Kayley Scruggs is a rising junior from Jackson, Mississippi, and a candidate for the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program. Aby Parsons 13G, Co-Chair of GALA, interviewed Kayley about her activism, her experiences of queer community at Emory, and her goals for life after graduation.
AP: You’re from Jackson, Mississippi. What made you decide to stay in the South for college?
KS: Unlike many socially and politically progressive southerners, I am immensely proud to be from the South. I believe that southerners hold a certain demeanor that transcends simple southern hospitality; warmth and generosity are innate to us individually. I have witnessed profound acts of compassion that constitute my faith in the South’s aptitude for progress. I believe that the South can make great leaps toward achieving social justice, and I want to be a part of helping my southern communities do exactly that.
AP: You’re a fierce advocate and activist in the reproductive justice movement. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in doing that work, and why it’s important to you?
KS: I have identified as a feminist since I was 12 years old, which is what started my path to activism. When I decided to become a midwife a few years later, I began recognizing how pregnant women are mistreated by the United States healthcare system. My interest began with birth justice, mostly focusing on the demonization of home birth and the epidemic of medically unnecessary Caesarean sections. Soon, I realized that society’s failure to respect a person’s right to access a safe, empowering birth and the right to a safe, respectful abortion share the same root: patriarchy’s regulation of body autonomy. This realization led me to broaden the scope of my advocacy. Reproductive justice is my biggest passion and top priority because the status of reproductive autonomy affects everyone–whether you have a uterus or not. When one person’s reproductive rights are violated, bodily autonomy for their entire community is threatened.
AP: How does your bisexual identity and your participation in LGBTQ communities inform your reproductive justice activism (or vice versa)?
KS: To me, LGBTQ equality is a reproductive justice issue, and reproductive justice is essential to LGBTQ liberation. Recognizing this connection fuels my passion for both movements and inspires me to create safer spaces in my work. For example, my experience in the LGBTQ community informs me that not only straight women require reproductive health care, and changes the way I communicate about reproductive justice.
AP: Tell us a bit about your involvement with LGBTQ groups and issues on campus.
KS: I served on the executive board of Emory Pride my first and second years at Emory, and I began working at the Office of LGBT Life in the second semester of my second year. Being involved with the LGBTQ community at Emory has been essential to developing my personal relationship with my bisexual identity. In a few short months, I went from being out to a handful of people to an entire campus and many of my friends back home. Being around such unapologetic queer people pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible; my experience with the Emory LGBTQ community gave me the confidence I needed to demand that my identity be acknowledged and respected.
AP: You were a recipient of an award from the Aycock Leadership Development Fund this past year, and were able to go with Emory students to Creating Change, the national conference on LGBTQ equality. What were some of your highlights from that experience?
KS: Creating Change allowed me to share space with people who shared my passion for both reproductive justice and LGBTQ issues. Although the two movements intersect in many ways, it is rare to be in a space that explicitly connects them. Nearly a week of hearing about other LGBTQ activists’ work to expand access to reproductive care and sharing experiences with them was one of the most inspiring times of my life. In addition to the overwhelming inspiration, Creating Change is wonderful because it is one of the safest places to be exactly who you are. No matter what your identity or your passion, there is someone there who you have something in common with. Instead of hearing the normal response of “What is that?” when I say that I’m pansexual or an aspiring midwife, I hear “Me too!” or “That’s so cool!” several times per day.
AP: You’ve shown a lot of courage by being a vocal and visible advocate for the issues you care about. Who are some of your role models that inspire your activism and leadership?
KS: I am inspired by women every day. The strength that I see in women I don’t even know astounds me and is my inspiration for all that I do. More personally, I am inspired by my co-escorts at the last abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi. I have been volunteering as a clinic escort there for a little less than a year, and I quickly developed a profound sense of respect for three of the women who have dedicated themselves to defending our clinic against the anti-choice protestors who line the sidewalk outside of it. We are connected by the work of supporting our patients and other women everywhere, and they have taught me how to be a fearless, loving activist.
AP: What is something you wish the Emory community understood about LGBTQ students?
KS: I wish that non-LGBTQ students understood that being an ally is a continuous, demanding process that requires a lot of self-education. I wish that members of the Emory community would grow to be more comfortable with saying “I made a mistake. I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again,” instead of becoming defensive when someone feels threatened by their words or behavior. Overall, I hope that the Emory community will realize that caring communication is essential to creating safe space for LGBTQ students.
AP: What kind of support or involvement, if any, would you like to see from GALA and other alumni of Emory?
KS: I would like to see GALA helping to bridge the gap between Emory’s LGBTQ students and the Atlanta LGBTQ community. Many LGBTQ alumni are politically and socially active, and I would like to see Emory students become more involved in LGBTQ activism and volunteering. I believe that GALA could be a rich resource for the mentorship of Emory’s LGBTQ students, and I would love to learn more about the advocacy work of GALA members in the Atlanta community and beyond.
AP: What are your hopes and goals for the remainder of your time at Emory? What do you hope to do after you graduate?
KS: I will be entering the School of Nursing this fall, and while I am there I hope to strengthen the presence of the LGBTQ community in Emory’s nursing program. It is one of the only schools at Emory that does not have an LGBTQ student group, which will hopefully change within my time remaining at Emory. I am also excited to become involved with Nursing Students for Reproductive Health and connect with more pro-choice students at Emory. After I graduate, I hope to be immediately a compassionate nurse, eventually an empowering midwife, and always a powerful advocate for social justice.