A high school, Planned Parenthood, and anti-intellectualism: how students taught some grown-ups about censorship

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.

55 responses to A high school, Planned Parenthood, and anti-intellectualism: how students taught some grown-ups about censorship

  1. Kelly Moon says:

    So proud of these smart, intellectual, educated aspiring young men and women.
    Sincerely, proud Mother of Kayla Kelly. Go Sharks!

    • tricia says:

      You’ve raised yourself a good one, mama. Thanks for reading. It was a pleasure to meet your lovely girl.

  2. Terri M says:

    So glad the principal stood by his students and so glad you wrote about this. Proud my son goes to Ponte Vedra HS with these seniors!

    • tricia says:

      Same here, Terri. Hope this community interference was an exception rather than a trend.

  3. Patti Peeples says:

    Hooray for the result. Hooray for this blog post. I implore the PVHS Administration to continue this teaching moment and hold a School-Community Fireside Chat: When We Disagree. We can all learn a thing or two from these extraordinary young adults.

  4. Jennifer Gaynor says:

    So proud of these young adults. They didn’t give up and fought for what they believed!!

    • tricia says:

      Yes! A great preview of what they can do with their young lives.

  5. Jennifer Wolfe says:

    I loved every single part of this article except the part that the students requested that no money be used for abortion services. That’s too bad. Because there are a number of young women in that school, I am certain, and many other high schools across the country, who have benefitted from access to free and legal abortion, and, even more so, the privacy to make that decision for themselves. If it were not for the protection of these services, many of their classmates would have chosen to do what my mother’s — high school friends had to do—risk being arrested and dying from illegal backroom abortions. I hope that young women and men will continue to support the right and ability of young people to make wise —and private — choices for themselves.

    • tricia says:

      Good point, Jennifer – although I think they were trying to find compromise among everyone. Thanks for chiming in with an important perspective. xoxo

      • Maddie C says:

        Actually, PP’s policy is that no donated funds go to abortions. All abortions are privately funded by the patients.

  6. Dana Minyard says:

    Thanks for the great write up, and calling out these bullies who want to push their outdated ways of thinking down the throats of our young people. We can’t tolerate this kind of behavior! I’m appalled at how vicious these people can be, but happy to see these young people standing tall!

    • tricia says:

      Thanks, Dana – yes, let’s call them what they were – bullies. Thanks for reading.

  7. Amanda Shulman says:

    As an alum of PV and hearing about everything going on I Loved reading this!! After reading all the negative comments in Facebook I was almost sick to my stomach , but your article is such a positive light for everyone ❤️

  8. Gail says:

    Thank you for this article, Tricia. Unfortunately, this is the norm, and not the exception, with this group of backward thinking grown-up bullies. I love this group of very mature, forward thinking high schoolers. I applaud the principal for standing behind his students, as he should. I belong to the same religious parish as those bullying posters but no longer attend as I refuse to sit amongst those hypocrites. They are the antithesis of Christian.

    • tricia says:

      LET’S CHANGE THE NORM!! Thanks, Gail, for your wise words.

  9. Michelle says:

    Hmmmmm… I have not had any dealings with Planned Parenthood since my college days…the 80’s when they helped me with a HUGE class project by providing pamphlets, educational materials, condoms, and helpful advice to me. Anyway, I distinctly remember getting information from them about donations, and it stated that NO donations go toward the funding of abortions unless the donor specifically gives permission. Times may have changed, but that was their original statement. Either way, they are a GREAT charity, and like some other commenters stated, have helped MANY women who had nowhere else to turn!!

    • tricia says:

      I’ve been to Planned Parenthood myself, and it wasn’t to end a pregnancy. Thanks for your words.

  10. Janine Magree says:

    I am so pleased to see the decision overturned, but concerned that any organisation which punts planned parenthood should be set upon in this way by a group of apparently uninformed adults – in a first world country no less!
    Here in South Africa, we see altogether too many large, poverty-stricken families and a great proportion of these are childheaded families affected by the death of one or both parents due to HIV/Aids.
    Just think what a massive difference more organisations like Planned Parenthood could make here just in terms of spreading awareness.
    The dire conditions young children find themselves faced with because of poor parental choices might even be avoided with easier access to both prophylactics and proper information.
    Gibson is to be commended for his decision – presumably his own mum is a forward-thinking woman, so kudos to her as well.
    It really is time for the mother grundies to face the fact that it is better for people (yes, teens too, if that is what the objection hinges on) to plan their future, than sleep around, which they will do anyway if that is their wont, without any thought to the possible consequences.

