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Why is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act Important? Can’t LGBT People Just Hide Their Identities?

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Lauren Paulk, LSRJ RJ Fellow (’13, City University of New York School of Law)

My colleague received the title question after a webinar on the intersection of LGBT Rights and Reproductive Justice. I both live and work at this intersection, and so I was particularly struck by this webinar attendee’s question – why is LGBT employment discrimination significant when it is “easy” to hide this identity?  I’ll be honest, my first reaction was a bit of frustration  because it seemed like yet another person trying to push us all back into the closet. But I have to believe this was a genuine question and perhaps one other people were wondering about, including my own friends and family.

Being out at work – and working at a place where that is not just accepted, but celebrated – means everything to me. Hiding who you are at work can be a difficult and painful thing to do, and being “found out” in a state without an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) can cost you your job or subject you to unwanted harassment, no matter what steps you have taken to remain closeted at work. Additionally, although some LGBT people are able to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity from their coworkers, some either do not “pass”[1] as straight or cisgender, or may be purposefully or accidentally “outed” by a coworker or friend. Even if your workplace doesn’t fire you, keeping your sexual orientation or gender identity a secret has serious implications for LGBT employees. Hiding sexual orientation can result in workers not getting access to workplace benefits for same-sex partners and families. Likewise, hiding gender identity can hinder access to appropriate healthcare benefits for transgender workers.

Discrimination in the workplace also leads to wage gaps and overall greater economic insecurity for LGBT families, especially for LGBT families living in Southern states, where protection against employment discrimination is less common. This economic insecurity can be compounded for LGBT parents who live at the intersection of other marginalized identities. If reproductive justice includes the right to parent our children free from discrimination, we must consider how job insecurity and instability cause reproductive INjustice for LGBT people.

There are also day-to-day consequences of hiding who you are. For example, it is not at all unusual to discuss dating life and romantic relationships at the proverbial water cooler in an office environment. Additionally, at office events people are encouraged to bring a date, and many people want or choose to bring their significant others. This may lead LGBT people to avoid socializing at work altogether in order to avoid uncomfortable personal questions or conversations. These two things are only small examples of how an LGBT person may have to suppress their own identity and personal life at the expense of not being able to be honest or speak openly with their colleagues, and at the expense of not being able to share their work environment and colleagues – arguably very significant parts of a person’s life, given that many people spend eight hours a day at the office – with a partner or significant other.

On the other hand, an article by the Center of American Progress discusses the increased productivity, workplace satisfaction, and job commitment from LGBT people who are out at work. This is corroborated by the recent account of a PepsiCo. employee discussing her personal story of what it meant to her to be able to come out at work.

Economic justice is inextricable from reproductive justice, as these cases help illustrate. The thing to focus on as we consider and debate ENDA with lawmakers, family, and friends, is whether or not people should be fired just for being who they are.


[1] “Passing” is a term that means someone is able to mask an identity they hold in order to blend in with people who hold a different identity.

Enough with smooshing already! (Part 2)

Friday, November 8th, 2013

Melissa Torres-Montoya, Resident Blogger (’11, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

Earlier this week I wrote about the merits of the film Don Jon; it was entertaining and delivered a meaningful but not preachy social commentary. While Don Jon brings to light the struggle viewers of pornography face in determining its role in their journey to sexual individuality (or lack thereof), it’s important that we not forget about the real people upon which the pornography industry is based and the public health challenges they face.  The same month that Don Jon was released three performers in the pornography industry tested positive for HIV.  Despite federal workplace laws that should mean pornography actors wear condoms on set, condoms often are not used.  Actors have even expressed fear they would be out of work if they ask to use condoms on set.  The pornography industry has reacted to the most recent HIV-infections by stating they will conduct more frequent STD testing.  However, testing costs fall on the actors.

Regardless of your view on pornography or its role in your sexuality, it’s a lucrative industry that will continue to thrive.  The pornography industry must be pushed to implement workplace practices that protect their employees’ health, including requiring that actors wear condoms.   Learn more about the public health reasoning for advancing policies that safeguard the sexual health of these actors here.

