The Disconnect Between the Reproductive Justice and LGBTQ Movements

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During OUTober, I am often reminded of the chasm that exists between the LGBTQ spaces and pro-choice spaces on campus. If I had a nickel for every time someone — specifically white, cis, gay men — questioned my participation in H*yas for Choice because I’m a gay woman, I’d have 10 cents and zero f*cking patience left. It is extremely unfortunate for me to see a blatant disconnect between the LGBTQ movement and the reproductive justice movement, both on this campus and in the greater public discourse in this country. I attribute this distance to a misunderstanding of what reproductive justice means and the way it affects Georgetown and society as a whole.

For me, reproductive justice is affirming everyone’s right to choose when, how, and if they want to exercise their ability to reproduce.

When: This includes protecting access to contraceptives for men, women, and those who do not conform to the gender binary so that they can be in control of their reproductive destinies. Male condoms, female condoms, IUDs, the pill, hormonal implants — you name it, they all need to be available to students regardless of their socioeconomic background or the religious affiliation of the school they attend. Access to contraception and other methods of protection (e.g. dental dams) that prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs is immensely important for both the LGBTQ community as well as proponents of reproductive justice.

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How: This is where I believe we need to expand our understanding of reproductive justice. How people choose to reproduce (if they choose to reproduce in the first place, which we’ll cover later) should be dependent on their own decisions and that of their partner, if they have one. Fighting for reproductive justice means denouncing the coercive sterilization of women in prison, just as much as it means fighting for the right of any couple, or individual, to use in vitro fertilization to conceive a child. When we prevent certain members of society from reproducing based on racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, biphobia, and other kinds of prejudice, we rob them of their reproductive rights. Both the LGBTQ movement and the reproductive justice movement ought to work together to uphold the right of individuals to reproduce however they choose.

Another aspect of the “how” of reproductive justice is consent. An individual’s sexual agency must not be violated, regardless of whether their perpetrator is their partner. I am glad to see that there have been increased discussions on campus regarding intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ community and hope to see this expanded further in the future. These conversations are especially critical considering that bisexual women endure the highest levels of sexual violence, the stigma surrounding sexual violence, and the demasculinization that male survivors may endure. Rape and sexual violence, especially when committed against people who are able to get pregnant, violate a survivor’s reproductive rights since the victim cannot decide to participate in an act that might lead to conception.

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If: Not all women want to have children! Not everyone who is married wants to have children! Not everyone in a relationship wants to get married! Not everyone wants to be in a romantic relationship! Not everyone wants to have sex! Both movements respect the right of the individual to live out their identity free from pressure to conform to societal expectations of masculinity, femininity, relationships, and parenthood — so, why not engage in more conversations about this intersection on campus!?

Unfortunately, there are shortcomings that both the LGBTQ and repro movements share, but they can be conquered together. Racism, notably in the form of historical erasure that obscures the impact people of color have had on both movements, has led to the persistent marginalization of people of color. We need to celebrate the contributions that people of color have made to both movements and ensure we are being inclusive, especially with our language. The creation of the Queer Men of Color discussion group as well as the GU Queer People of Color organization are important advancements, but more needs to be done by existing LGBTQ and pro-choice spaces on campus. Additionally, as the LGB(T!)Q movement is evolving to address the particular issues trans people face, so must the repro justice movement, including dialogue addressing abortion access and “women’s” health care; once again, language is vital to create safe, inclusive spaces.

The LGBTQ and reproductive justice movements are certainly not mutually exclusive. This is made clear by the many students active in H*yas for Choice who are also part of the LGBTQ community — students like me. If the movements did not have overlapping initiatives, they would be horribly inept at creating a progressive environment where students can feel comfortable acting in ways that are consistent with their identities. More can be done to ensure both movements work in solidarity with each other, and I urge leaders on campus to help facilitate this change.

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Annie Mason (COL’ 18) is the Historian of H*yas for Choice.

