Every September at NC Pride, the LGBTQ and allied communities gather in Durham to march, chant, dance and raise awareness about the right to express our beautifully normal sexual and gender diversity. Marchers chant: “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”
This annual celebration coincides with another day of recognition for sexual rights, the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion on Sunday. Activists around the world rally on this day to call for “an end to abortion stigma and access to safe and legal abortion for all women, everywhere!”
Sexual orientation, gender identity, intimate partnerships and reproduction are fundamental components of our human lives. They form inextricable linkages between the LGBTQ and abortion rights movements, and yet we do not always march together; our messages and strategies don’t always encompass the full range of sexual, gender and reproductive rights.
Why should LGBTQ people care about abortion rights? All individuals, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, deserve the freedom to make reproductive decisions free from stigma, coercion, discrimination and violence. Some LGBTQ people may decide to end a pregnancy, even one that was initially wanted, due to medical complications, fetal abnormalities or a change in life circumstances. Some may be sexually assaulted or need to terminate an unwanted pregnancy for other reasons.
Why should abortion-rights activists care about LGBTQ rights? We are battling the same culture wars, opposing restrictive, patriarchal social norms that stigmatize and punish individuals who break from expected gender roles. We are claiming our – not the state’s – right to control our bodies, whether it is to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, love someone of the same gender or change the sex we were born with – free from stigma, coercion, discrimination and violence. We are also fighting many of the same adversaries who target abortion and LGBTQ rights in an attempt to embed socially retrograde politicians, policies and practices.
Through international treaties, governments around the world have agreed to protect all individuals’ right to equality and to health. Some of these same governments have criminalized abortion, sex between people of the same gender and nontraditional gender expressions. Uganda is one egregious example, where the parliament passed a bill, which the president signed into law, making homosexuality punishable with life imprisonment.
In many countries, LGBTQ people, women seeking abortions and abortion providers are stigmatized and face discrimination by health care, law enforcement and social welfare systems, causing immeasurable psychological, physical and spiritual harm. Every day, even in the United States, LGBTQ people and women seeking abortions are denied health services, receive substandard treatment and are even harmed by the providers and systems they turn to for care. Some resort to clandestine, unsafe procedures outside of the health system or commit suicide, resulting in untold numbers of deaths and injuries each year.
As a lesbian mother and lifelong social justice activist, I live and work in the intersection of the sexual, gender and reproductive rights movements, and I have experienced the stigma and discrimination that accompany each one.
When assisted-reproductive technology providers and clinics refused to perform inseminations because I am a lesbian, when people wrongly assume that I must have adopted my child (because everyone knows lesbians don’t reproduce!), when reproductive-rights colleagues make heteronormative assumptions about me and when organizations maintain policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people, I experience these movements in my body, home, work and even tax returns. I won’t choose one slogan, march or issue over another, because I am all of these movements, and they are all grounded in the same beliefs and rights.
Everyone has a fundamental right to health, and bodily, sexual, gender and reproductive autonomy is integral to that right. Since 1948, the World Health Organization has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Without the ability to make fundamental decisions about our sexual lives and gender identity, whether and who to marry and whether and how to have children and how many, we are not able to participate on an equal basis in society and attain optimal health and well-being. Civil society groups around the world are reaching consensus on a comprehensive definition of sexual rights and gaining ground on integrating it into international documents.
It’s time for a broader, more inclusive movement that recognizes the indivisibility of all humans’ rights. It’s time to march in the N.C. Pride parade and to join local and global abortion-rights activities as we call for “LGBTQ rights, abortion rights and sexual and reproductive justice FOR ALL!”
Katherine L. Turner is senior adviser, Health Systems, at Ipas, a global sexual and reproductive rights organization based in Chapel Hill.