Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy moderated an Aug. 29 panel discussion featuring Pride Action Tank Executive Director Kim Hunt, Planned Parenthood Illinois Director of Community Engagement and Adolescent Health Initiatives B. Deonn Strathman, NARAL Pro-Choice America Field Organizer Nick Uniejewski and Howard Brown Health Women's Health Manager Amy Miller.
Cassidy explained that the guiding principles of her life's work are LGBTQ and reproductive rights. She asked how society views these two issues and the ways they intersect with one another.
Hunt said there are times when people do not see the intersections between LGBTQ and reproductive rights because of the way in which these issues have been framed by various entities but in progressive, inclusive circles that is not the case.
Strathman explained that family and friends wondered why she, a lesbian, started working at Planned Parenthood but over time people stopped asking those questions. She said people are more open-minded about how LGBTQ people fit into the reproductive rights community.
"Our health centers have become more queer over time," said Strathman. "Planned Parenthood is the second largest provider of gender affirming hormone therapy in the country, just behind the Veterans Administration."
Uniejewski has faced numerous questions about why he works for NARAL but he tells people it is because he is an ally who wants to ensure women have access to all facets of reproductive health coverage.
Miller said it is hard to gauge how society views the work they do compared to progressive communities like Chicago. LGBTQ organizations in Chicago are prioritizing reproductive health partly due to less white cisgender gay men being in leadership positions according to Miller.
Cassidy talked about the progress LGBTQ people have made over the years in part because more people are coming out and speaking out regarding equality and how that differs from reproductive rights where many women are still ashamed to say they had an abortion. She explained that years ago she talked about having an abortion to a reporter but it was omitted from the article so she had to tell the story again in the past year to bring visibility to the issue.
One of the ways people can bring more visibility to reproductive rights is through the Shout Your Abortion campaign, said Strathman. She explained that abortion is healthcare and it needs to be discussed during sex-education classes in schools.
"My suburban high school health class was terrible," said Uniejewski. "The teacher did not talk about abortion and it was not LGBTQ-inclusive. Destigmatizing sex education is vital for everyone's well being."
"Talking about racism and gender bias because when people think of abortions they picture women of color," said Hunt.
In terms of intersectionality and how one can address multiple issues at once, Miller said people's various identities impacts their abortion access. Uniejewski said that although abortion has been legal for over 40 years it is not accessible in many communities, mostly due to economic barriers and restrictive legislation that undermines a woman's right to choose.
Hunt explained that everyone has multiple identities that impact everything in their lives and younger people are better able to break down the silos that exist between movements to get things done. She said at a recent panel someone mentioned that one cannot talk about intersectionality without talking about power dynamics among people.
Everyone said the existence of crisis pregnancy centers has been detrimental to the work reproductive rights community has done over the years because they advertise deceptive/false information. Uniejewski said the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirmed these center's existence was a blow to the work they do at NARAL. Miller explained that one of the ways to remove these center's power is by overturning the Hyde Amendment.
As far as LGBTQ resources in areas where they are lacking, Hunt suggested the Phoenix Center, Youth Outlook, college campuses and online information.
Cassidy asked about the U.S. Supreme Court and Brett Kavanaugh and what is at risk if he gets confirmed. The panel explained that he is very dangerous on every social justice issue, including LGBTQ and reproductive rights, that progressives believe in and will negatively impact the country for more than a generation. They said stopping his confirmation is the most important thing people can be doing right now in terms of their activism.
A Q&A session followed the panel.