SAC, Vaginas, and Free Speech at Georgetown

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This year, I was a producer in Georgetown’s production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” We had just over 60 actresses, performed in six shows, and ended up donating a few thousand dollars to My Sister’s Place, a local domestic violence shelter. Overall, it was a large, successful operation that went relatively smoothly — that is, until members of the cast attempted to design and purchase T-shirts for themselves to commemorate their experience.

Let me start by showing the design. Here it is, in all its glory:

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This is what happened: I designed the shirts, drawing from designs that the V-Day Foundation sells as part of its One Billion Rising campaign. According to Custom Ink’s requirements, the shirts had to have the words “Georgetown University” on them. Additionally, the shirts were being entirely funded by club members — SAC money was not being used to purchase them. After I submitted the design to SAC, I received an email saying the design had been “narrowly approved.” Wary but optimistic, I accepted the decision.

Unfortunately, the following day, I received an email saying a member of the commission had moved to rescind SAC’s authorization because they believed the matter needed further consideration. I was urged to attend the SAC meeting the following week to present the shirts if I wanted them to be approved.

Thus began the saga.

I want to say explicitly that I am not attempting to vilify SAC. They eventually did the right thing — they passed the design 7-4. The reason I waited a few weeks to discuss the incident was to avoid any uproar over something that SAC (eventually) did right. However, that does not mean the situation was not concerning. It demonstrated the persistence of deeply held, frankly misogynistic beliefs regarding women and their sexuality. The ordeal that was required to pass the T-shirt design needs to be discussed because the attitudes some SAC commissioners displayed are also the underpinnings of anti-women, anti-choice, and anti-sexual health legislation and movements at Georgetown and across the U.S.

There were two major arguments some of the SAC commissioners made that warrant special attention. The first was that if members of Take Back the Night wore the T-shirts around campus, small children might see them and parents might find them inappropriate. Let me reiterate that, as you can see, this is not an anatomical depiction of a vagina. It is an abstract representation of a concept of femininity — the very concept the Monologues tries to espouse. Heaven forbid a 6-year-old girl would look at the shirt and see something vaguely reminiscent of what she, herself, possesses. Further, there are metaphorical phallic images everywhere we look — all one has to do is peek out the window of some New South dorm to catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument. There is a double standard, and, as is so frequently the case, the double standard works against women.

GU cast members of "The Vagina Monologues"

GU cast members of “The Vagina Monologues”

The design is simply not pornographic. To say that the design is inappropriate requires a two-step thought process. First, it assumes that the vagina is automatically sexual, an idea that borders on objectification. Second, it indicates that a woman’s vagina is dirty and shameful. It is this kind of thinking that fosters the slut/virgin dichotomy, catcalling a woman as she walks down a street, and — perhaps most seriously — the stigma surrounding a woman who chooses to speak about her sexual assault or to have an abortion. These cultural norms hurt women, and by deliberating for over two weeks about the shirts, SAC perpetuated the existence of these norms.

Additionally, several SAC commissioners likened the image to a T-shirt design they had refused to approve earlier in the year that prominently displayed a beer stein, which they felt promoted underage drinking. Because, clearly, possessing a vagina is a similarly illegal activity.

It makes the university look good to have an active women’s center. It makes Georgetown look good to have a chapter of Take Back the Night and to put on “The Vagina Monologues.” It is something tour guides can point out as they bring prospective groups through campus. However, by threatening to reject the design, SAC, acting in its role as an advisory commission to the university, said that these are important issues to discuss in a very small, enclosed theater for a few nights a year. Carrying on the dialogue for more than a few hours every February by wearing shirts that symbolize the essence of the show would clearly be too much discussion, SAC implied. It’s a free speech issue, and H*yas for Choice has always contended that the university pays lip service to free speech, but frequently fails in their implementation of it. Unfortunately, this debacle with SAC epitomizes that constant struggle.

