age doesn’t indicate our intelligence,” said Connor Dowd, the pageant’s runner-up. The same could be said of their critics.
Many thanks to Gibson, Dowd, and pageant organizers and producers Dylan Houick, Kayla Kelly, Sydney Burnett, Maria Gaynor, Maggie Creasman, and Maddie Coffey for letting me meet your funny, smart selves. You kids are going to change the world.