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    Before 'Free Britney' Jenny Hatch Was Fighting for Guardianship Reform

    Before Britney Spears’ famous case for freedom, there was a 29-year-old woman named Jenny Hatch in Virginia. “I just need a little help.” That’s what Jenny Hatch told her lawyer Jonathan Martinis when she was fighting for her right to be free of guardianship. Jenny was in a dire situation forced to live in a group home in another city after she had a bicycle accident. Her phone, computer, right to go to her church, ability to go to her job, and ability to make her own choices in life were taken away. Her life as she knew it was taken away. Why? Because her parents had guardianship. Why? Because Jenny Hatch has Down syndrome. Jenny is a smart, resourceful young woman. She had a job at a local thrift store and had become close with the owners of that store. She was riding her bike to work when the accident happened. When the life that she knew and loved was taken away instantly, and she had to move to another city, Norfolk, she started running away. And she reached out desperately for help. Fortunately, her boss and lawyer Jonathan Martinis stepped in to help. Jenny’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2013. Jenny’s simple statement saying she just needed a little help is one each one of us lives by. We need help with our taxes, plumbing, certain work around the house, legal situations, etc. Who doesn’t need help at one time or another? Jenny’s determination and drive, her brilliant lawyer, and the love of her close friends combined with true justice for a critical win that has and will help countless others behind her. Jenny Hatch was allowed to be her own guardian, or whatever arrangement she chose, after a one-year period. Along with her newfound freedom, Jenny chose her new family: Kelly Morris, Jim Talbert, and their family. Kelly is Jenny’s boss at the thrift store. There is far more to this happy ending. Here are just some of the ways that Jenny Hatch’s case has reverberated, for the good. 1) The Jenny Hatch Justice Project was formed and is now helping others. It is “dedicated to advancing people with disabilities’ right to make their own choices and determine their own path and direction in life.” 2) Supported decision-making is now being discussed with parents more and more across the country, as their loved ones turn 18. Supported decision-making is now a popular alternative to guardianship and conservatorship in the U.S. This is the process Jenny and her lawyer advocated for in her case, the way she would get the help she needed. With supported decision-making, people with disabilities choose who they want to help them in their Circle of Support. This circle can be fluid, and is headed by the person with a disability. 3) According to the Washington Post, “Twelve states and D.C. have put in place laws recognizing supported decision-making as a preferred alternative to guardianship.” 4) People and courts are realizing that this concept of freedom and supported decision-making applies to more than people with intellectual disabilities. It can help senior citizens, people with mental illness, people with physical illnesses, and more. 5) We now have some data to show the impacts of supported decision-making. The Arc of Northern Virginia did a pilot project studying 10 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families/caregivers. They were very positive when asked about making their own decisions and working with the project. This is just the beginning of what many hope to see, more data from increased use of supported decision making, and less use of guardianship. I saw this data presented at an Arc meeting, and as a parent of a child with Down syndrome/autism, I found it very refreshing and encouraging. 6) Jenny’s lawyer, Jonathan Martinis wrote a book with Peter Blanck called, “Supported Decision-Making: From Justice for Jenny to Justice for All.” This book is readily available and is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to know more. The legal world knows about Jenny Hatch’s case. That is a fact. That simple fact is spreading awareness behind the scenes. Behind the “news.” Behind the social media platforms/audiences of a superstar like Britney Spears. A solid, well-respected Supreme Court victory, a slow but steady rippling effect of supported decision making over guardianship, combined with an impactful Netflix documentary and Britney Spears’ personal win of freedom are huge advancements for countless others in the future. Not one, not two, but now multiple precedents have been set. This is now a huge part of disability history. A huge step forward. Everyone knows about the Britney Spears case. Now tell them about Jenny Hatch.