    • tricia says:

      Janine, this is the most humbling, affecting things I’ve read all day. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, and for reminding us that our worlds as close together as they are far apart. Well said, friend. xoxo

    • Doug says:

      This is why we moved out of PV and Nocatee. Couldn’t take it any longer.

      • Alex says:

        Sadly I don’t think it’s just a PV/Nocatee problem. I graduated from Nease nearly 20 years ago, and came back to the area after a stint in the Army before moving on again about six years ago. This kind of small minded, anti-intellectualism (or elitism in other cases), religious ferver (whether it be something of Judeo-Christian origin or Atheism) has always been alive and well, though a bit more prevalent now. I feel that this is likely a direct result of a society who has the advantage of a mouthpiece via the internet as well as having their world views catered in the form of their choice of cable programming, thereby creating a nice safe echo chamber they never have to leave. Heaven forbid a long held ideal be challenged with new facts and information, whether it be about gun rights, education, immigration, or even Planned Parenthood.

        I applaud these young adults for taking the time to do the legwork, and not just accepting no as an answer. I also commend the young adults who didn’t necessarily agree with the Planned Parenthood mission, but supported the right of their classmate to choose the charity to which the proceeds of pageant went to. One of the toughest things to do is look past yourself and your own feelings on a subject and see the other perspective. I would hope that those students who support the Planned Parenthood mission would be able to do similar had the roles been reversed. To the community members (on both sides) who decided that bullying and shaming people into going along with their rather myopic views of the world, I say it’s time to quit drinking the Kool-Aid; I think you’ve probably had enough.

  11. Erika says:

    I’m so proud of these kids! Gives me hope for our future!

    • tricia says:

      Yep! Great example they’re setting for our girls, too.

  12. Lili says:

    This is awesome! Looks like the students learned excellent anti-bullying skills and tactics. And huge kudos to the principal and parents of those brave young men and women.
    Thank you for writing this, Tricia- you keep the lights on in the world!

    • tricia says:

      Sniff. Thanks, Lili. Give your sister an extra hug for me. xoxo

  13. Patricia Jones says:

    I have lived in Jacksonville 45 years. I was appalled to read about the uproar over this young man’s chosen charity. The last year has shown me has shown me a level of ignorance and backwardness that I did not know existed here. I am so happy the school supported its students. These young people give me hope for our future!

  14. Susan says:

    “Small minded, anti-intellectual, insular adults” is how you would describe pro-life parents and students? How about simply acknowledging that Planned Parenthood is indeed a polarizing organization instead of assuming everyone who disagrees with them is ignorant and insular? I don’t believe there is a community in the country where you would find 100% support of Planned Parenthood. It’s not Ponte Vedra; it’s our country. The country is divided over abortion. It is a polarizing topic. Your shaming of people in the community who disagree with your views is what is anti-intellectual and insular. What do you have to say about pro-life citizens who oppose Planned parenthood? They are all just small minded and ignorant? I’m truly saddened to see such condescension without any balanced view from the other side. Would love to hear from you on this; please reply Tricia Booker

    • tricia says:

      No. I did not call pro-life people small-minded and insular. I used those terms to describe the adults intent on squashing a student’s right to support the cause of his choice. Of course there is debate about abortion. But these adults weren’t just posting their opposition to Planned Parenthood; they were using vitriolic, insulting language to belittle the students, and yes, that makes them petty and small-minded. There are many people in my life who disagree with my views, and I don’t shame them. In fact, one of dearest, oldest friends – founder of an anti-abortion 501c3 dedicated to helping young pregnant women – emailed me last night to say that the Facebook posters who tried to bully the school into changing Gibson’s charity were the type of people who give her movement a bad name. I couldn’t agree more. I will always be critical of those who are intolerant of other viewpoints, particularly when they are using their power within a community to force their own values on others.

      • Jo says:

        Want to clarify…..Maybe I missed the bullying, the post is now gone, but I still stand by my initial responses and I never threw any insults to the kids. Just to clarify, the fact that I did not see any insults and you quoted my own reply (Divine intervention) made me very insulted and I felt that you were calling me a bully, which obviously is in no way insinuated from “divine intervention”.

        • tricia says:

          If it’s obvious, then you shouldn’t worry about it. I do, however, think the totality of criticism flung at the students amounted to bullying. And the phrase “divine intervention” implies that somehow God didn’t want the kids to donate to Planned Parenthood, an argument I find ridiculous.

