Feminism: A Necessary Ingredient for LGBT Equality

26 Jan

by Mark Stern

My first year at Georgetown University, I saw a flyer on campus advertising a meeting for “LGBT pro-life students.” The meeting, further research uncovered, was sponsored by PLAGAL, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (former name: Gays Against Abortion). The organization, whose logo contains a fetus levitating in a cartoon heart winged with rainbow spikes, does not boast an extensive membership list or a high profile. But it’s still worth contemplating, not just as an amusingly pathetic fringe organization of very confused people, but as a reminder of why feminism and LGBT equality fuse so neatly.

Today, the women’s rights and gay rights movement overlap in myriad arenas: nonprofits that support one almost uniformly support the other; they share support from largely the same demographics; and their concrete goals are frequently identical. Intersectionality–the feminist theory that discrimination is best seen as a web of societal oppression that affects more that the explicitly targeted group–explains some of this, but so does common sense. Sexual orientation, like sex, is an inborn trait–in other words, part of one’s identity. And to be oppressed due to one’s identity obviously violates the very premise of equality.

The oppression inflicted upon women and LGBT people is vast and longstanding, too sweeping to catalog in any great detail here. At the heart of both forms of discrimination, however, lies a denial of one’s right to chose one’s own destiny, to follow one’s own heart, to live as an equal human being. These basic rights–fundamental to the American Constitution–can be easily ripped away by a majoritarian society unsympathetic to the plight of persecuted peoples. This dehumanization was, and remains, a core principle of the anti-choice movement, which cloaks its agenda in concern for human life while championing measures that demean and degrade women’s dignity. When the anti-choice movement proposes that women seeking an abortion have a large probe inserted in their vaginal canals and be forced to gaze at their fetus, they are not, in any way, respecting human life. Rather, they are revealing the true intention of anti-choice activism: to shame, humiliate, and frighten women against exerting control over their own bodies.

This goal is the hollow heart behind the anti-choice movement’s plaintive cries for mercy for “human life.” Theirs is a selective kind of mercy, one which ignores the dignity of women while obsessing over the potential of a cluster of cells. I once stood on the steps of the Supreme Court with about twenty activists from the National Organization of Women while 75,000 anti-choice Catholic protesters surrounded, taunted, and shamed us for our beliefs. (Several shoved, kicked, and cursed us.) After witnessing firsthand the manic passion with which these people oppose abortion–and the chillingly savage vitriol with which they treat their opponents–I must believe that many have been duped into the laughable notion that the anti-choice movement is about babies. But a brief look at the history of anti-choice activism proves beyond a doubt that it is not; it is about women, and preventing them from controlling their bodies and their destinies. When a woman is forced to carry an unwanted child to term by the state, she is being denied a basic tenet of liberty, surrendering her independence, physically and mentally, and power over her own fate.

Without the right over their own reproductive systems, of course, women inhabit a lower place in society–exactly the place most anti-choice activists desire them to be. A fully empowered woman with true autonomy is a threat to a male-dominated society; free of the fear of unwanted children, women have been able to flourish in the work force, enter the upper echelon of politics, and rise through the ranks of the military. With the right to choose snatched away, much of this progress would be reversed. This factor, above all else, explains why self-proclaimed pro-life feminist groups are such a farce: to be anti-choice is to be anti-feminist. Many–perhaps most–of the hard-fought gains of modern feminism spring from pro-choice activism. Roe v. Wade did more than legalize abortion in the United States. It recognized a woman’s right to be an equal human being.

An identical goal lies beneath the fight for marriage equality. As Molly Ball explained in her gripping account of 2012 marriage equality battles, same-sex marriage–while a noble and worthy goal in and of itself–is really an umbrella issues, one which captures a plenitude of other LGBT aims. To recognize a same-sex couple’s right to get married is to recognize the dignity of each partner, the validity of their love, the strength of their commitment. Anti-LGBT advocates have long succeeded by denying LGBT people such dignity; gay people have been painted as freaks, perverts, predators, and libertines. All of these allegations are incorrect to the point of silliness, but they were shockingly effective in allowing otherwise decent people ignore LGBT cries for equality. Same-sex marriage potently undermines each calumnious accusation in one fell swoop, revealing gay people to be regular human beings who want only the same rights as straight people, the same opportunity to pursue a committed relationship with the person they love. The fight for marriage equality, in the final analysis, is really quite similar to the fight for abortion rights, a crusade for the freedom to live one’s life free of oppression, state-sponsored opprobrium, and shame.

Which brings us back to PLAGAL. It should be clear at this point that the very notion of an anti-choice group founded and run by LGBT people violently contradicts the central precepts of LGBT equality. To advocate for LGBT rights while campaigning against women’s rights is as illogical as being a vegan hunter. To support one but not the other is to deny that all human beings deserve equal rights, equal protections, and equal opportunities. And the fact that a class of historically oppressed people are willing–enthusiastic, even–to perpetuate prejudice onto another is not just dispiriting: it’s embarrassing. Feminism and LGBT equality don’t merely overlap in specific goals; they spring from the same principle of justice. At their core is the same battle for rights, the same fight for equality, and soldiers for one side are soldiers for both. PLAGAL and other such self-contradictory groups are an affront to feminists and gay people alike, implying that pro-choice beliefs are not an inherent part of equal rights. These groups are wrong: there is no more vital component of equality than choice. And the hopelessly confused dogma of anti-choice gay people deserves no place in the LGBT movement’s march toward victory.

One Response to “Feminism: A Necessary Ingredient for LGBT Equality”

  1. Anonymous January 27, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    This is a fallacious argument that overreaches by conflating the LGBTQ challenges with reproductive rights. Abortion is not simply about the “right to choose” or the “right to life”; rather it is about the medium between those two extremes. It is as much a conversation about reproductive rights as it is our moral stance on life and its value. Denying members of the LGBTQ community to support pro-life policies cements that oft-hated assumption that if you identify with a certain group (race, sexual orientation, etc.), you must support a single agenda. It’s this tendency to craft monolithic groups that stifles debate and leads to disengagement (e.g. GOP on African-Americans). You highlight some of the extreme policies of the pro-life movement and I think most Americans recognize that they are in direct opposition to our basic conceptions of liberty and privacy. Yet, you extrapolate broad assumptions about the pro-life movement based on the policies of the most extreme pro-life policy members. That, sir, is intellectually dishonest and dismisses the the complexity of the issue of abortion (see http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/01/as-roe-v-wade-turns-40-americans-opinions-on-abortion-have-barely-shifted/), an issue where people would prefer to have abortion be “Safe, Legal, and Rare.” And the argument is also an affront to members of the LGBTQ community who are intellectually capable of determining their own values on policy including life.

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