Trans Sex Workers and Reproductive Justice

Candace Gibson, Resident Blogger (’12, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law)

The reproductive justice and LGBTQ liberation movements share the values of bodily autonomy and sexual liberation and believe that all persons should have the resources they need to form the families they want.  However, many of these desires, including bodily autonomy, are often denied to trans persons, especially trans sex workers, many of whom are trans women of color. At a recent conference that I attended, Cyndee Clay, Executive Director of HIPS, painfully articulated the experiences of trans sex workers and their attempts to survive in our economy.  She had mentioned how trans sex workers not only faced violence from their clients but also from the police as they were arrested, how police officers often sexually harassed these individuals. In 2013, a D.C. police officer shot three transgender women in a car after one of the transwomen refused to provide sex for money.  Clay also discussed how often young trans persons were forced onto the streets because their families rejected who they were and that trans persons are excluded and erased from larger conversations on anti-trafficking efforts, unfortunately nothing new to many of us in different movements.

Clay’s comments remind me that we still live in a society hung up with gender, body parts, and the selling of sex.  Unfortunately, through our regulation and, in this case, criminalization of sexual desire for sale, we often harm and kill the most vulnerable without providing critical solutions and resources for those who are merely trying to survive.  Survival should not be the standard for some-we should all have the resources we need to thrive as persons and as members of our community.

Maybe, it’s time for the broader reproductive justice community to center the voices of sex workers, especially trans sex workers, in our conversations.  It may be hard at first but we have never shied away from a challenge.  

Parentage Laws and Reproductive Justice

S J Chapman, Resident Blogger, (’12, Northwestern University Law School)

Gay marriage is an issue in which LGBTQ justice and reproductive justice go hand-in-hand. Illinois provides a concrete example.  Illinois’ landmark gay marriage law goes into effect this June. But its parentage law is lagging behind and unless it’s changed, it will impede reproductive justice for same-sex spouses.

Like most states, Illinois has a “presumed father” law, under which a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the husband’s legal child, even if it’s not biologically his. The legal parent-child relationship has important consequences in areas like guardianship and inheritance. If one spouse dies, the other spouse has automatic guardianship over a legal child. Or, if a spouse dies intestate, half their property goes to their spouse and half to their legal children.

Take, for example, a different-sex married Illinois couple — we’ll call them Bob and Heather — whose child was conceived through an alternative reproductive therapy, and where biologically, Bob isn’t the father.  Bob is, however, the legal parent when the child is born.  If anything happens to Heather, Bob will have automatic guardianship of their child. Furthermore, their child stands to inherit half Bob’s property if he dies.

But what if Heather were instead married to Rachel when she conceived the child?  Now Heather’s spouse, Rachel, is not considered the legal parent.  Instead, Rachel must go through the adoption process to gain the parental rights that were automatically Bob’s. Until Illinois revises the law from “presumed father” to “presumed parent,” it is discriminating against same-sex couples like Heather and Rachel.

In general, the government should stay out of private parties’ decisions about family formation. Where the government does have a say, reproductive justice demands that laws not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. As the states pass gay marriage laws, they need to pay attention to their parentage laws to ensure both reproductive and LGBTQ justice.

Every Child Deserves a Family—Respect the Right to Parent

This article was originally published by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Lauren Paulk is the Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

November is National Adoption Month, and there are currently more LGBT parents waiting to adopt than there are children in the foster system. Unfortunately, some LGBT couples are denied the right to parent—and children are denied a home—because of discriminatory state policies governing same-sex adoption, and policies that allow adoption agencies to give preference to different-sex couples. Anti-LGBT bias and discrimination in the courts further leads to LGBT parents being denied custody of the children they already have, or being forced to make the devestating and untenable choice between retaining custody and coming out.

Right now, as many as 6 million children in the United States have an LGBT parent. LGBT families are geographically, racially, and ethnically diverse, and can be found in every community across the country. They are more likely to be binational, which often raises an additional set of challenges. Research tells us that children raised by LGBT parents fare equally well as children raised by non-LGBT parents. However, only 19 states and D.C. permit same-sex couples to jointly adopt, and only13 states allow second-parent adoptions. The remaining states create legal quagmires for families that mean children are left unprotected by the law when a parent separates from their partner or when one parent dies. These laws also discriminate against LGBT families who want to adopt, leaving them with no recourse to do so in their home state.

Youth in the foster system are overwhelmingly youth of color, and 23,500 “aged out” of the foster system last year—meaning they turned 18 without ever being adopted. Statistics show that these youth are at a higher risk of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and early parenthood. There are youth out there dreaming of a family, and couples dreaming of becoming parents, and yet these dreams may be unfulfilled depending on which state they call home.

Reproductive justice, as defined by one of NCLR’s partners SisterSong, is “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments.” These discriminatory adoption policies deny reproductive justice to LGBT people, and perpetuate stigmas against LGBT parents that have been proven to be false. These policies are not in the best interests of children, which is not only the governing standard in court decisions respecting youth under 18, but is also a recognized International Human Right.

At the federal level, our congressional allies recognize the fact that due to this patchwork of discriminatory adoption and foster care policies, children in some states are denied a home and family. The Every Child Deserves A Family Act would restrict federal funding to states that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity within their foster care and adoption policies, thus encouraging states to make decisions in the best interests of the child regarding children in foster care. Currently, the Act has 83 cosponsors in the House and 11 cosponsors in the Senate. These members of Congress know that the United States can do better for our nation’s children, and for LGBT families.

That is why this year, the Family Equality Council is sponsoring the Allies for Adoption campaign–to mobilize all LGBT people and their allies around ending discrimination in laws that govern who has the right to parent.

Whose Kid is it Anyway? Or: Should Sperm Donors have Parental Rights?

Courtney Fraser, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, University of California, Berkeley Law School)

California is considering redefining sperm donors’ legal rights in the wake of Jason Patric’s custody battle with his ex-girlfriend over a child they supposedly agreed would have no relationship with Patric once born. Now, however, Patric claims to have a “loving” relationship with the child and is demanding protection from what he sees as the mother’s unilateral power to decide whether he – stipulated a mere sperm donor – should have any legal ties to her son. If the child had been conceived without the utilization of assisted reproductive technology, the landscape would be different – Patric would be presumed the “natural father” of a child that he received into his home and held out as his own, or over whom he and the child’s mother voluntarily declared his paternity. Either of these scenarios would come with the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. Because Patric’s child was conceived via in vitro fertilization, however, this sperm donor has found himself – I’m so, so sorry – in a sticky situation.

Sperm donors, whether making deposits at a bank or for in vitro use with women to whom they are not married, are presumed not to be the natural fathers of any resulting children – absent a specific agreement to the contrary. The reasons for this are clear enough. After all, isn’t the whole point of going to a sperm bank (or one of the points, at least) to ensure that a woman can take her reproductive destiny into her own hands, free from interference by any man who might want a say in the matter? Even when the donor is not anonymous – if you’ve visited a trusted friend rather than the teller window, so to speak – there is no automatic basis for parental rights arising out of the transaction. This preserves the integrity of a system designed to create the possibility of fatherless children – but why would anyone want that?

One reason has already been touched upon: women’s reproductive autonomy. Another obvious point is the protection of the donors themselves – how many men would volunteer their genetic material (in a situation where they were planning not to assume parenting roles) if they knew they would end up responsible for child support later on? The threat that a presumption of sperm donors’ parental rights would pose to both of these groups is clear. Luckily, that’s not quite what’s being proposed in SB 115 – what Patric (and the legislator responsible for the bill) wants is the opportunity to win a declaration of parental rights through a showing that he has actually sustained a parent-child relationship following the child’s birth. This, interestingly, would protect biological fathers from unwanted interference in their reproductive lives – leaving mothers who use donor sperm totally vulnerable. Even though not just any man could succeed on the claim that he had formed a parental relationship with the child, thereby affording mothers theoretical protection from unexpected bids for paternity, a woman who maintains a relationship with the donor – or allows her child to cultivate one – could find herself hauled into court.

Another group on whom the proposed policy could have an intrusive effect is same-sex parents. After all, second-parent adoption only works if there is, in fact, not already a second parent in the mix. Would the rights of a sperm donor supersede those of the mother’s committed partner? Should they? A different possibility altogether – one that it would probably be too optimistic to realistically hope for – is that a law like this could open the door for more than two parents to claim legal rights over a child: a mother, a sperm donor, and the m0ther’s partner. Although the law has historically not been friendly to polyamorous relationships, Senator Hill claims that his bill is about acknowledging the “modern family” and how different it looks today from what the old laws anticipated. California does tend to be at the vanguard of progressive social change, but given what seem to be the more likely implications of SB 115, I’m suspicious. The question that remains to be answered is this: could parental rights for sperm donors represent an exciting step toward embracing all configurations of families after all – or will it turn out to be a Trojan horse full of men’s rights activists?

If the latter proves true, all I can say is I’ll be switching to Durex whenever I need to prevent an unwanted custody battle.

There’s no “I” in LGBT: How Reproductive Justice can (and must) end intersex invisibility

Courtney Fraser, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, University of California, Berkeley Law School)

So, summer’s almost over, which means the time to go back to law school is drawing nigh – and no one’s really excited about that, right? Well, I am. Let me tell you why. I have this awesome field placement lined up with Advocates for Informed Choice, an (read: THE) organization working for the rights of intersex people. This fall, I’m going to be knee-deep in AIC’s groundbreaking litigation on behalf of a child (identified as M.C.) who suffered unnecessary genital surgery, and I absolutely cannot wait. When I told my new gentleman friend about the case I will have the privilege of working on, he was shocked. That happens? All the time. To how many people? As many as 1 percent of live births are intersex, and 0.1 or 0.2 percent become victims of “normalizing” surgical mutilation.

So why aren’t more people outraged? Why do so few people even know about this?

I’ve heard the explanation that intersexuality is a niche issue. It’s not. That’s bull. Not only are intersex issues (a) clearly important in their own right and (b) closely tied to queer and trans* causes, but (c) this is also a reproductive justice issue, which means that if you are a woman – if you are a person – you are obligated to care about this.

The real reason that most people are unfamiliar with intersex issues is, itself, part of the problem: the standard of care for intersex infants still usually follows the concealment model, which involves doctors misleading patients and their parents, gaining misinformed consent or none at all, and conducting genital surgeries that are medically unnecessary and unfathomably harmful – these surgeries can leave patients with little or no sexual function, in chronic pain, and sterile.

Bodily autonomy, personal choice, and identity determination are of course central to the reproductive justice movement, but we don’t even have to look that far for the connection. Intersex people are literally having their reproductive capacities destroyed without their consent because of who they are. This is no less an RJ issue than the illegal sterilization of incarcerated women in California, which garnered extensive attention earlier this month. That story involved about 250 women. 4 million babies are born in the U.S. annually, give or take, which means that between four and eight thousand intersex infants are being sterilized every year.

A tenth of a percent sounds much, much bigger when you put it that way.

So, what can we do? Let’s draw a parallel to another reproductive justice issue – abortion access. To (perhaps grossly) oversimplify, cultural barriers to addressing this problem work on two levels. The first is visibility. People don’t know how many women are obtaining or needing abortions – or their reasons for it – or that some of these women are most likely people in their lives. As with intersex stories, abortion narratives that put a face on injustice are not often shared, because of socially-imposed shame or a personal desire for privacy or something that looks like the product of both – and when they are shared, prong two kicks in. Even when invisibility is surmountable, people still cling to the idea that this injustice is justified – that women who need abortions still shouldn’t have them, because of fetal personhood, or puritanical mores, or whatever. With intersex surgeries, people who know they go on – including the doctors who perform them – convince themselves they are the treatment necessary to stop children from growing up “confused” or “deformed” or ashamed of their bodies. What needs to be realized – as Anne Tamar-Mattis, Executive Director of AIC, points out – is that surgery “sometimes causes the problems it purports to solve.” Non-consensual and unnecessary genital surgery seems like a far more likely root of confusion and shame than the alternative – postponing medical intervention until a child can make his or her own informed and empowered decision.

AIC’s current lawsuit addresses both prongs of the problem. As the first case of its kind, it has already been reported on by over 130 blogs and news sources, raising the profile of intersex issues in the public consciousness – and with visibility boosted, channels will be open to receive the message that what is happening to children like M.C. is in no way justified – medically, culturally, or otherwise.

To learn more about why intersex rights are of concern to the reproductive justice movement, see LSRJ’s fact sheet at http://lsrj.org/documents/factsheets/13_Intersex.pdf.

Scalia, Semiotics, and Same-Sex Marriage

Courtney Fraser, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, University of California, Berkeley Law School)

The whole internet was an envelope this morning, and I did NOT want to open it. Like seeing the letter from your top-choice college come in with the mail and knowing it is either an acceptance or a rejection, I stared at my laptop in a state of quantum uncertainty. Google Chrome was Schrodinger’s SCOTUS ruling. After stress-drinking two cups of coffee, I braced myself. I double-clicked, scrolled through the headlines, and cried.

The explosion on Facebook was unbelievable. Since I’m my college mates’ resident “law student friend,” I found my name tagged in myriad status updates asking for clarification. Is DOMA dead? What is “standing”? Do we rejoice? I answered to the best of my ability (despite my admittedly tenuous grasp of civil procedure, but, really, whose head doesn’t Article III hurt?) and beamed. Yes. We do rejoice.

While I was hoping for a broader ruling in Hollingsworth, the fact is that today Californians can get married, while yesterday, many of them couldn’t. (Well, according to this guy, they could.) Plus, given that we got Kennedy on our side after all (this is the face I made when I saw that he wrote the Windsor opinion), I feel like the Supreme Court has typed some winking emoticons between the lines of Hollingsworth. Next time everyone has standing, I would be surprised if SCOTUS skirts the seven-state solution. And the victory re: DOMA is spectacular. As activists are quick to remind us, the war is far from over, but this is a battle we’ve won – and the spoils are many. I don’t need to talk about tax benefits for surviving spouses like Edie Windsor, or immigration protections for bi-national couples in queer-friendly states. These things are accepted as real, tangible rights that were being withheld from same-sex couples, and that state of affairs was accepted – five to four – as unacceptable. What I want to draw attention to is the semiotic victory we won in Windsor – because that seems to be what Scalia just can’t get over.

Sorry. I was a Linguistics major in college. “Semiotics” is how we make meaning out of symbols – it’s systems of communication, including language, that teach us to associate a thing with a message. Let’s say the “thing” is marriage – the word, the institution, and every iteration thereof being lived out by lawfully wedded couples. The “message” – until today – was that as far as the federal government was concerned, all of the pomp and circumstance our culture attaches to marriage (not to even mention the bundle of substantive rights) was only for straight people. The message was that queer couples were different, lesser, and excluded. We all knew that there were 1,138 actual rights that non-straight couples did not have – but the differences that were being encoded ceremonially, symbolically, and culturally were far more insidious. Semiotically, bias creeps in without us realizing it. Even people who hold no actively derogatory beliefs about LGBQ people would probably show some implicit discriminatory attitudes on this test (proceed to Sexuality IAT) because we were all inundated with messages of queer inferiority, bombarded by all sorts of things that hinted, stated, or screamed that we are not equal, and that’s just what happens. DOMA was one of those things. With its ruling today, the Supreme Court stopped the transmission of that cultural signal. Oh, there are others, still coming through loud and clear, but with the Constitution on our side, I at least feel vindicated.

Scalia doesn’t want us to have this satisfaction. First, in a fit of denial, he maintains that although the legislation’s purpose to defend traditional marriage is plain from its name, ” to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions.” From his analogy, it’s clear that Scalia at once views same-sex marriage as fundamentally separate (“other constitutions”) from opposite-sex marriage, and holds this view so entrenchedly that he doesn’t even see the problem with his framing. It’s not for want of an education in semiotics, though. He sharply perceives that

 ”[b]y formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition. Henceforth those challengers will lead with this Court’s declaration that there is ‘no legitimate purpose’ served by such a law, and will claim that the traditional definition has ‘the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure’ the ‘personhood and dignity’ of same-sex couples [citations omitted]. The majority’s limiting assurance will be meaningless in the face of language like that, as the majority well knows. That is why the language is there. The result will be a judicial distortion of our society’s debate over marriage—a debate that can seem in need of our clumsy ‘help’ only to a member of this institution.”

So, he sees that Kennedy’s opinion provides a robust toolkit for re-framing the discussion in a way that will make it possible for us to talk about how laws privileging opposite-sex marriage are semiotic instruments of stigma and oppression – he just doesn’t like it.

According to Scalia, it’s not even the Court’s job “to say what the law is.” I – pardon my sass – dissent. By interpreting the law, a court precisely tells us what that law is, or what it isn’t. In that sense, jurisprudence is perhaps the premier tool for promoting social change through semiotics. A law is passed; a  law is interpreted. While these are not “magic” guarantees that behavior will follow, there is something magical about performative language. A declaration that queer marriages stand equal to straight ones in federal eyes – or that a woman can get an abortion – or that a boss cannot grab an employee’s a** and get away with it – tells us that we’re right. That we don’t have to take the harassment, the stigmatization, the denial of rights anymore. Of course, it rarely works out so neatly in practice, but at least we know that we can stand up to our bullies, and Uncle Sam will stand behind us. So, tell me, Scalia  – what part of Windsor is any different than what we were “owed”?

Amid other cheap shots in his scathing dissent, Scalia opines: “It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today’s Court can handle. Too bad.” After decades under the predominant cultural signaling that us queer folks are monsters, it’s frankly nice to see the tides change, and I have just one more thing to say. Scalia, shove it up your argle-bargle.

Vlogging for Reproductive Justice

Mangala Kanayson, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, Emory University School of Law)

On June 14th, fellow summer intern Kaitlin Morrison and I attended the ACCESS Women’s Health Justice fundraiser to support ACCESS’s mission of removing barriers to sexual and reproductive health care. While there, we interviewed attendees to get the pulse of the reproductive justice community. We know that not all reproductive justice activists work directly within reproductive health, rights, or justice organizations, and the fields in which advocates are found can vary. The resulting video blog features repro activists from diverse work backgrounds and their perspectives on current pressing reproductive justice issues.

Take a look at our video here!

I voted for reproductive justice. Will you?

Elisabeth Smith, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Washington School of Law)

Thinking about Tuesday makes me a little nauseous.  We might reelect President Obama or be treated to another “what if” when he hosts Saturday Night Live in 2018. In Washington State, voters will approve or defeat Marriage Equality and legalize or continue to criminalize marijuana. Both Referendum 74 and Initiative 502 are reproductive justice issues that touch RJ’s meta rights (the right to parent; the right not to parent; and the right to parent the child you have with dignity and free from violence or oppression). Wednesday could be an incredible day or a really, really terrible one.  I certainly don’t want to sob my heart out like 2004.

Referendum 74

On Thursday night I attended a Referendum 74 debate between Jeff DeGroot, a 3L and comments editor of the University of Washington Law Review, and Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington.  Jeff was raised in Oregon by two mothers and he made the point over and over again that his parents are like any other parents. In Jeff’s words, Mr. Backholm only offered distractions.  Let me give you a few: marriage equality means (1) parents cannot control their children’s public education; (2) business owners won’t be able to live out their beliefs; and (3) lesbians and gay men in Washington already have all the rights of associated with marriage via domestic partnerships. Jeff’s answers to those assertions were that education decisions are made on a local level with teachers, administrators, and parents; anti-discrimination statutes already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation; and the word marriage means more than domestic partnership ever could.

If it’s possible to qualify some of the things Mr. Backholm said as the worst, here’s what really made my blood boil: “for all 6,000 years of human history, marriage has been a union between one man and one woman;” “without fathers, children cannot survive and thrive and predictably end up in prison;” and “marriage equality will mean that men dressed as women can use women’s restrooms.” I would like to respond.

First, no. Marriage has looked very different at different times and in different places. Second, yes, fathers are important, but parenthood doesn’t require a penis. Heritage Foundation-inspired horror stories about single motherhood ignore the structural barriers that limit women’s pay and access to childcare. Patriarchy, racism, homophobia, and the criminalization of poverty all play their parts. Also, children raised by lesbian parents seem to fare really well. (Right Jeff?) Third, the rights of transgender people in Washington are protected by the state’s anti-discrimination laws: RCW 29.60.040.26.

Mr. Backholm gave us the kitchen sink argument, but the diversity of his distractions gives us a better vantage point from which to consider his opinion. Marriage equality is foremost about equality. Voting yes on Referendum 74 means that traditional parents like Jeff’s can get married, but it also means that gay men and lesbians who don’t look or act like them can also get married. While Mr. Backholm may consider himself to be better than LGBTQ individuals, their marriages would occupy the same societal position. Marriage equality would limit the privileges we afford to heterosexuals, fathers, gender-conforming, and discrimination. For people who have constructed their identities based on such privileges, the idea of equality must be deeply threatening.

Initiative 502

I-502 would allow people 21 and older to legally grow, sell, and buy marijuana. It has been endorsed by Legal Voice and Surge Northwest. Lillian Hewko, a Surge Northwest and an LSRJ board member, wrote about the need for 502, citing the destructive effects of drug laws on women and their children. Who’s using marijuana? In 2011, 7.8% of women 18 and older used marijuana. Who’s arrested and prosecuted for marijuana offenses though?  Predominantly people of color. Legalizing marijuana will halt Washington’s racialized arrests and prosecutions, thereby allowing families to remain intact and protecting women from the dangers of incarceration.

I voted for President Obama and for Referendum 74 and for Initiative 502. I’m hoping that on Tuesday Washington State announces to the world that equality trumps privilege.

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!

RJ and the National Center for Lesbian Rights

The following is part one 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. Stay tuned for part two tomorrow!

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been concerned about issues of reproductive health and rights since our founding – and we are grateful to the reproductive justice movement for developing new frameworks to think about issues at the intersection of reproduction and sexuality.  Reproductive justice is the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent the children we have. In fact, the right to have children and to parent the children formed the basis of the founding of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. We were founded in 1977 because many lesbian mothers were losing custody of their children because of their sexual orientation.  Seeing this desperate need, Donna Hitchens – a law student like many of you here today — decided to start the Lesbian Rights Project which eventually grew into the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

My presentation today will touch on the right to have children and to parent the children we have.  I will directly address the right not have children, and why issues of access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion care have a big impact on the LGBT communityissues that has been raised by a number of activists and organizations working in these two movements.  Then, I will describe some specific barriers to reproductive justice for transgender people, and ask us to consider how our LGBT rights movement and reproductive justice movements can be stronger allies in our fights for social change.

The right to have children encompasses situations that LGBT people are already, tragically familiar with — discriminatory state adoption statutes, courts that fail to recognize non-biological parents as full and equal parents, and access to affordable reproductive technologies.  The right to have children also requires us to consider issues we may believe are outside of LGBT rights, but also implicate the right to have children, such as the effect of family caps on women in poverty. Family caps impact children in poverty by denying them critical support for their health and well-being – and may have the effect of incentivizing abortion for poor women subject to this policy.  It is a profound reproductive injustice for coercive state policies to force people to make these kinds of decisions about having children.

The right to parent the children we have includes if and how same-sex parents are placed on the birth certificates of their children, access to second-parent adoptions, how these parental rights travel across state lines, and how parental rights play out in the case of separation or divorce.  The right to parent the children we have also includes combating how the child welfare system systemically punishes poor women of color struggling to raise their children and the devastating impact of child welfare system and immigration, where it has recently been revealed that more than 5,000 children have had the traumatic experience of being placed into foster care while their parents are subject to deportation proceedings.

The right not to have children – access to contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion care – are the focus of my presentation today.  The LGBT rights movement and the reproductive rights and justice movements have strong  – not just legal and theoretical – connections to one another in this area for several reasons that law professor Ruthann Robson has expertly identified in this op-ed.  First, there is a devastating prevalence of rape and sexual assault in the United States, which includes an incredibly high number of lesbians who are raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Secondly, our sexual identity may not always align with our sexual behavior.  For example, surveys have consistently shown that many lesbians have a history of sexual contact with men, and that in many of those encounters, no condom was used, thus increasing the likelihood of an unintended pregnancy.  Finally, public health research has shown us that queer youth are uniquely susceptible to unintended pregnancy.  In fact, several studies have documented that young lesbians are two to ten times more likely to become pregnant than their heterosexual counterparts for a number of reasons that speak to how vulnerable queer youth are to the inadequacies of abstinence-only sex education, sexual abuse and/or substance abuse, homelessness, and the kind of surveillance and harassment that may lead young lesbians to have unprotected heterosexual sex in order to hide their sexuality.

**Laura’s remaining remarks, detailing barriers to reproductive justice for transgender individuals, will be posted tomorrow.**