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Emily Stephens (SFS ’17) is the secretary of H*yas for Choice. 

Being Pro-Choice at Georgetown

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Many of our peers — some accusatory, some simply curious — have asked us, “Why would you, somebody who claims to be pro-choice, come to Georgetown? Don’t you know that this is a Catholic institution?” A few of our members have chosen to address this so-called “quandary,” and their voices serve as our humble response.

Yijin Yang (COL ’17)

As a pro-choice individual, I chose to come to Georgetown for a number of reasons — the academic and extracurricular opportunities, the Jesuit ideals, the location, and the community’s commitment to reflective and relevant dialogue. I did not choose Georgetown because it was perfect. I came to this school knowing that there would be policies with which I would not agree, people with whom I would not share the same views, and things I would like to change. This is the case with any place that values positive change and healthy debate, and Georgetown is no different. We are all working to make Georgetown the best place it can be, and change and discourse are natural for any community that shares this goal.

Abby Grace (SFS ’16)

My decision to come to Georgetown was largely motivated by the Jesuits’ remarkable tradition of academic inquiry. Georgetown’s focus on the whole person, and its subsequent emphasis on professors that not only produce great research, but also are invested in their students’ individual growth, drew me to this campus. Boiling down the Jesuit tradition to a blind acceptance of the Catholic Church’s stances on reproductive health is simplistic. I’m thankful that I have had the opportunity to be a part of this tradition, and I know that my educational experience has been enriched by Georgetown’s Jesuit identity.

Sarah Rabon (COL ’16)

My personal religious beliefs inform my pro-choice advocacy. As a prospective Hoya, I was always told that my religious convictions would be tolerated and respected at Georgetown.

Lily Westergaard (COL ’15)

I came to Georgetown because, to me, it is evident that cura personalis is in line with my pro-choice views. In a perfect world, “care for the whole person” would extend to sexual health, reproductive justice, and bodily autonomy. Our Jesuit identity should serve to bolster these principles, not as a reason to repress an important part of the human experience. Reproductive rights are human rights.

Paige Bradley (COL ’17)

Although I knew Georgetown was Jesuit, that facet of the school’s identity did not factor into my decision to come here. I did not believe it fair to have the religious affiliation of the student body play a significant role in my college choice. Thus, I had to come to terms with the fact that Georgetown is a Catholic institution and that I would have to respect the choices and beliefs of many peers with whom I would not see eye-to-eye. That being said, I think groups like H*yas for Choice serve an especially important purpose here. Not every Georgetown student — or even a majority (I believe) — is Catholic, and even students who are Catholic need adequate access to sexual-health resources. If the school cannot provide this — an unfortunate reality, but an understandable one, considering Georgetown’s strong religious affiliation — then it is the job of the students to fill that important void. The health, safety, and happiness of our peers depend on it.

Gabi Emma Hasson (COL ’17)

I chose to attend Georgetown because of — not in spite of — its Jesuit values. Georgetown was not originally my top choice, and I was pretty ready to submit my deposit to the University of Pennsylvania two years ago — until I actually visited Georgetown during a GAAP Weekend. I was completely inspired by Georgetown’s core, Jesuit values, and I remain wholly unconvinced that Catholic doctrine and pro-choice feminism are fundamentally incompatible. Specifically, Georgetown’s ethics of cura personalis and being “men and women for others” support the logic of reproductive justice. Seeing H*yas for Choice members commit themselves to upholding the sexual health of their community and to clinic escorting on a weekly basis further vindicates me — that is truly caring for the whole person; that is truly dedicating yourself to the good of others.

Emily Stephens (SFS ’17)

Silly me for thinking I could choose a school based on the merits of its international relations program rather than based on its antiquated policies on contraception and birth control! I chose to go to Georgetown for the same reason I’m choosing to study abroad in China next year, even though its government routinely and systematically censors the Internet and news: because the benefits outweigh the injustice of free-speech repression. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to criticize the Great Firewall, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to put condoms on my door and table in Red Square.

