On Wednesday, July 5th, Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE) hosted a lunch and learn event called “Sex and Politics: Queering Reproductive Justice”. The event was for DC interns working at nonprofits and organizations in social justice. Human Rights Coalition, Jewish Women’s International, and National Women’s Law Center were among the organizations that sent interns, totaling about 80 people in attendance. The presentation was led by Alexis Cole, URGE’s Policy Manager, and Renee Rivas, their Policy Intern.
URGE’s mission is to create “a world where all people have agency over their own bodies and relationships, and the power, knowledge, and tools to exercise that agency”. They empower young people to develop this agency through training, field mobilization, and leadership on college campuses, especially in states where access to reproductive health resources may be especially threatened or limited.
This event was focused on the intersections between the reproductive justice movement and the queer justice movement, and how both are incredibly nuanced and share intersections with race, class, immigration, safety, and many other experiences. Cole began the presentation by defining reproductive justice as the moment when people have economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about bodies, sexuality, and reproduction, and having the agency and autonomy to do so.
The presenters then defined what it means to be queer, asking the audience of interns for their own definitions. We discussed how queer can be a reclaimed slur, can refer to people who aren’t straight/ cisgender, including those people who aren’t straight or cis but don’t fit into any of the boxes under the LGBT umbrella. She highlighted that queer can be a noun or adjective as an identity, as well as a verb. To “queer” something, according to sexuality educator Charlie Glickman, “to queer something, whether it’s a text, a story, or an identity, is to take a look at its foundations and question them. We can explore its limits, its biases, and its boundaries”.
The purpose of this event was to take this idea of “queering” and apply it to reproductive justice. This is crucial because all movements should have intersections, because all people have intersections, and movements have shared goals and values.
This presentation was incredibly valuable because Cole and Rivas enumerated some of the intersections and issues in both movements past what’s talked about in the mainstream: abortion rights and marriage rights. These issues are vital, of course, but people have so many experiences and problems outside of those two well-reported issues. For example, the fight for reproductive justice includes fighting for queer justice, immigrant justice, racial justice, and trans justice, and all of these individual movements overlap among each other.
What was so meaningful and impactful about this event was how the presenters emphasized that within these broad movements, there are specific cultural and political issues that require an approach that considers the intersections of people’s lived experiences in fighting: religious refusals, anti-sanctuary city laws, sex education, sexual violence, health care access, the list goes on. Cole and Rivas effectively showed, for example, how access to healthcare is such an intersectional issue. If you are not covered and you get sick, you can’t do anything else—maintain relationships, take care of loved ones, work and support your family. Further, healthcare impacts different people in different ways. Young people are more likely to be on Medicaid because of the inconsistent nature of young people’s jobs and lives, queer and trans youth are more likely to be kicked out of their homes and off their parents’ health insurance plans, and undocumented people often don’t have any access to reliable care.
The biggest takeaway from this event can be summarized by the queen herself, black lesbian poet Audre Lorde: “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives”. The most powerful way to be activists is together.