    Heidi Fischer

    Britney Is Free. Now Let's Free Others From Abusive Guardianships

    The year was 1998, I was 15, and I used crying as a way to manipulate my parents into letting me go to a Backstreet Boys concert. It was a great concert, by the way. So I get it, we are happy for Britney Spears. Britney is free! Y2K pop fans, rejoice! And while I may be coming off as a bit flippant, the truth of the matter is — this is indeed a human rights win. Yes, we can be happy for Britney! Her conservatorship, at least according to what I’ve read, took away her autonomy.  She was deprived of her right to self-governance of both her personal and financial choices. What we didn’t know, until recently, was just how much she wanted out of all this. She had been trying for nearly a decade. Now the courts agree, and she has been released from the unwanted arrangement. #FreedBritney   View this post on Instagram  A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears) Now, who is going to be next? I propose we need to dig deeper, because there are huge populations who don’t have a hashtag, and they should. Millions of people all over the world are living under formal conservatorships. In some settings, this can also be referred to as guardianship, which is often used interchangeably, but may have distinctions. According to the National Council on Disability, an estimated 1.3 million people were under guardianship in the USA as of 2018. In Canada, where I’m located, there do not appear to be national statistics, and the same can be said for other regions. There is often a huge lack of oversight and regulation of this sort of thing, which also varies from place to place. Commonly folks under a conservatorship will fall within certain demographics. Individuals who have mental illness, physical or mental disability, and the elderly make up the lion’s share of the statistics. These individuals don’t even have the right to contest their guardianships and are vulnerable to financial and other forms of abuse. People with health conditions who might need support may also be under something like an informal conservatorship. This is a form of coercive control that is purposefully or mistakenly asserted by family, friends, a workplace, or even in medical settings. In my opinion, it’s under this “informal umbrella” where there can be a very insidious type of control. A type of control that comes with real strings attached. Within social support programs, getting help can coincide with a loss of autonomy, maybe not in all aspects of one’s life, but certainly in some. These are the types of things I’ve noticed: Need free therapy? OK, this program will accept you, but if you miss one or two sessions, you’re out. Also, you can’t choose who you see or for how long. Really, you have no choices. Need help with groceries?  OK, you can get these exact items and nothing else. Don’t like this type of food? Too bad for you. Not able to make it to your yearly program review, no matter the reason? You lose benefits. More than 10 minutes late? You’re out. Fill out these numerous forms to get what you need. You have multiple barriers, including reading and writing comprehension? Not our problem. Need housing? This one place is your choice, take it or leave it. It doesn’t matter if it removes you from your community supports, or if you feel safe. Want to buy something frivolous, in the exact same way the majority of people do on a daily basis? No, that’s a “waste” of money. Want to save money or get a part-time job? You lose your services. I could write a list a mile long about these forms of control and how they hold people with disabilities back in life. To be clear, there can no doubt be both good and bad conservatorships or similar arrangements. Of course, there will be some people who request this type of help, or who are happy and thriving within the agreement. That’s more than OK.  The key though is choice, and recognition that these arrangements can deny people their rights as well as be abusive. It’s also good to know that there are other options! Supported decision-making is one such option that helps folks to maintain their autonomy while also getting person-centered guidance.  This isn’t about taking away sought-after assistance, it’s about respecting human rights. We can be happy for Britney, and it’s OK to recognize that others in similar circumstances do not have people fighting for them. And they should, catchy hashtag or not. Here are some resources to learn more: FAQ About Conservatorships and Guardianships Story about an abusive conservatorship  

    Christa Marie

    Britney Spears' Relatable Fear of Freedom After Abuse and Control

    Britney Spears recently made an Instagram post about her newfound freedom from her 13-year conservatorship, expressing her fear that she would do something wrong now that she finally has a taste of freedom. As I read her words, they resonated with my own story of gaining freedom from an abusive home.   View this post on Instagram  A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears) To explain, as I was turning 18, I was in the hospital and adamant that I would not be returning to my abusive home, but instead that I would be leaving the hospital as an independent adult, free from the abuse for the first time in my life. I was hesitant to share stories of the abuse , however, so I had many who were convinced that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was told I needed to go back home where I belonged, that I’d never make it out there in the “real world.” After all, I didn’t have anything — no high school diploma, no driver’s license, no source of income — none of the things one needs to be able to function independently in our society. I did leave the hospital as an independent adult, however, staying with a few other family members for about a month before moving into my own place, having nothing but my college savings to survive on. Once I moved into my own place, things felt directionless. I was so used to having my every move controlled by someone else; I didn’t know how to do this all on my own. I eventually figured it out, though, getting a job just as I was running out of money, getting my GED so I could apply to college, and figuring out how to use public transportation. Now, it’s four years later and I’m a senior in college with a dual major and a 3.6 GPA, starting applications to Master of Social Work programs . Still, though, when I make a mistake and forget to pay a bill on time or forget a doctor’s appointment, it all comes back. I start to ask myself if maybe everyone else was right — if maybe I can’t do this on my own after all. Those thoughts have become less and less frequent over the years, but every now and then that sense of doubt comes creeping back in. The thing is, though, that I already did it. I already figured it out. I already got what I needed to get on my feet and I’ve managed to not only keep it up, but to do what I needed to go after my goals too. I might have started with nothing, but now I have everything I ever needed — most significantly, freedom, and peace. So yes, of course Britney is feeling some doubt and anxiety — she’s spent the past 13 years having her every move controlled, and to go from that to full freedom is quite the shock. She isn’t starting with nothing, though. She’s been on her own before and she can do it again; it’s just going to take her some time to figure things out.

