The LGBTQ and feminist movements are natural partners, not competitors

I’ve been seeing an increasing number of “Look how well LGBTQ issues are doing compared to feminist issues!” pieces lately, perhaps inspired by the success of same-sex marriage and the last couple of years of onslaught against abortion rights and access. There’s also been some anxiety coming from major left-leaning writers like Monica Potts and Katha Pollitt, worrying that LGBTQ and especially trans liberation struggles will hurt feminist causes. I’ve tackled those concerns in past posts.

The unattractive implication of some of this genre of commentary is that liberation and oppression are competitions, and LGBTQ people have won the former while women are winning the latter (and the fact that some people belong to both groups is not seen as especially relevant to the conversation). The other unattractive implication is that LGBTQ liberation and feminism are naturally in competition, fighting each other for the scraps of progress that the mainstream deigns to give them. I even saw one Internet commenter state “I am more concerned, though, that we…have put our attention so much on LGBT rights in recent years that we have let go the much greater challenge: women’s rights (women here = bodies with uteruses).” I wouldn’t normally pull out some random person’s cissexist comment, but in this case it’s just making the subtext text – there’s only so much social justice to go around and LGBTQ people are taking up too much of it while women aren’t getting enough. It’s the same idea that landed Patricia Arquette in controversy during the Oscars.

The narrative of overwhelming LGBTQ victory depends on a very narrow view of LGBTQ issues. There are now 28 states where you can legally get married to your same-sex partner and then legally fired from your job if your workplace finds out about it, and employment nondiscrimination is even a nice mainstream-friendly issue, while issues like LGBTQ homelessness and the all-too-frequent murders of trans women of color are not so much. It’s also too narrow a view of feminism – after all, anti-sexual-violence activism, surely a legitimate feminist cause, has been doing pretty well over the last couple of years.

There’s another problem with the LGBTQ vs women framing, though. It ignores the extent to which the movements share issues.

Contraception and abortion rights and access are feminist issues. They’re also LGBTQ issues. Not just in a fuzzy “All oppressions are connected” kind of way. They are, directly, important LGBTQ issues. LGBQ teens with uteruses are far more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than straight teens (and LGBQ teens with penises are far more likely to impregnate someone than straight ones). Bi women are nearly three times more likely than straight women to have had a partner try to get them pregnant when they didn’t want to be (14.9% vs 4.5%) and about 40% more likely to have had a partner refuse to wear a condom (9.4% vs 6.8%). Trans men who get pregnant are more likely to get abortions, based on the little data we have, than cis women are. Abortion and unplanned pregnancy, by their nature, are issues that affect people with uteruses, but of those people, they affect the LGBTQ ones VERY disproportionately. LGBTQ people desperately need access to contraception and abortion, and to cast these as feminist issues but not LGBTQ issues is to miss an important part of the picture. If you look at the 2015 program book for Creating Change, the big annual LGBTQ activism conference, you see that the LGBTQ movement has come to understand this – reproductive justice was the subject of a plenary session and several workshops, and was one of the topics of discussion at the Task Force Academy Reception.

Rape and other sexual violence are feminist issues. They’re also LGBTQ issues. Not just in a fuzzy “All oppressions are connected” kind of way. They are, directly, important LGBTQ issues (and ones that the LGBTQ movement has been working on for many years through the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and its individual members). According to the CDC NISVS, bi women are a good 2.6x more likely to be raped or have someone try to rape them than straight women, and quite a bit more likely to experience almost every form of sexual violence or physical/sexual domestic violence than straight women, from groping to stalking to choking to being kicked by a partner to having a partner use a gun or knife on them. Lesbians are more likely to experience physical/sexual domestic violence than straight women too. Gay and bi men are twice as likely as straight men to experience some form of sexual violence. These trends show up with kids, too – one of the studies on LGBQ teen pregnancy also showed that LGB teen girls in New York City were almost twice as likely to be raped as straight girls and LGBQ boys in New York City were more than four times as likely to be raped as straight boys. The situation for trans and gender nonconforming people when it comes to sexual violence is so bad that 12% are sexually assaulted JUST in the context of bias attacks in K-12 settings, and 6% in the context of bias attacks in the workplace.

Pay equity and gender-role-connected poverty are feminist issues. They’re also LGBTQ issues. Not just in a fuzzy “All oppressions are connected” kind of way. They are, directly, important LGBTQ issues. According to the Williams Institute, same-sex couples are more likely to be poor regardless of gender, lesbian and particularly bi women are more likely to be poor than straight women, and gay and particularly bi men are more likely to be poor than straight men (bi men are even more likely to be poor than straight and lesbian women). Same-sex couples make less than different-sex couples and are more likely to receive public assistance. You need only go back to the link above on trans experiences of sexual violence to see the grim stats about income distribution for trans and gender nonconforming people. And trans women’s earnings fall by nearly a third after transition (while trans men’s earnings slightly increase).

Any sensible LGBTQ movement would understand that these are all as much its issues as same-sex marriage, and put serious work into them. Any sensible feminist movement would understand that the LGBTQ movement is its natural partner on some of its roughest, toughest mainstream issues, rather than a competitor for a limited amount of social justice in the world that has managed to grab more than its share. Fortunately, there are a lot of LGBTQ activists and a lot of feminists who understand this.

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