Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. A day when the world acknowledges the ongoing discrimination faced by LGBTI+* people around the world, but also offers solidarity and hope for positive change. As a global fund focused on abortion, we want to outline some of the ways in which anti-LGBTI+ discrimination can impact reproductive rights and how we can all work to challenge this.
People of all genders and sexualities need and deserve access to reproductive rights.
This does not just mean the right to make our own decisions about whether to continue or end a pregnancy. It also includes wider bodily autonomy which keeps us safe, happy and empowered. Unfortunately, homophobia and transphobia continue to play a part in denying certain groups their reproductive rights.
In Japan, for example, transgender people are forced to undergo sterilization in order to have their gender legally recognised. Many intersex people around the world have been subjected to non consensual surgeries, including sterilization. These may well have an impact on their future reproductive capabilities.
In addition, the right of same sex couples and LGBTI+ individuals to access fertility treatments (like IVF) and to adopt children is still contested in many countries.
It’s not just straight, cisgender women who can get pregnant.
However, this is still an assumption made by many health care providers around the world.
Research has actually shown that women belonging to a ‘sexual minority’ (e.g. lesbian and bisexual) are at greater or equal risk of experiencing unintended pregnancy than heterosexual women. Another study of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people in the U.S found that they had higher pregnancy rates than their heterosexual peers.
We also know that some transgender people get pregnant and seek abortions. A recent study of transgender, non-binary and gender expansive people in the U.S (where safe abortion is legal) found that 19% of those who had become pregnant had attempted to end their own pregnancies. Most of these people used herbs and other substances or physical trauma. This is a harsh reminder of the additional barriers that trans and gender non-conforming people can face in accessing services which are, or which are perceived to be, inaccessible to them.
So, assuming that only straight people or cisgender people can become pregnant or cause pregnancies is just false.
What can we do to make sure reproductive health care is more inclusive of the needs of the LGBTI+ community?
We spoke to a couple of the organisations funded by the Safe Abortion Action Fund to ask how they ensure reproductive health care is accessible for people of all genders and sexualities.
In Georgia, there is no research on the specific barriers LGBTI+ people face accessing pregnancy support services. That’s why Real People Real Vision (RPRV) included members of the community in their own research on abortion. One trans man spoke about the emotional difficulty of being pregnant. It led to attempts to terminate the pregnancy through self-harm. With his permission, RPRV used this case study to push for more inclusive and gender-neutral messaging in the health care system.
In Uganda, same sex behaviour is criminalised. LGBTI+ people often face discrimination, which can contribute to their fear of accessing sexual and reproductive health services. SAAF grantee partner COHERINET points out that poverty is high amongst this group and can be another barrier to access. To fight these obstacles, COHERINET trains peers in the community to reach out to lesbians and bisexual women and ensure they are supported to access reproductive health care when they need it. Their Aunt Kaki helpline is also toll-free and confidential and allows people to seek information and referrals free from stigma.
What can I do?
- Educate yourself. Whatever our gender and sexuality, we can all take time to find out more. Learn about the barriers LGBTI+ people around the world are facing in regards to their sexual and reproductive health. There are more and more resources out there now which address issues like trans exclusion in the abortion rights movement.
- Learn from LGBTI+ people. Speak to your friends about what inclusive sex education would look like for them. Follow LGBTI+ people on social media to keep challenging any assumptions you might have.
- Check your messaging. Sometimes, even small changes to our language can make a difference when it comes to people feeling included. For example, not always speaking about ‘women’ as the only people who need information on pregnancy and abortion.