    Dani Birzer

    James Spears Steps Down From Britney Conservatorship

    On Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, James Spears announced that he was stepping down from Britney Spears’ financial conservatorship during a court filing. But there’s a catch. He won’t be stepping down for a while, especially since there’s no timetable for his removal. The formal filing said, “Mr. Spears continues to serve dutifully, and he should not be suspended or removed, and certainly not based on false allegations. Mr. Spears is willing to step down when the time is right, but the transition needs to be orderly and include a resolution of matters pending before the Court.” #FreeBritney has been a movement for years, particularly after the release of the recent documentary “Framing Britney Spears” in 2021. The celebrity’s two-part conservatorship was put in place in 2008 when she had a public breakdown resulting in her being placed on a “5150 hold” in a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation. Typically conservatorships are granted by the courts to a person who is overseeing the care of an individual who cannot make their own decisions. James stepped down from the first part of her conservatorship (the estate portion), in 2019 where he was replaced by Jodi Montgomery, a healthcare professional, who Britney has requested be made a permanent conservator over her estate. In 2019 and 2020, Britney began to be more and more vocal online and with her lawyers saying that she no longer wants her father to maintain financial control over her and so far refuses to perform on stage until he gives up control. In July, Britney spoke to the court directly for the first time publicly, delivering a passionate, emotional speech. “I want to end this conservatorship without being evaluated… I deserve to have a life,” Spears said. She spoke in court again on July 14, saying that she was ready to “press charges” against her father. “I have to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse,” Spears said. It was at this hearing that a judge told Spears that she could appoint her own lawyer for the first time since 2008. On August 5, Matthew Rosengart, Britney’s hand-picked lawyer, filed a motion with the court to request Judge Brenda Penny to move up Spears’ next court hearing regarding whether or not her father will be removed from her conservatorship. For now, the date has been set for September 29, 2021. Judge Penny denied the request, while James Spears filed the beginning paperwork needed to step down as Britney’s conservator. The next step in her case, at least for now, will be the hearing on Wednesday, September 29, 2021. In the interim, Britney continues to post openly on Instagram, allowing her fans to see her ongoing struggles and journey of mental health and healing.   View this post on Instagram  A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears)

    Community Voices
    Juliette V.

    Britney Spears Reportedly Checks Herself Into Mental Health Facility

    “Pop Princess” Britney Spears reportedly checked herself into a mental health treatment facility about a week ago, TMZ reported. TMZ sources say the star has been “distraught” over her father’s illness. In January, Spears told fans in an Instagram post that she would not be performing in her new Vegas residency show called “Domination” due to her father’s near-death health experience. “I’ve been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart,” she wrote. “However, it’s important to always put your family first… I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time. I hope you all can understand.”   View this post on Instagram  I don’t even know where to start with this, because this is so tough for me to say. I will not be performing my new show Domination. I’ve been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart. However, it’s important to always put your family first… and that’s the decision I had to make. A couple of months ago, my father was hospitalized and almost died. We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him. I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time. I hope you all can understand. More information on ticket refunds is available on britneyspears.com. I appreciate your prayers and support for my family during this time. Thank you, and love you all… always.A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears) on Jan 4, 2019 at 9:01am PST On Wednesday, the “Gimme More” singer posted a self-care image on Instagram with the caption, “We all need to take time for a little ‘me time.’ :)”   View this post on Instagram  We all need to take time for a little “me time.” ????A post shared by Britney Spears (@britneyspears) on Apr 3, 2019 at 12:30pm PDT This isn’t the first time Spears has been in the news regarding mental health concerns. During her highly-publicized mental health crisis in 2007, Spears was photographed shaving her head and later striking a paparazzo’s car repeatedly with an umbrella. Spears addressed these incidents in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, saying, “I think I had to give myself more breaks through my career and take responsibility for my mental health.” She also said she felt “lost” during this time of her life. I was lost and didn’t know what to do with myself. I was trying to please everyone around me because that’s who I am deep inside. There are moments where I look back and think, “What the hell was I thinking?” Fans took to Twitter to show their support for the singer after hearing news of her recent admission to the treatment center. All I know for sure right now is that I’m sending all my love to @britneyspears.— Bradley Stern (@MuuMuse) April 3, 2019 Take all the time you need, @britneyspears. Millions of us are rooting for you, always. ❤️— T. Kyle ????️‍???? (@tkylemac) April 3, 2019 i will fight anyone that makes jokes about mental health and britney spears.— ????alim kheraj (@alimkheraj) April 3, 2019 If this news is hard for you, there is help available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

    Veronica Lombo

    Letter to Katy Perry About Her Grammys 2017 Mental Health Joke

    Dear Katy Perry,Mental health is not a joke. And someone’s breakdown isn’t something to laugh about. Your not one, but two displays of immaturity during the red carpet were in poor taste. Katy Perry shaded Britney Spears about her public meltdown, in two different interviews on the #GRAMMYs red carpet. pic.twitter.com/bfTx7biiZh— Pop Crave (@PopCravings) February 13, 2017 As someone who openly struggles with depression, and who has been hospitalized on a 5150, like Britney, I find that your comedic answers to the interview questions, saying you were moments away from shaving your head and having a “public meltdown,” are the reason there is a stigma around mental illness in the first place.I’m not sure what caused you to direct attention away from taking about your own mental health onto someone else. As a celebrity, I trust you know how much power your words hold in creating change… or upholding stereotypes. I trust you know how hurtful words can be.Next time you’re presented with the opportunity to talk about your mental health, I invite you to answer authentically. Our society is overloaded with sugar coated answers and distractions, and is in desperate need of truth. Next time, please use your words to spread love.Sincerely, Veronica Lombo We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .