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The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond

It's All Connected: LGBTQ and Gender part 1

It's All ConnectedMartha BurwellComment

If you’re a supporter of gender equality, I bet you also support LGBTQ rights.  

This is true for me, but I’ve never been quite able to articulate why
It just seemed right.  It just seemed to make sense. 

As the first post in the “It’s All Connected” series, I explored this topic with David Ward, an attorney at Legal Voice, who has worked to pass laws in Washington State addressing both the fight for LGBT equality and gender equality.   

We set up the interview in the Legal Voice office, above the Paramount Theater, with a view of the city below.

“Let’s start with the basics.  Can you talk about how these two social movements, the fight for LGBT equality, and the fight for gender equality, overlap?”

Well, David explained, there are two main ways in which they overlap:

1.  Gender stereotypes, or what it means to be female or male.

 Boy Scouts at the 2015 Seattle Pride Parade (c) Martha Burwell

Boy Scouts at the 2015 Seattle Pride Parade (c) Martha Burwell

This means how men and women, girls, and boys are “supposed” to behave in our culture. It’s pretty clear how this affects women’s rights, with our history of women fighting for the right to vote (“women shouldn’t meddle in politics!”), and the right to work (“women should be in the home”), for example.

But it also affects LGBT people because, in our culture, if you’re a man, that means that you’re “supposed to” have a relationship with a woman, and vice versa.  Similarly, our culture expects you to identify with the body you were born with, even if you identify as a different gender.

And we have a brutal history of enforcing these gender stereotypes.  For example, in Washington State, it’s still legal to practice “conversion therapy,” even on children, to “cure” someone of being gay or transgender via psychology, shaming, praying, and even electric shock (!).  It doesn’t work, and is extremely harmful.

In short, “discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination,” explained David, which the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission--the people who decide what discrimination in the workplace means--formally stated this month.

2.  Bodily autonomy, or who decides what happens to your body.

What do you mean?  Don’t I always get to decide what I do with my body?  If I want to go to the gym, I can.  If I want to jump off a cliff, I can.  Right? 

 The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at 2015 Seattle Pride Parade (c) Martha Burwell

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at 2015 Seattle Pride Parade (c) Martha Burwell

Not always. 

Controlling people’s bodies is a technique used to disempower people that has been around as long as history itself.  Think corsets.  Think foot binding.  In today’s world, think the uncertain access to birth control and abortions, and Washington's many Catholic health care centers that may limit access.

As David put it, “The reproductive rights movement (as part of the women’s rights movement) is based significantly on the right to control your body.  For gay, lesbian, and transgender folks, it’s the same.  Your body belongs to you, and you get to decide what you do with it.”

Ok, that makes sense.  The pieces are coming together.

Let’s get a little more context now. 

Controlling people’s bodies is a technique used to disempower people that has been around as long as history itself.

Both social movements have a strong history in our country.  Stonewall, 1969, is generally determined to be the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement.  For gender equality, the early 1960’s were the beginning of the second wave feminism.

And they didn’t exactly get along right away. 

In the 60’s and early 70’s, “the religious right would try to portray the feminist movement as a bunch of radical lesbians, to dismiss the movement, because LGBT rights were so disfavored by so many people” at that time.  So some women’s rights organizations considered excluding lesbians. For example, the National Organization for Women president at the time, Betty Friedan, “referred to the movement for lesbian rights as the ‘Lavender Menace’” David explained as he shook his head.

 David Ward, Attorney at Legal Voice (photo used with permission)

David Ward, Attorney at Legal Voice (photo used with permission)

But they worked through this, and “by the early 70’s it was pretty widely accepted that lesbian rights were a part of the feminist movement.”

Since then, they’ve worked together in many ways, especially at crucial moments. 

In Washington State, David described two critical times when the women’s movement has put on their armor and jumped into battle next to the LGBT groups: in 2008, when we passed domestic partnership laws, and in 2012, for marriage equality.  In both, “the women’s community made the difference, and certainly women voters made the difference.”

At a national level, “organizations like the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Law Center, all have been very supportive of LGBT rights….So there’s definitely been a lot of support in the women’s rights movement for LGBT rights.”

I noticed that all the examples were women’s organizations supporting LGBT organizations.  What about the reverse?  Does the LGBT community support gender equality?

PART 2 coming next week….

Learn More: follow Legal Voice on Facebook, to see their thoughts on this subject.  Also see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's recent ruling that LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination.