America Now More Pro-Equality, But Not More Pro-Choice: Figuring Out What Gays Did Right In 2011

It’s almost the end of 2011, which means that among the year-end lists will be a certain amount of jockeying for “which group has made the most progress.” Who has more rights than they started out with, and who has less? Did we lose electronic privacy rights, but gain economic and financial literacy? This year, one comparison seems fairly clear: the queer community has seen the repeal of DADT and major progress on the repeal of DOMA, whereas more than 80 abortion-restricting laws were enacted across the US in the same timespan.

Gay rights and reproductive rights are both divisive issues, but also tend to appeal to the same groups of people, and politicians often support one if they support the other. Why the disparity? At Salon, Irin Carmon makes the case that gay activists have brought pressure to bear on politicians at every level that reproductive rights activists should consider emulating.

It seems that everywhere the Republican hopefuls go, they’re confronted by supporters of gay rights, who may or may not themselves be gay. And every time it happens, their equivocations or evasions or sputtering give birth to another viral moment, primed for Facebook sharing and coalescing around the view that the Republicans are hopelessly out of touch on an issue of growing consensus… You know what I’ve never seen someone confront a Republican candidate about, with maybe one exception? The fact that four of them have signed the so-called Personhood pledge to wholly ban abortion and many common forms of birth control, or that five of them have vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides basic health services to literally millions of women under the Title X program.

Of course, there are some major differences between the struggle for equality for queers and the struggle for women to be able to make their own choices about their bodies — the first fights against a prejudice centered around sexual deviance, and the latter combats the deeply held cultural belief that women aren’t qualified to make decisions about their own sexuality or bodies. While the two issues may seem like concepts both liberals and conservatives should just fall in line on, there may be more complex differences in how the public and individual politicians respond to those two culturally embedded concepts. For instance, the (generally pretty liberal) Religious Society of Friends supports gay marriage almost unilaterally, but also frequently opposes abortion rights because many members feel it constitutes a level of violence that they categorically don’t support. It’s hard to pick apart the extent to which personal experiences and prejudices, both in voters and elected officials, might lead them to support one set of rights and try to take away another.

But perhaps more important than figuring that out is noting, as Carmon does, that “this is not a women versus gay people dichotomy.” Most obviously, because women and gay people are not separate groups; in fact, roughly half of gay people are women, and not-insignificant percentage of women are gay or queer. Queer people also need reproductive rights, and queer women also need access to abortions; they’re not separate issues. An attempt to take away reproductive rights is an assault on all Americans, not just straight women. But it’s also not a dichotomy for a deeper reason: because while you can make the argument that all inequality is interrelated, the oppression of queers and women is especially linked by the disapproval and distaste of the patriarchy. While there are huge differences in the ways that both forms of marginalization are experienced, they’re both based in the belief that people who identify outside of heterosexual masculinity, whether they be straight or queer or trans just cisgendered females, aren’t trustworthy or deserving of agency or power.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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18 Comments

  1. i began working for planning parenthood this year and am pretty surprised they have the FUNDS to pay me each week, given all these attacks. we provide services for everyone regardless of gender and sexuality and religious beliefs so WHAT GIVES AMERICA

  2. this really upsets me. i know it’s great for the community but seeing as homophobia is a side-effect of sexism, this kind of doesn’t make sense :/

  3. I’m a lesbian and I’m mostly anti-choice. I consider myself a leftist-moderate, but that’s definitely an issue I on which I fall on the conservative side. I’ve got a host of reasons for it, but there it is.
    At the same time, I’ve used Planned Parenthood’s services for things unrelated to abortion, and have had anti-choice protestors call me a murderer, tell me I’m stopping a beating heart, and throw huge pictures of macabre things in my face because it looked like I was headed to PP (I was, in fact, headed across the street to the Big Brother/Big Sister office where I work…ironic? I think so.) So I can see both sides of this issue. It’s complicated and honestly I feel like it’s pretty separate from my sexuality and my sexuality’s issues.

    • Just out of curiosity, why are you mostly anti-choice?

      I don’t want to start a flame war, it just seems a little odd to me–I’ve never met anyone who identifies anywhere left of center who’s anti-choice.

      • I have long and complicated reasoning behind it, but there are a few short answers I could give, I suppose. Firstly, my father practiced abortions for a bit when I was younger and I was always stealing his medical journals, and because he is the decidedly academic person that he is, he described all of the various procedures to me in detail…and it was a bit scarring.
        Two of my sisters had abortions when I was in middle and high school, and they were left psychologically scarred.
        And at my hugely liberal (women’s) college, my biology professor did the same as my father, as well as my law professor in my women and law class when the subject of abortion came up.
        Basically, what it boils down to is both science and ethics. Abortion procedures can be violent and macabre, and in the same way that I am against hunting, I am against abortion, especially considering as ultrasound and life saving technology advances,the age at which a fetus can survive outside of the womb lowers.

        I am not, however, against the morning after pill, or birth control. I am not judgmental against those that are pro-choice or who have had an abortion; this is my personal belief and it has evolved over time.

        I also completely separate LGBT rights and abortion rights. I am not against abortion because I am sexist. Obviously. I am a lesbian; I love love love love love women. Just because I am a part of what has become a liberal movement does not mean I should agree with every other liberal viewpoint. It’s why I’m a moderate: I don’t believe any one side has it all figured out, and I believe they is right in both wings.

        But yes, I am left of center and I’m pro-life.

        • Sarah

          I’d also like to ask you about your opinions (and also don’t want to flame you). Whenever I see people talk about abortion they usually frame it as one entity, as you have done and as this article has done.
          But I see a huge difference between an abortion performed because a woman doesn’t want a baby or to go through a pregnancy, and an abortion performed because a woman was raped or has a genuine medical reason to have one, a risk to her life or health (I know health is a vague word in this context, but the example I think of is a woman who has had type 1 diabetes for 20 years and has been told that she will definitely lose her sight if she proceeds with a pregnancy).
          In my own mine I completely support the ability of a woman to have an abortion in the latter case.
          In the former, when I apply it to myself, if I was to get pregnant tomorrow, it would almost certainly be because I made a stupid decision, like to go out and get completely wasted and disinhibited and decide to have sex without adequate contraception. In that case I don’t really understand why it’s “pro-choice” to say I’m entitled to do what I want with my body. Have I not already done that? Have I not already made my choice?
          Of course my situation is lucky. I’ve been educated enough to know everything I need to know, and am not a teenage girl whose main source of information is my abstinence only sex ed class. I’m not in a abusive relationship with a man or living somewhere like Afghanistan or in any other situation where I’m not allowed to dictate the terms according to which I will have sex.

          So my question is basically do you make a distinction between abortion for different reasons , or are you across the board anti abortion?

          Abortion rights are something that make me angry, as I’m from the Rep of Ireland, where the government refuses to legislate on abortion, because they know they’ll piss off the Catholic Church. The European Court of Human Rights has recently admonished my country for failing to legislate on abortion.
          Our sources of law are the pigheaded misogynistic constitution when equates the life of a mother with a foetus, and case law where an abortion can be carried out if there is an immediate risk to the life of the mother. But doctors don’t want to perform abortions in that case without a shit load of legal advice for fear they’ll be called murderers afterwards (and they will, because most hospitals ethic boards have Catholic priests on them), and in getting that legal advice they delay the abortion, putting the mothers life further at risk.

          Of course, part of the reason the pro-choice voice isn’t loud enough is because middle class women who want an abortion can just go to the UK. Only women who can’t afford to are forced to go through with pregancys.

          I’ll stop now, even though I could go on forever. Sorry, once I get going on the ridiculous state of affairs in Ireland it’s hard to stop.

        • I understand where you are coming from, honestly. My opinion differs, however.

          People have been using contraceptives, having abortions and practicing infanticide forever. Just not as safely as we can now. From Roman herbal contraceptives / morning after abortifacients to Zulu IUDs to Victorian maids throwing their newborn babies into the Thames because otherwise they would both starve, this has been a constant theme of women’s history.

          I grew up in Africa, at a time and place where teen pregnancy inevitably resulted in expulsion from school for the girl in question, and no opportunity to transfer to another school or to take public exams. When I was 13, a school-friend who was a border walked into the hostel toilets to find one girl performing an abortion on another with a knitting needle. On another occasion, an aborted foetus was discovered inside a disused oven in the hostel kitchen.

          My dad, who was a teacher at a different school, became anxious when a teen who had excused herself from his class did not return. He walked into the toilets just as she gave birth into a toilet. She had planned to flush the baby away and pretend nothing had happened (I can’t believe that would have worked, but that was her plan: she was desperate). It’s amazing how good many girls were at hiding their pregnancies, and I wonder how many more girls were simply never found out.

          Also, while I do know a woman who is eternally scarred by her abortion, I also know of others who are eternally scarred by having given their babies up for adoption. And I think a back-street abortion would be much more emotionally and physically damaging than a proper medical procedure.

          I know that I would never willingly have an abortion myself; that is a personal decision, and I cannot make that call for anyone else. I wholeheartedly support legalised abortion for all women who need it. Because the alternative is simply too ghastly.

          • And THAT is what I want to change. THAT is where I see the sexism come into play. Society needs to change so that there are resources out there for women who come into a situation in which they don’t have a support system in place should they continue with the pregnancy. I am not in the pro-life camp that sees adoption as the opposite of abortion.
            I also believe that society’s view of unmarried and/or mothers needs to change, and the general belief that a mother on welfare is a burden to society.

            So many feelings, so many feelings…

  4. I’m kind of not super surprised. Many religious and/or socially conservative folks really do believe that abortion is murder. Even as they meet gay people and realize that people they already know are gay and soften up to the idea of gay marriage they’re still going to register abortion as being murder. My parents, for example, believe that homosexuality is wrong BUT are not nearly as concerned about it now as they were in the past. Guys marrying guys and girls marrying girls might be bad, in their mind, but it doesn’t really hurt anything. Abortion, to them, is still killing babies.

  5. Thank you for this article. Very troubling… Why do I have to pick & choose my rights? I want them ALL!!

  6. So confused. There’s so much actual overlap between reproductive justice and queer rights, from my perspective, it seems like there should be more overlap in the activism. This fall when a hella messed up pro-life group came to my school, the campus women’s rights group banded together with the QSA to organize a counter-protest. I think that kind of alliance ought to be common. Of course, the “queer rights” we’re talking about here are really the white middle-class male-dominated LGB rights, so it sort of makes sense. Cisgender men, gay or straight, have no uteri to worry about.

  7. I see why the two issues are related, but I also don’t really… I am a moderate liberal, but abortion is an issue where I have very complicated feelings. I don’t think that because people believe in gay rights, and are therefore “liberal”, means that they should necessarily also be pro-choice. I have too many conflicting opinions on abortion to be able to come up with a concrete position (basically, I see both sides of the issue, and ultimately I can’t completely agree with either of them), but I do resent the fact that because I am a liberal on most issue, than I am necessarily completely pro-choice. I also don’t like the fact that the two issues are grouped together. Why do the two have to be connected just because they are both controversial issues? It silences people who are gay, but not necessarily pro-choice, and I suppose also pro-choice people who are against gay rights (although, I’ve never met anybody with these positions).
    The fact is that abortion is such a complicated issue that it can’t simply be reduced to “men want to take away women’s rights”. With LGBT issues, everyone can agree that the people involved are all consenting adults. With abortion, the question is fundamentally different. It is more “Can a woman control her own body, and make her own decisions, as the competent adult that she is?” vs “Does a woman have a right to make a decision that affects not only her, but also a foetus, which I see as a separate being?”. At what point does a foetus stop being a part of a woman’s body and start having it’s own body? It is a part of a woman’s body until it is born, but it still has it’s own.
    At least that’s how I see it. I’m sure that I didn’t articulate that very well. Ultimately, I suppose I would consider myself pro-choice, but my support is lukewarm, because I do understand where the opposition is coming from. We can disagree all we want, but I see LGBT issues as very clear, while abortion has a wide murky grey ethical area.

    • just saw a grammar mistake. second to last paragraph, last sentence:
      “[foetus] still has its own” instead of “it’s”
      my bad…

    • As for your question about how they’re (gay rights and women’s reproductive rights) connected it all seems to boil down to sexism. Because homophobia is a belief that stems from sexism, as it is the fear of people who are not subscribing to the ideal of the nuclear family. Gay men are viewed as not masculine enough (and “proper” masculinity is the thing all men should aspire to) and gay women are sexually (and most likely economically) independent of males and so both of these undermine the standard set forth by the patriarchy. As for women’s reproductive rights, well, a lot of anti-choice feel as though women just can’t make their own decisions when it comes to their sexual health because their bodies do not belong to them.

  8. can this NOT be the place where people talk about what kinds of abortion they feel comfortable with and that fits nicely in their politics?
    this is about healthcare and human rights. queer and trans people are directly affected by PP’s funding getting slashed and patriarchy putting more and more restraints on what we all do with our bodies.
    i think the pro-choice and queer & trans movements have lots to learn from each other; it’s weird to think of them as separate…

    • Also, PP’s government funding is *never* used to fund abortions, so it’s a bad argument for restricting or ending govt funding of PP.

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