The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond

It's All Connected: 4 ways LGBTQ and Gender Equality Advocates Can Work Together

It's All ConnectedMartha BurwellComment

Imagine this. You just visited the doctor, and received a 3-month prescription for birth control. At Bartell's the next day, the pharmacist hands you the packet, then asks you to slide your card. Your eyes move down to the screen, and you jump at what you see.  $150!  “What? That’s way too high!” you exclaim. The pharmacist pulls up your information. “It appears your health insurance doesn’t cover birth control. Employers don’t have to include reproductive care if it goes against their religion now,” she explains, shaking her head. You slide the pills back across the counter with a sigh, as you can’t afford that.  

Earlier this month, I interviewed David Ward about how the fight for gender equality and LGBT equality overlaps. After covering the main concepts, our conversation shifted to where we should work together.   

The scenario above highlights the first lesson:

1. Don’t lose focus. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go until we reach “lived equality.”

“Lived equality,” or experiencing equality in daily life, doesn’t happen as soon as you win a big legal battle like marriage equality. To explain this, consider the example above. Though birth control in pill form has been legal since 1960, that doesn't mean it's a viable reality for everyone.

This is an example of what's known as ‘religious refusals,’ or “the idea that somebody can refuse services or discriminate against you because of religious beliefs,” as David articulated. 

Think of last year’s Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision. Now businesses may deny female workers reproductive health care coverage if it goes against their (the business owner’s) religious beliefs.

But it's more than accessible health care. LGBTQ people face similar discrimination. “We’ve seen this all over the country. Where private businesses will not serve same-sex couples.….you go into a florist shop in Tri-Cities, to get flowers for your wedding, and you won’t be served because of religious objections of the business owner.” 

Even though in Washington State, “we have very strong (legal) protections against discrimination here….You have to be very vigilant and to keep fighting against efforts to erode the rights.” 

“Because what we find in any civil rights movement, is you make progress, and then there’s backlash. You win rights, and then there’s a constant fight against them.”

This is where we need to join together. To pass more legal protections, and to have, as MadEye Moody’s famous expression in Harry Potter, “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”

2. Celebrate LGBTQ wins!  But get angry about the lack of gender equality.

Remember Indiana last year? The governor signed a law allowing LGBTQ discrimination. #BoycottIndiana immediately sprung up, and businesses, bands, and travelers pulled out of the state. The ruling was reversed in a matter of days. Because, as David put it, “no one’s going to discriminate if it’s bad for business.”

Meanwhile, “51 abortion restrictions were passed in various states in the past 6 months. Does anyone know this? Same thing with pay equity.  Everyone knows the statistics.” Why are we not riled up? Why are we not furious that we’re cheated out of $11 thousand dollars a year? Or that workplaces penalize motherhood immensely?

It might be because we’re so used to it, it’s become normalized.

The perfect example happened a few weeks ago.  You may be aware of the despicable increase in ‘gay bashing’ on Capitol Hill. People are rightly outraged by it. The Mayor has created a task force. Gay men are tweeting about feeling unsafe on Capitol Hill for the first time.

“And I thought, ‘welcome to the experience of women and transgender people every day!’” exclaimed David. “There’s still so much white male privilege that getting harassed is unusual.  Whereas for women it’s a daily experience in many cases.”

“Violence against women is almost normalized,….why don’t we pay that same amount of attention every time a woman is harassed walking down the street? Could you imagine? We’d be protesting every day.” 

Why don’t we pay that same amount of attention every time a woman is harassed walking down the street? Could you imagine? We’d be protesting every day.

3.  Talk about the discrimination you’ve experienced.  Tell your story.  Because even though it feels like it sometimes, it’s not just you

David and I discussed the fact that the LGBT movement has made enormous strides, while for women, the movement has slowed, or even reversed in some ways.

“How do you change that dynamic?” mused David. “Some say it’s about storytelling.  A big part of why the LGBT rights have succeeded is because people have come out of the closet…Maybe more women need to come out and talk about the discrimination they’ve faced.” 

The same thing goes for transgender people: “it becomes harder to find someone as foreign or suspect…. when you actually know them.  And the fact is today, most Americans don’t think they know anyone who’s transgender. And they likely do.”

4.  Make sure you’re not just advocating for yourself.

Angel at the 2015 Seattle Pride Parade (c) Martha Burwell

Angel at the 2015 Seattle Pride Parade (c) Martha Burwell

It’s really difficult to understand what it’s like to be in another’s shoes.  But this is absolutely critical to move forward with the social justice issues we’re fighting for. 

In the last post, we talked about how women’s rights organizations have strongly supported LGBTQ organizations. 

Maybe it’s time for LGBTQ organizations to increase their support in the fight for gender equality.

How can you do this? Learn about the issues. Vote. Protest. One way David suggested is to “let people be leaders if they are women, or people of color, or trans. Try to avoid this being a gay white men’s movement.” Talk about it with the organizations you support, even though it might be uncomfortable.  Don’t assume it will happen automatically, because it won’t.

In conclusion, “there needs to be an allyship between the two movements. If you support LGBT rights, you should be supporting women’s rights, and vice-versa. You should care about both movements.  Because we rise and fall together.”

If you support LGBT rights, you should be supporting women’s rights, and vice-versa. You should care about both movements. Because we rise and fall together.

*Of course, this argument goes much further than LGBTQ and gender rights.  We should advocate for all types of people, which I’ll be exploring in further “It’s All Connected” series.