RJ and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Part 2

The following are the second part of condensed remarks given by Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow Laura Nixon on October 6, 2012 at William & Mary School of Law’s Reproductive Justice Symposium, sponsored by their Initiative on Gender, Sexuality, and the Law. Read the first part here.

Now, I want to turn to addressing some specific barriers to reproductive justice for transgender people. I want to ground this conversation in the reality that transgender people have sexual partners who are men or women  – and that when we make blanket assumptions about sexual behavior based on gender identity and sexual orientation, we may miss reproductive health issues that are important to members of our community.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has created an excellent fact sheet showing us some of the important reproductive healthcare issues for transgender people. Foremost of these issues is how often transgender people are denied healthcare by providers outright – in national surveys, somewhere between 19 to 27 percent of transgender people report having this experience.  Related to refusal of care, is how often transgender people must educate their healthcare providers about appropriate clinical care and the paucity of adequate information about sexual health available to transgender people.  With regard to reproductive health, many transgender men who have sex with men report being more concerned about unintended pregnancy than sexually transmitted infections, even as they may be at high risk for both.  Additionally, requirements that people undergo sex reassignment surgery before being allowed to change the gender marker on their identity documents (such as driver’s licenses or birth certificates) essentially requires that they be sterilized in order to obtain these correct documents – which should be a profound concern for LGBT and reproductive justice advocates.

With respect to the experiences of transgender people, an important question to ask is: are our language choices in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements drawing people in or are we pushing people out? In terms of reproductive health care, Dean Spade, a trans legal scholar and activist has proposed some ideas about how anyone working in the health field can change the language they use, so that transgender people know that their needs are being considered, met, and welcomed. In terms of reproductive rights and justice movement-building, we have heard a lot about the “war on women” over the past year, given the number of unprecedented legislative attacks on reproductive freedom.  Sometimes in these discussions, we may have heard people say something to the effect of “Only people with vaginas should be deciding these issues!”  This is a tongue-in-cheek way to demand that people who are most affected by these attacks on reproductive freedom be heard on these issues, and be the decision-makers in their own reproductive lives.  However, it’s worth thinking a little more deeply about how those statements may box out transgender people from the movement and communicate that they don’t have a voice in these issues because people who are women may or may not have vaginas.  In the same way the Dean Spade has suggested that we shift our language about reproductive anatomy in the healthcare setting, we must think about our language choices in reproductive rights and justice movement-building so that our work truly reflects the needs and experiences of all members of our community.

I hope the information and research that I have shared today shows us why harmful restrictions on contraception and abortion care affect LGBT people and how we can build healthcare systems and movements that are really responsive to the reality of LGBT peoples’ sexual and reproductive experiences.  Our LGBT rights and reproductive health, rights, and justice movements have strong  – not just theoretical – connections.  Let’s continue to work together to build a better world!