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Reproductive justice must be reframed

Samaria Johnson

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Reproductive justice is firmly set in the women’s issues camp, which is understandable but also incomplete. It’s an issue that affects women, yes, but it’s not a women’s issue. When we talk about reproductive justice as it relates to the LGBTQ+ community, it’s usually about adoption and fertility treatments. While that’s definitely relevant, it’s not nearly the whole story.

We must move beyond a narrative that privileges cisgender gay people. Yes, there is a level of privilege there that benefits cisgender gay persons at the expense of the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, because that is the group least uncomfortable for a heteronormative society to live with. There is a world beyond the gender and sexual binary. Man/woman and gay/straight are incredibly inadequate ways of understanding each other.

Language is important. We don’t have to say “pregnant women,” because it’s very easy to acknowledge that not everyone who is able to carry a pregnancy identifies as a woman. We can move beyond referring to mothers, because not everyone who gives birth and parents a child is a mother.

It’d be simple to replace “women need access to birth control” and “women deserve the right to have an abortion without unnecessary interference” with “people with uteruses” or “people capable of pregnancy.”

It’s a subtle shift but one that conveys respect and welcomes inclusivity. Not everyone’s gender “matches up,” to put it crudely but simply, with the sex they were assigned at birth, and so it naturally follows that queer relationships between different-sex people exist.

The LGBTQ+ community is a Technicolor world: Assume nothing about anyone. To assume that the only LGBTQ+ people interested in having children are gay and cisgender or that the only people who are capable of having children are straight and cisgender, we are erasing the experiences of a wealth of people who fit into neither one of those categories, and we also perpetuate a transphobic, cissexist, heteronormative society even as we believe and work as if we were progressive.

The reproductive justice and LGBTQ+ communities are not mutually exclusive. Both lose out on critical information and allies when we act as if they are.

What are the particular contraceptive needs of queer women who sleep with cisgender men? How can we eliminate abuse of transmen by staff at the abortion clinic? How can the feminist and LGBTQ+ communities acknowledge and talk about pregnant LGBTQ+ persons or LGBTQ+ parents – are they included in any incarnations of the Equal Pay Act or appropriately covered by Medicaid or receiving parental leave after the birth of a child?

If the answer to questions like these is “no,” that is absolutely unacceptable. We can and must do better.

Visibility is an excellent place to start, coupled with the LGBTQ+ community having the space and platform to speak on its own terms. On campus, Spectrum’s subgroup Queer/Trans People of Color and the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice will host SPARK Reproductive Justice, a social organization dedicated to the reproductive health needs of women and queer people of color living in the South, this weekend for an on-campus workshop. Groups like these and others have made efforts to promote inclusivity and spotlight intersectionality, because multidimensional people have multidimensional experiences.

It’s important that sympathetic people and allies do not hijack these spaces, speak over or for people whose marginalized identities they do not share, derail dialogue or otherwise direct attention away from the people they claim to help.

Reproductive justice exists far beyond the traditional narratives about birth control and abortion. For LGBTQ+ persons, the stakes are extremely high. Both the feminist and queer communities have a responsibility to make reproductive health care and other issues a priority for the emotional, physical and psychological well-being of those the issue affects.

Samaria Johnson is a senior majoring in history. She is the president of the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice. Her column runs biweekly.

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Reproductive justice must be reframed