BJ Courville on the #FreeBritney movement, bodily autonomy and living with autism
Lawyer and #FreeBritney advocate BJ Courville sat down with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan to discuss conservatorships, the harmful intersection between discrimination against women and sexual health, and how her autism was an asset in her advocacy for Britney Spears.
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A Conversation With BJ Courville
Lawyer and #FreeBritney advocate BJ Courville sat down with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan to discuss the legality of conservatorships, women's rights and sexual health. She also discussed her autism and how it was an asset in her advocacy to free Britney Spears from the conservatorship imposed on her. (Courville was not a member of Spears' legal team; her advocacy was essential but took place in an unofficial capacity.)
In this informative interview, Courville outlines what a conservatorship is, why the forced arrangement is harmful and what alternatives exist to support people with potential mental health struggles. Ultimately, Courville suggests, conservatorships are a violation of human rights and should not be implemented for anyone outside of a small subsection of the population: people who have severe dementia or are in a coma.
Additionally, Courville discusses the harmful overlap between discrimination against women and trying to control their sexual health. She highlights how women are often dismissed as "crazy," prompting others to hijack their autonomy. This especially plays out in the sexual health sphere: Women are not taken seriously with regard to their own bodies. While this occurs every day in small and big ways, Courville says this is seen at the extreme with the non-consensual implantation of an IUD into Spears' uterus—and the subsequent refusal to remove it.
Courville also reveals in this interview that she is on the autism spectrum. This diagnosis, she believes, has been crucial to her impact in the #FreeBritney movement. She says her neurodivergent brain allows her to hyperfocus on court documents for hours at a time, affording her the ability to become a better, more informed advocate for Spears.
I'm your host, Marisa Sullivan, and I'm here with lawyer and #FreeBritney movement advocate BJ Courville.
So how does this feel? This amazing news for Britney Spears, and for the movement #FreeBritney, and everything you've been working for?
Well, this was my first time being part of a global, socio-political movement, so I'm very excited that what we set out to do, we did. The name of the movement is #FreeBritney, and we freed Britney. She is free. The important thing is that Britney has full restoration of what never should have been taken from her, which is her human and constitutional rights.
Britney, as most of the world knows, has been under a conservatorship for 13 years of her life, with her father, Jamie Spears, running the show and her family and other controllers. So that's what we're here to talk about. But before we get into it, I want to know what propelled you to get into it.
How I got into the #FreeBritney space was that one day I saw this video—that I would’ve at the time described as a conspiracy theory video—saying "Britney Spears has no rights and she can't get in her car," and all of this stuff that just seemed impossible. It's Britney Spears.
I realized there was no one in the movement who was actually explaining the court documents. There were a lot of people on Instagram talking about yellow shirts and blink two times and a lot of other stuff.
Symbolism within her Instagram posts.
I'm not even dismissing that. But that's not my area of expertise. As I started reading these documents, more and more and more documents were actually being filed in the case, faster and faster.
And you were explaining all of this to the public, correct?
I started first on TikTok, and then I realized I needed a longer form than 60 seconds, so I went to Instagram. I started doing all these live streams on Instagram, just reading documents, doing investigations, finding different leads and clues. That's kind of where I fell into the movement.
I looked up actual court filings from Britney's conservatorship from February 2008, and one of the very first things I noticed was her family and lawyers lied to the court and said Britney, at 26 years old, had dementia. And this could happen to anyone! There wasn't even a doctor’s report that said that.
And they knew what they were doing because of what you're explaining.
That's correct. She perhaps did have a bit of mental health troubles, maybe. It's speculated that it was postpartum. I'm not a doctor, so I don't want to get into too much speculation, but Britney Spears never met the criteria of a conservatorship.
We hear the word conservatorship all over the place. It's all over the news, especially right now. What is the definition of conservatorship?
Essentially it is a re-assignment of certain rights from one human to another. And the reason that it started is to really protect people whenever they get into a vulnerable situation and they cannot take care of themselves. The most obvious examples of this would be someone who has dementia or someone who is in a coma.
As you can see, some states have applied the threshold a little loosely and put people into conservatorships who probably never should have been put into conservatorships. This isn't just Britney. These are older people, vulnerable people, people you've never heard of who are going to die alone and afraid—without their family around them—unless we all start to wake up to the fact that this is going on in every single state.
Conservatorship is supposed to be used as a last resort. So if the system were functioning how it purports to be functioning, then people would have had to come into the court and say, "These are all of the things that we've already tried," and one such thing could be something called "supported decision-making." That is something that many states do implement instead of conservatorships, which is legally taking away someone's rights. It's saying, "You are not good enough for your own human rights and your own constitutional rights. Give them to me, 'cause I know better than you."
