by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia’s Charlottesville Organizing Fellow
Existing in any space as a queer disabled woman often garners a lot of questions. Some of them – “what does queer actually mean” or “when did you start identifying as disabled”- are educational moments I relish having the opportunity to answer. Others- “are you actually disabled if you can walk” or “so if you’re bisexual you’re attracted to everyone”- are so commonly misinformed that they involuntarily pre-empt my eyes to roll.
As an Organizing Fellow for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia who works specifically with LGBT reproductive health, an unfortunate question often posed to me is “why do reproductive rights matter to you?” The general population often assumes that queer and trans individuals only engage in same sex relations and thus have no risk of unintended pregnancy, cancers that affect reproductive health, or, amongst women, sexually transmitted diseases. Why, then, would reproductive health initiatives affect them?
We already know that LGBT youth are more likely to be involved in unintended pregnancy than their heterosexual counterparts, and that lesbian and bisexual women have significantly higher rates of cervical cancer. But the recent results of my reproductive health survey for LGBT individuals in Charlottesville shows exactly why reproductive justice is essential for this population. Over a period of three weeks, 20 participants responded to my 48 question survey through Google forms which asked a number of things; from questions inviting an individual to identify their gender identity and expression to questions asking about their experiences with provider discrimination. Below are some of the important findings of the survey which will hopefully dispel some myths about LGBT reproductive health:
Sexual Assault and Unintended Pregnancy
In the national conversation about sexual assault, narratives often center on white, heterosexual, and cisgender victims. As LGBT advocates, however, we know that existing as a vulnerable population leads directly to a heightened risk of violence against us. A staggering 64% of trans individuals report sexual assault in their lifetime. About half of trans men have experienced childhood sexual assault. And 46% of bisexual women report having been raped.
These conclusions were evident in my survey findings. Of 21 respondents, 50% identified as sexual assault victims. Of those identifying as victims, 60% said they did not have access to safe and affordable reproductive health care before and after the assault.
In the reproductive rights community, we often discuss the impact on sexual assault survivors who don’t have access to reproductive health care, particularly abortion care. But this narrative is heteronormative, too. My findings combat the myth that LGBT persons don’t experience pregnancy. About two fifths of respondents reported having an unintended pregnancy in the past, of which three fourths resulted in an abortion. All of the respondents reported having a difficult time accessing abortion care.
In the future, it is important for the reproductive rights community to broaden the conversation around abortion care and unintended pregnancy to include queer and trans individuals. The more diversified our stories become, the more we challenge and break down stigmas that marginalize LGBT people.
Income and Accessibility
At the crux of the intersection of reproductive justice and LGBT rights is the stark contrast in income between cisgender heterosexuals and LGBT individuals. According to the Williams Institute, about 30% of bisexual women live in poverty, compared to 21% of heterosexual women and 22% of lesbian women. A whopping 34% of the black trans population lives on $10,000 or less a year, compared to 9% of their non-LGBT counterparts. And LGBT adolescents, some of the most at risk of unintended pregnancy and sexual assault, make up about 40% of the youth homeless population.
When asked to rank reproductive health needs from most to least important, the majority of respondents reported having access to affordable reproductive health as their current most important issue. 20% of respondents said they don’t have access to affordable health care, and all trans respondents reported affordability was their main barrier to accessing sperm or egg banks. The survey highlighted the immediate need to provide LGBT people with low cost healthcare options.
Legislative bodies that enact anti-choice measures disproportionately impact those who already have the heaviest burden accessing healthcare. Campaigns to defund Planned Parenthood, ban abortion before the Supreme Court precedent, or block Medicaid expansion directly target poor and low income individuals, and a large portion of LGBT people fall into that category. When we’re fighting for reproductive freedom, we’re called to support and help the most marginalized. Reproductive rights advocates must elevate the voices of impoverished LGBT people who need care the most.
In movements, respecting intersectionality and lifting the narratives of marginalized people is essential to creating an inclusive environment that welcomes as many advocates as possible. The more that reproductive rights groups maintain an inclusive culture, the more likely the culture around them will break down stigmas that bar individuals’ access to care. In the quest to educate people about the need for LGBT reproductive justice, advocates can not only protect LGBT people and their care, but expand the larger conversation on sexuality, gender, and what reproductive justice means.