    • Jo says:

      Exactly. I find it so sad that such a very heated argument for both sides puts all of the anti-PP people into an uneducated cluster. Abortion is a very heated subject no matter who you speak with, and it likely always will be. An to call these adults bullies is ridiculous. A bully is supposed to be threat to someone’s well-being, these adults did no such thing. They simply stated that it was sad to see this as the recipient of the money. Since PP and abortion and even birth control is a morally debated subject on both sides, I for one would have preferred to see the money go towards something less controversial, maybe more local, maybe something that helps children that no one can really debate against. While one may say that PP helps children (minors can go there if needed without parental consent) you would more hard pressed to find people rally against something like Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital or Blessings In a Backpack or any of the many local chapters of less controversial organizations.

      I think that all readers from both sides can take a step back and a breath and realize logically, without emotion, that this will always be a subject of sensitivity and just as liberally minded people are entitled to support it, conservative, what did you call us…”a bevy of small-minded, anti-intellectual, insular adults” are entitled to feel that every life has value. Funny how you find no insolence in your own words. Very hateful expression from your side is okay, but let’s degrade and insult the people who don’t share your view? That is the most close-minded way to live.
      I personally could be called a hypocrite because, for myself, I am anti-abortion but logically I know that keeping it a legally available choice is necessary to not see a return to the kitchen table hacking of women that took place only decades ago, but it doesn’t mean that I have to support the organization, does it?

      • tricia says:

        What I found insular and anti-intellectual is the degradation of the student’s choice, and that certainly happened within the posts. As far as the choice of charity, I think it’s awesome for the winner to have the opportunity to choose the charity of his choice. These students are adults; many of them are 18. They’re beginning to have their own opinions and causes, and of course that inevitably involves controversy. It’s part of life.

  15. Josh Nowicki says:

    I read your blog. Most of it, had to skip some big words.

    • tricia says:

      I know you did the best you can. Thanks for trying!! xo

  16. KG says:

    Glad to see so much support in PV for women’s health. Hopefully very soon, the politicians our community has voted to represent us (Trump / Rubio / Rutherford) will be replaced by those who support women’s reproductive rights too.

    • tricia says:

      I hope so! But we’ve got keep it alive. Thanks for reading.

  17. Susan says:

    A great story & a great write up. Well done Matt Gibson & friends! From your proud aunty in NZ 😍

    • tricia says:

      Oh, you must be a proud aunty indeed! Thanks for reading!!

  18. Val says:

    Thank you for putting in to words exactly what I have been feeling as a mother of 3 daughters , one who is a Senior at PV. These kids put their hearts and souls in to this event and I’m so glad the winner’s charity of choice went unchanged . I read the awful comments that were flying across the screen , and was truly disgusted . Bravo to these young adults who taught the community a lesson in determination , intelligence , tolerance and grace !

    • tricia says:

      Thank you for reading, Val. It’s great to have so many parents supporting these kids.

  19. Elizabeth Gibson says:

    Thank you for your impassioned write up Tricia. I’m so proud of our students’ mature, respectful approach to the unexpected challenges they faced after the event. They expressed their concerns while submitting themselves to the school’s authority and process and I’m so glad their passionate hopefulness was rewarded.
    Proud mum Elizabeth Gibson

    • tricia says:

      FINtastic men come from FINtastic moms. Congrats.

  20. Lisa says:

    So wonderful to hear of this positive outcome! Elizabeth Gibson, you have every right to be proud!!

    • tricia says:

      Thanks for reading, and for supporting these kids!

  21. Lisa says:

    I would call anyone who believes that the government should override a woman and her doctor’s private decision on her personal medical care is worse than insular and anti-intellectual. It’s no one else’s business. Don’t believe in a woman’s right to control her own body? Then don’t have an abortion but don’t try forcing your opinion on everyone else.
    And to try to bully-yes, bully, Matt out of his charitable choice? Unbelievable.

    • tricia says:

      Right, I’m with you on being pro-choice. But shaming someone for choosing to be pro-choice? Very Handmaid’s Tale.

  22. Mary says:

    I would hold my tears for this administration a bit. This school administration knew very well that this was a 501c3, actually one of the most high rated in terms of financial transparency. They had weeks to research this. The wrinkle was that there was only a 1/16 shot that they would have to deal with this issue. Once this young man won, their true ideals were revealed. If the administration truly supported this young mans choice, why did they need to blink? How convenient to use the excuse that they were unaware of the status of the organization. Bravo for these boys for not allowing this school to force their true ideals down their throats! See below

    http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/05/three_more_resign_for_allowing.html

    • tricia says:

      Hi Mary! I, too, wish the school had been on board from the minute it became an issue. But whatever they did wrong, in the end they made the students feel respected and supported, so I gave them some slack : ) Thanks for reading, and for supporting the kids.

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