CRANBERRY TWP — Dressed in bloody white cowboy costumes and carrying signs, a nonprofit group called “Bloodstained Men & Their Friends” staged a protest at the intersection of Route 228 and Route 19 Monday afternoon to raise awareness and speak out against male circumcision.
The group is in the midst of a 15-day tour around the state. They held an event in Erie this weekend and will protest in Pittsburgh later in the week.
“We're spreading foreskin awareness, because it should be your choice how much of your genitals you want to keep,” said David Atkinson, president and CEO of the group, who lives in Boston.
Atkinson explained that the group, which was founded in 2012, travels around the country several times during the year for week-long tours to raise awareness.
“The injury is hidden under clothes, so it's easy for people to pretend that it's not there,” Atkinson said.
The clothing the group wears — white suits that are “bloodstained” with red dye or patches at the waist — are meant to grab people's attention. The cowboy hats aren't as much related to the topic of male circumcision, but were added after another of the group's tours in Texas.
“There are some people who see us who are very surprised, but there are others who cheer and honk,” Atkinson added.
Many members of the group met each other through social media. Though the group is called “Bloodstained Men,” its members include women who are also concerned about the topic.
“Often we get women joining us who learned about this issue when they were pregnant,” Atkinson said. “But we also have some women who have never had kids who also join us.”
Dani Alexander, a member of the group who is from Houston, Texas, said that circumcision or male genital mutilation is not just a men's issue.
“It's a family issue, and it's a children's rights issue,” she said. “Part of why this practice perpetuates is because it's uncomfortable to talk about, and people will not even research it. We've got to start talking about it and discussing it, because that's how you spread information and education.”
Alexander said that the group intentionally makes some of its signs humorous or shocking to start a conversation.
“We have to bring a little bit of humor to it, because it's such a serious issue,” she said. “If we are all gloom and doom, it's really hard for us. It's not sustainable to do just ranting and raving negative activism.”
She added that people laughing at the signs isn't necessarily a bad thing.
“Whenever somebody sees something that's uncomfortable and they laugh, that's a defense mechanism,” Alexander said. “But we think that any kind of reaction is a good reaction. The worst thing that people could do is ignore us.”