People Issue

People 2015: Nan Little Kirkpatrick Fights for Women’s Access to Abortions

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. Click here to find all our People Issue profiles.

As executive director of TEA Fund, Nan Little Kirkpatrick is a tireless advocate for reproductive justice. TEA Fund provides small grants — $50 to $150, depending on need — to help people in dire financial straits pay for the procedure. Although she’d been a feminist for years, it wasn’t until the Legislature passed HB2, the omnibus abortion law that attempted to shut down the majority of abortion clinics in the state, that she took up the fight full-time.

“I’d been volunteering with Planned Parenthood for a while, but I started to think that I wanted to move my career in a direction that aligned with my feminist politics,” Kirkpatrick says. “I saw that TEA Fund was hiring a new executive director, but that sounded really huge. Am I good enough to be an executive director?” After reading the job description, Kirkpatrick realized that her experience in nonprofit development and grant writing was actually a pretty close fit.

She sent in her résumé and got the job. TEA Fund’s executive director role was being vacated by Merritt Tierce, who was in the process of publishing her first book, the critically acclaimed Love Me Back. Kirkpatrick took over the TEA Fund in August 2014, just days after a Texas judge overturned the most restrictive provisions of HB2.

She also sings and plays bass in two local bands. First, Kirkpatrick joined with Mila Hamilton (Mannequins With Kill Appeal) and Brad Barker to form Frauen, a noise-pop collaboration influenced by everything from goth music to Hall & Oates. Later, she formed Little Beards with husband and fellow musician Sean Kirkpatrick. Music is more than a way to blow off steam for Kirkpatrick, but she isn’t necessarily expecting to become the world’s next rock star.

And she doesn’t leave her ideology backstage when she’s playing music, either. “I was playing a show a few months ago, and I was walking behind Sean carrying my amp, which is heavy as shit,” she says. “This man walked up to me and said, ‘Well aren’t you nice!’ like I was carrying his gear for him. I couldn’t resist, because I can’t ever keep my mouth shut. I said, ‘I’m in the band!’ I’m not going to let you put that shit on me. I’m going to put it back in your face.”

Her music is positive yet unrelenting, and that outlook also translates to her work as an abortion funder, in a place where the landscape is growing bleaker by the day. “People in Texas sometimes have to drive hundreds of miles to get an abortion, and that feels really desperate to me,” she says. “I worry that people in the Panhandle don’t even know that they can get an abortion. And can they even get an abortion? It’s still legal, but do they have the resources to get to where they need to go?”

Increasingly, they don’t, especially after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the most restrictive provisions of HB2. The fight will undoubtedly rage on, but in the meantime, only eight abortion clinics will serve millions of people of reproductive age in Texas. Which, for Kirkpatrick, means a lot of grueling days ahead.
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Amy McCarthy