Friday 17 May 2013

The effect of homophobia and transphobia on universal access to reproductive health

Today is IDAHO, otherwise known as ‘The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia’. We decided to blog about the relevance of reproductive rights to people of all (or no) genders and sexualities, and some of the problems those who identify as LGBT* can face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and relevant information.

Why are reproductive rights important for people of all genders and sexualities?

When I tell people I work on a project which educates young people on pregnancy options they’ve asked if we only visit girls’ schools, and have expressed skepticism at the usefulness of covering this topic at a workshop for LGBT* youth. At EFC we believe everyone has a stake in understanding how reproduction works, and how people can be supported to make decisions about sex, contraception and pregnancy that are right for them. Here are some thoughts on why this is a subject which breaks though cisgendered/heterosexual ‘norms’:

-    Most people with a womb have at least the capability to get pregnant at some point in their lives. Even those who don’t choose to have vaginal intercourse can become pregnant, for example through sperm accidentally coming into contact with the vagina through non-penetrative intercourse, or as a result of rape.
-    Research has shown that young people who identify as gay, lesbian and bisexual may in fact be at a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy than their heterosexual peers. Stigma surrounding sexuality can lead some young people to ‘prove’ heterosexuality through sexual contact with a partner of the ‘opposite’ sex.
-    As Thomas Beatie has shown with his high-profile pregnancies, trans men and transmasculine people can and do become pregnant and may require specific information on this process.
-    Those who are unable to conceive in what is often seen as the ‘natural’ or ‘traditional’ way, may decide to access services which allow them to become pregnant (e.g. IVF) or to become parents through other means (adoption, fostering and surrogacy).
-    People who cannot themselves become pregnant may have close contact with those who do, whether it be a partner, family member or friend.
-    Many of the individuals and groups which seek to restrict abortion access also argue against LGBT* rights – for example, anti-choice group SPUC is currently running a campaign against equal marriage and has claimed that ‘making homosexual couples the legal parents of children is not in the best interests of children’.

What are some of the barriers for people who are LGBT* in accessing reproductive health services?

Outright stigma, and homo/trans/biphobia is a clear barrier for equal access to services. The stories gathered by #transdocfail showed systematically poor treatment of trans* people in health services, likely to be reflected in consultations relating to sexual and reproductive health. Media outrage and sensationalised headlines relating to LGBT* parenting are unlikely to make those who identify as such eager to access support and services. And as well as stigma, there may be legal restrictions to reproductive rights – the Swedish government has only just vowed to remove a statute which requires all transgender people to be sterilised in order to have their gender recognised legally.

Beyond direct objection to equal reproductive rights, there is also often a lack of tailored resources and information for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. In our own work we are trying to address this by using language that is inclusive, and thinking of ways to address gaps in resource provision, making links between the reproductive rights and LGBT* rights movements where possible. Thankfully, some progress is being made – we’ve listed some useful resources below but please do add your own comments and suggestions.

Useful resources

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