Let's not fail to mention, they had an IUD inserted in her—an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy. She's not allowed to have kids, she's not allowed to marry, she's not even allowed to drive a car.
If you were being controlled—told you couldn't have kids and your money was taken away—and you are literally feeling like an imprisoned slave in your own home, you'd feel pretty imbalanced yourself.
Everything you just said, I completely agree with. Then add on top of that, when Britney did not cooperate with the people who were trying to control her, they intentionally psychologically manipulated her through the use of prescription drugs and with the help of doctors.
She said lithium, correct?
I've had friends that became suicidal from taking certain drugs that maybe they shouldn't have been on in the first place.
Yes. She said they determined that "I was being uncooperative or I wasn't cooperating in rehearsal" because she refused to do one dance move.
First of all, they immediately took her off all the medication she had been on for five years and the next day put her on lithium. So, anyone who has taken literally any medication every single day for five years and stops cold turkey, that alone has a really serious effect. Your entire body goes into shock and sometimes withdrawal.
The side effects are the same as when you needed it in the first place.
And they did it at the same time: They took her off all her medications that she was on, and then they put her on lithium, which has horrendous side effects.
It is also supposed to be—from what I've read on the internet—a medication of last resort. You don't go immediately to lithium. You go to lithium after other things don't work.
So overall, what lessons have you learned from going through this? For women’s rights, sexual health rights. This is historical. This is going to be talked about for years and years and years.
A big lesson I've learned from this case is that there's such a large intersection—I imagine it as a Venn diagram—with such a huge overlap with women's sexual health and women's mental health.
I noticed, even in my advocacy for Britney, that mental health is weaponized against me. "She's just crazy, look at the faces she makes. She's too loud." It's very easy for society to dismiss women whenever we're advocating for ourselves or for each other.
That extends very naturally into sexual health because it is unacceptable that anybody in 2021 thought they could bring Britney Spears to a doctor, put an IUD in her body, and then nobody wanted to take it out. It's absolutely unacceptable. But in that little group of people, someone had to bring that idea up. Somebody else had to agree. A doctor, nurses, people had to all come and get involved. The reason they were all comfortable doing that is either that they are corrupt and horrible people—which I think is too easy of an answer—or, most likely, they were convinced that she had a mental health problem that made it acceptable to take away her bodily autonomy. That is not acceptable.
What has this movement brought into the spotlight as far as women's health and women's rights? What are we going to learn from this?
I think something we should learn from this is that even though we don't have the same type of asylums and things like we used to in the 1800s—the yellow wallpaper type of situations—we still have a terrible, terrible pattern, in at least our country, of people attempting to control women and control what we say, what we do, our bodies, our choices, our clothing, our words, everything. It all kind of comes down to control.
I think something we should all learn—I try to remind myself of this lesson—is that we don't actually have a right to control other people. We don't have a right to tell other people what to do.
She compared her situation to sex trafficking. She said all of this was going on and a couple of times she may have used a curse word. There were all these media stories about how she needs to be professional in the courtroom to be taken seriously. I'm like, "Hold on!" This woman just told you that she was sex trafficked, essentially—that she was abused. She has an IUD in her body that she can't get out. That is very invasive.
They're trying to delegitimize her.
When I was practicing law, I felt that. Where it was like, "Why are you wearing that and why are you saying that and why are you doing that?" I'm autistic, so a lot of these little rules, I need to be told directly. "If you sign your email with 'best,' that's unprofessional." Come on, that's just too much.
Thank you for sharing that you are autistic.
I would never have been able to do what I have done for Britney. I would never have been able to make the connections. I would never have been able to hyperfocus on this case for hundreds, thousands of hours over the course of the last year or two if it weren't for the fact that my brain is just wired a little differently.
You've just got to keep going. You've got to encourage your kids and your loved ones who may be on the spectrum to keep going and keep being themselves and not apologize for it and not feel bad for it. One day, you're going to do the exact thing that you were meant to do and that you want to do. You just have to keep going. You can't let these people get you down. You can't let people who want to control you get you down.
And that's what Miss Britney Spears is doing!
Thank you so much for sharing. I think sharing about your personal life enhances everything you're saying so much more. Thank you for sharing about your work with the #FreeBritney movement. Any final thoughts about our girl Britney Spears?
Oh, man, I'm just so proud of her for sticking through all this stuff when so many of us would have given up and not continued the fight. It worked out. It worked out for her. She got her message out, and there's an entire army of people across the globe fighting for her freedom and her rights now.