Country Girl Meets Urban Midwifery

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)

I, like my three siblings before me, was born at home.  My mother tells the story each year on my birthday of her midwife declaring, minutes before my birth, that the loft of our log cabin was too cold to have a baby – this is how I came to be born in front of the wood stove in our kitchen. My mother’s midwife and close friend, Carol Leonard, is the author of many books including Lady’s Hands Lion’s Heart – A Midwife’s Saga. She is a foremother of the modern midwifery movement and from the moment she caught me, Carol has played an important role in my life-even writing one my letters of recommendation for the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners.

In the years since my birth, I have moved from my rural New England community to downtown Washington, DC, and I now find myself navigating the very murky waters of urban midwifery as I chart out my own birth plan.  How does one go about planning a home birth while living in a condo surrounded by neighbors?  Do you announce it like you might a party, slipping fliers under doors apologizing in advance for the noise that might be emanating from your apartment during a possible two-week window? Is homebirth even allowed or has it been banned by our condo association bylaws along with the hanging of our laundry on our balcony? There are also state regulations that determine the availability of midwives and much like abortion providers, the greater the regulatory burden the harder it is for women to access the services. Delaware’s regulations for example, require non nurse-midwives to have a written collaborative practice agreement with a physician but only one midwife has successfully received a permit to practice in ten years – a hurdle that echoes those faced by abortion providers all over the country.

At a recent panel at the Beyond Roe Conference, speakers reminded us that unlike the majority of our great-grandmothers who gave birth at home, today only 1% of women in the U.S. give birth outside a hospital.  Like many, my own experience has informed how I view birth.  Two of my three nieces and my nephew were born at home and the idea of a hospital birth is a foreign one to me.  Carol set the bar high for what I expect in a midwife. However, what I always viewed as a straight forward decision is now, due to my changed geography, fraught with unexpected complexities.


Cat Callin’ It Like I See It

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

Like any good law student, I broke down street harassment into its parts.  The where, and the when are devoid of pattern. You could be hunched over, wearing sweat pants and a backpack, or in a tasteful suit running late to a meeting.  (Both happened to me.)

The cat caller does pay attention to your companions, though.  Are you walking alone?  Obviously, you are doing this without the permission of your father or husband.  Are you walking with other women?  You must be a group of contrary daughters and/or wives.

If, however you are walking with a man, the cat caller is silent.  Another-man-with-you gets to the root of cat calling: possession.  The cat caller recognizes that the woman is that man’s property – his capitalist instinct kicks in, and he refrains from messing with another man’s stuff.

A possession theory especially helps when you hear the mansplanation, “what’s wrong with commenting on a woman’s beauty?”  If “beauty” were the extent of it (assume that the cat calls are limited to, “hey gorgeous”-es), then wouldn’t the cat caller remark on a woman’s beauty even if she were with a man?  This never happens.

I was delighted to see that Tatyana Fazlalizadeh created an empowering art project tackling this issue:  a series of portraits of women, with statements to discourage street harassment.  After reading the article, one male commenter remained resolute in his street harassing, and noted quixotically, “[i]magine walking through a garden and not being able to enjoy the flowers with your eyes.”  His comment reinforces possession: women are mere objects for a man’s viewing pleasure.  I hope Fazlalizadeh’s art will help him wake up and smell the roses.

Meet the LSRJ 2013 – 2014 Resident Bloggers

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

LSRJ is thrilled to introduce our eight 2013 – 2014 resident bloggers. Each will bring their voice and perspective to our blog on a variety of reproductive justice issues each month. Interested in becoming a resident blogger?  Please email us at


Déodonné Bhattarai is the Second Year Reproductive Justice Fellow at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), a national health policy organization dedicated to strengthening policies, programs, and research to improve the health and well-being of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.As a member of APIAHF’s policy team, Déodonné works on health equity issues at the Federal level.  She analyses issues of health care access and quality, HIV/AIDS, immigration, and ACA Implementation through a reproductive justice lens.

Chapman picSJ Chapman is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Northwestern Law School.   She lives in Chicago, IL, and is starting work as an associate at Bielski Law Office, Ltd. in the fall of 2013.  She studies and writes in the field of critical familism and international adoption.  You can read more at her home blog, or contact her directly at


Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Ruth Dawson is the Reproductive Justice Fellow at the ACLU of Southern California, where she uses legal, policy, and community advocacy to address a wide swath of reproductive justice issues.  Ruth studied International Development Studies and Spanish at UCLA, where she spent much of her time teaching sex ed and otherwise organizing around social justice issues.  Before graduate school, Ruth managed a small reproductive health clinic in Northern California.  She graduated in 2012 from Emory University with a JD/MPH joint degree, where she co-founded the Emory Law chapter of LSRJ.  Ruth is a member of the California Bar.

Candace Gibson is a Second Year Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Latina CandaceInstitute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH).  Candace received her J.D. from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in May 2012. As a law student, Candace received the Frankel Public Interest Fellowship to assist Jane’s Due Process with their judicial bypass and community outreach work in Texas and received the Spurgeon Public Interest Fellowship to finance her summer internship at NLIRH.  During her summer at NLIRH, she researched, wrote, and blogged on immigrant women in detention centers and in deportation proceedings. Candace founded and served as the Utah Law Students for Reproductive Justice Chapter President and served as President of the Women’s Law Caucus. Prior to law school, she worked as a program coordinator at Comunidades Unidas, a nonprofit organization in Utah committed to eliminating health disparities in ethnic and refugee communities, managing the work of the Multicultural Health Network and the Democracy Schools Program.


Mangala Kanayson is a 2L at Emory School of Law, where she is a Co-Chair of the Law Students for Reproductive Justice chapter.  She interned with the LSRJ national office in Oakland over the summer and hopes to work in the field of reproductive justice after law school.



Christine Poquiz linc


Christine Poquiz is a second year Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) in Washington DC. A proud Filipina-American and the daughter of immigrant parents, Christine is deeply committed to reproductive rights and justice, and works to ensure that the needs and voices of immigrant women and women of color are lifted. Originally from California, Christine holds a law degree from UC Davis School of Law and a bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine.

Amanda 2

Amanda Shapiro graduated from Harvard College in 2008 with a degree in sociology, where she focused on issues of economic justice and women’s rights.  Upon graduation, she joined Teach for America, and taught for four years at a public school in the South Bronx. That experience working with a high-needs population and a predominantly female workforce led her back to women’s rights advocacy and additionally, law school.  Amanda is a current law student at Brooklyn Law School, Vice President of the LSRJ chapter, and a Sparer Public Interest Fellow. She hopes to start up a pro-bono project with other LSRJ members to vacate prostitution convictions for child victims of sex trafficking.

melissa2cMelissa Torres Montoya just completed an LSRJ fellowship at the National Women’s Health Network.  She received her B.A. from the University of California, Davis and earned a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2011.  Before going to law school, she worked as a sex educator with Planned Parenthood in California, and while in law school, she served on the boards of LSRJ and La Raza Student Association.  Melissa also worked with the public benefits team at the East Bay Community Law Center and served as the outreach coordinator for Boalt Hall Women’s Association where she coordinated a women’s health fair for law students and faculty.  Melissa followed law school by pursuing a Masters in Public Health at John Hopkins and graduated with her degree in May 2012.

Abortionomics: Sex-selection

Friday, September 13th, 2013

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

Worried that the job market for lawyers is decreasing?  Well thank the pro-life movement for keeping us in business.  North Dakota alone has allocated $400,000 for the second half of 2013 to defend its unconstitutional abortion ban.

Let me start from the beginning.

Sex-selective abortion is when a woman chooses to abort based on the sex of her fetus.  In regions of Asia and Eastern Europe where the practice is so pervasive that the at-birth ratio of males to females is as low as 100:86, selective-sex abortion contributes to gender inequality in addition to a host of other ugly societal problems.

Here in the United States, where “son preference” isn’t a deeply held conviction, sex-selective procreation doesn’t lead to the same results.  The at-birth ratio of males to females has been the standard 100:95 since 1940.  Furthermore, sex-selective abortion isn’t the only way to achieve sex-selective procreation.  Pre-implantation methods like sperm-sorting and PGD are less invasive alternatives.

In her reporepro entry “Is Banning Abortion the Answer to Sex-Selective Practices? (Hint: No.),” Christine Poquiz did a fantastic job addressing sex selection.  In short, if a woman wants to abort, for any reason, then restricting her autonomy to do so (at least pre-viability) violates Roe as amended by Casey.

Yet anti-choice activists get abortion laws on the books, couching them in terms of sex-selection bans.  How?  By plastering their lobbies with the social problems in Asia and Eastern Europe.  This doesn’t make sense.  If gender inequality were really their reason for ending sex-selection, then they would also be lobbying to eliminate sperm-sorting and PGD.

Illinois, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arizona and North Dakota have sex-selective abortion restrictions on the books,[1] and 11 other states have bills pending[2]…  Bad news for reproductive justice.  These laws clearly violate Roe/Casey.

Now back to the whole job market thing.  See where I’m going with this?  Anti groups pay lawyers to help enact this legislation.  Reproductive justice watchdogs pay lawyers to challenge the laws.  The North Dakota law is currently being challenged in MKB Management, Inc. v. Burdick.  Lawyers attacking it, lawyers defending it.  Lawyers, lawyers, lawyers!

On a serious note, these laws are unconstitutional from the start.  Anti groups insidiously use propaganda totally out of context to get them on the books.  It’s an utter waste of lawyers’ time, judicial dockets, and millions of dollars, all of which could be better spent on actual legal issues.

SJ Chapman is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Northwestern Law School.  She studies and writes in the field of critical familism.  You can read more at her home blog

[1] Illinois (720 ILCS 510), Pennsylvania (8 Pa C.S.A. Section 3204), Oklahoma (O.S. §63-1-731.2), Arizona (A.R.S. §13-3603.02), North Dakota (HB 1305, § 14-02.1).

[2] Colorado (Non-discrimination Act), Florida (CS/HB 845 and SB 1072), Indiana (HB 1430), Missouri (HB 386 “Abortion Ban for Sex Selection and Genetic Abnormalities Act of 2013), New Jersey (A2157), New York (A02553/S02286, North Carolina (H716), Texas (HB 309), Utah (Abortion Prohibition), Virginia (HB 1316), and Wisconsin.

Shifting the Shaming Framing around Young Parents

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Andrea Frey, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, University of Washington School of Law)

Currently the Candie’s Foundation is running a campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. Their slogan? “You should be changing the world… not changing diapers.” This is both outrageous and hurtful to young parents in America. While educating teens about sex and pregnancy is important, addressing teen parenting by portraying young parents in an extremely negative light forces them to defend themselves and their children against judgment. Why can’t young parents change diapers while changing the world?

It’s high time to shift the shaming framing surrounding young parenting. Instead of fighting for teen pregnancy prevention, why not just fight for better access to comprehensive sexual education? Use messaging that encourages and allows all young people to make the best decisions for themselves, not messaging that stigmatizes others.

Young Women United (YWU) is a nationally recognized organization fighting for better messaging in conjunction with better, more comprehensive sexuality education in New Mexico. YWU was created by young women of color and allies with young parents to advocate and build policies in the state toward educational equality for pregnant and parenting teens. Last year, YWU fought hard to pass a bill declaring August 25th “New Mexico Day in Recognition of Young Parents,” which will affirm the value of young families in communities around the state. The bill passed and this year will be the second annual day of recognition.  “All families deserve respect, trust and recognition,” said Micaela Cadena, Campaign Coordinator, YWU. “But too often young parents are cast in a negative light and pushed to the margins of society.” This August 25th be sure to stand up for young parents in your state! And sign this petition to stop the Candies Foundation from shaming young parents!

Miles upon miles of momentum

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Andrea Frey, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, University of Washington School of Law)

I am lucky. I bike one mile to pick up my free birth control pills. I can be at a women’s clinic in under ten minutes if I needed it. Other women in the U.S. (and definitely around the world) are nowhere near as lucky when it comes to accessing reproductive health services. In many states, access to abortion is eroding. 87% of all U.S counties do not have an identifiable abortion provider, with this figure rising to 97% in rural areas. There are at least four states that have only one abortion clinic, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi. Women in these states and elsewhere often travel miles upon miles, taking time off from work and possibly families, in order to access providers.

“We hear stories every day,” said rockstar Tammi Kromenaker, director of Red River Women’s Clinic (the only clinic) in North Dakota, on the Rachel Maddow show after a federal judge blocked North Dakota’s law banning abortion after six weeks.  “We had a woman last week who slept in her car the night before because she couldn’t afford a hotel room but she lives all the way across the state on the western part of the state.” The Red River Women’s Clinic is one of many across the US under siege as state legislators do all they can with TRAP laws, fetal heartbeat laws, etc. to close these clinics down. Luckily we have organizations like the ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights taking on the legal battle to bring these laws down, but defeating the plethora of unconstitutional laws is not cheap.

Drawing national attention to these legal battles and one-clinic states like North Dakota is essential to mobilizing the fight for reproductive freedom. After Texas passed a sweeping measure banning abortion after 20 weeks, pro-choice groups were galvanized across the state and the US. We must now continue and use this momentum so that women don’t have to travel hundreds of miles, sleep in cars, and face harassment in order to access vital reproductive services. Stand with women and spread the word!

The Fight for Salud, Dignidad, y Justicia!

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Erin Panichkul, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, Thomas Jefferson School of Law)

The 4th annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice has officially commenced! This week symbolizes empowerment, pride, and mobilization of the Latina population for justice and equality in reproductive health care.

 “As the nation moves forward on immigration reform to create a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, the health care needs of immigrant women and children have been left behind. This is unfair, unwise, and un-American, and we can’t let this happen.”

-         The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Affordable, accessible, and quality health care is a basic human right regardless of citizenship status. The S. 744 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 has recently passed the Senate and is said to the biggest move forward for immigration reform. Hooray! But what about access to basic and reproductive health care? What about immigrant families, women, and children? Under the new immigration bill, immigrant women and children could face a waiting period up to 15 years or longer to see a doctor. This is an absurd amount of time – can you imagine telling a patient that the next available appointment they qualified for was on August 5, 2028?

Despite this bad news, there is good news this week for reproductive health access – Plan B One Step, an emergency contraceptive, is now available over the counter without age or identification restrictions.  What does this mean?  You no longer have to wait until the pharmacy is open and show your ID to access emergency contraception (this is only for One-Step, generic brands still require ID  and for those under 17 a prescription too).  This is an important advancement in access, particularly for immigrant women since they are less likely to have government-issued identification.

Go check out if your local drug store is complying with the law and offering Plan B without restrictions!  We did at the LSRJ national office and submitted our pictures to the #ECinourhands tumblr.


This week we join the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and many other allies in celebrating the Latina Week of Action to build and demonstrate our power in support of reproductive justice, health, and dignity for all!

Trayvon Martin’s victimization proves “the system” is not designed equally.

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Erin Panichkul, LSRJ Summer Intern (’15, Thomas Jefferson School of Law)

Although acquitted and legally justified, the loss of a young life cannot be socially justified because of the serious implications behind our victim’s underrepresented identities. Clearly, the system has failed Trayvon Martin and his family. Zimmerman’s “not-guilty” verdict sent a shock wave through our nation, reiterating the construct of how race, class, and socioeconomic status play a role in our legal system, in our sense of sympathy, and moral alignment.

Our broken system values certain identities over others through the assignment of privilege and worth, and accordingly it affects how we experience American justice. Our identities overlap. Our identities matter. Our identities empower us, yet our differences are often used to exclude us, silence us, or have decisions made for us. Reproductive justice recognizes that race, class, sex, age, sexual orientation, agency, and autonomy shape our experiences, identities, and our ability to parent, not to parent, and to parent our children with dignity free from violence and coercion.Sadly, ours is a backwards system that often prioritizes, excludes, and limits based on certain identities and intersections of identities.

Who does the system truly aim to protect? We want to believe it protects good, law abiding citizens. We want to believe it is inclusive of people who look, act, think, and talk like us, those who live in our neighborhood, our friends, our children, and our families. At any given moment, would our child or sibling be seen as an innocent unarmed teenager or a suspicious thug? Who is allowed to make these stereotypical assumptions, and what are they based on?

We must recognize that it is oppression, classism, disenfranchisement, degradation, profiling, power and authority, silence as well as fear that perpetuates the complex cycle of privilege and inequality in our society.

The Zimmerman verdict reminds us that we access the systems created to protect and serve our best interests with the identities and conditions foisted upon us and that our rights are at stake because our legal system is not always designed to protect and serve our best interests.