Matt Healey (SFS ’18)

Reproductive-rights issues are among several topics that I knew I disagreed with Georgetown’s administration on when I chose to attend the university. However, I believe that the many benefits of a Georgetown education are worth pursuing. Ultimately, I know that my own opinions will be respected and listened to here — as long as I speak up. I hope that my voice can help move Georgetown forward over time.

Why I Didn’t Attend the Conference on Life

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H*yas for Choice’s rally Saturday in opposition to the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life received some criticism. Some people posted comments online and others beseeched us as we tabled and rallied outside. Instead of “rabble-rousing” in Healy Circle, some argued, some members should have gone into the conference, listened to the speakers, and “politely stated” our objections in Q&A sessions to gain a “richer experience”.

Members of the group may have independently attended the event, but HFC did not make a concerted effort to send individuals to ensure the group’s representation. Here is my attempt to justify that decision.

H*yas for Choice members outside Saturday’s conference

First, to co-opt the rhetoric and argumentation so often used to criticize HFC — e.g., “How egotistical to believe you need to provide information about sexual resources! The internet exists!”; “You do realize students can walk a few blocks and buy condoms from CVS, don’t you?” — the internet exists. These speakers do not exist in a vacuum. They have published books, given interviews, written articles, and teach at Georgetown. Cardinal O’Malley even has a regular podcast. Their opinions and values are not a secret, and neither are their bigotry and bias.

Indeed, HFC members posted an article every day leading up to the conference, laying out specific complaints about speakers at the conference by drawing on this information. To argue that I needed to go to the conference in order to fully understand the perspectives and arguments of these individuals is simplistic. In fact, this logic is dangerously close to blatantly contradicting other arguments HFC is used to hearing. “Why did you come to a Jesuit university if you disagree so strongly with their values,” we’re told time and time again. “What, exactly, did you expect? You made the choice to come here, so to protest the administration’s policies is to rage pointlessly against the machine.”

I can only imagine that if dedicated HFC members attended the conference and asked truly probing, substantive questions, the group would be met with the same criticisms: “Why did you come to the conference if you’re just going to aggravate the speakers and attendees? What did you expect was going to be said? Why bother challenging something you can’t change?” The argument that if I went, I might learn something is tinged with superiority — if only I could understand what anti-choice people are really saying, this argument seems to implore, there is no way I could remain so aggressively in favor of reproductive justice.

If the university — or rather, the students organizing the conference — truly wanted a richer experience for everyone, they would heed Hoyas United for Free Speech’s call for a more diverse population of speakers. It would not require abandoning their faith, or bringing in a radical choice activist. Catholics for Choice, for example, is based in Washington, DC. In fact, a speaker who challenges some long-held beliefs of members of the conference would truly uphold the ideal of the conference, “An End to Intelligent Debate?”

It is not the responsibility of H*yas for Choice to provide the sole dissenting voice, or to agitate hopelessly where they cannot and will not be heard. Perhaps it would be in the best interest of the concerned students and participants who wanted HFC to attend to meet the group halfway. Even if those students are unwilling to do so, the ultimate inequality of the situation is that if HFC had wanted to organize a similar conference, speaker, or even discussion, they would never have been able to use Gaston Hall and John DeGioia would never have sent the student body an email about it.

It’s an old argument but an important one: HFC does not have access to any university resources simply because Church officials do not agree with what they say. I’m not arguing the university shouldn’t have allowed the Conference on Life to occur, but I feel no need to attend a conference that was institutionally designed to not even take my beliefs into account. H*yas for Choice has a much more vested interest in protesting outside the event than in going in and listening to tired arguments and anti-choice rhetoric. The event is not live-broadcasted. The only people who are going to see the event are people who pre-registered beforehand and plan to give up an entire Saturday to attend. These dedicated people will not change their opinions because of some “pointed questions” we direct toward speakers. It’s a generous assessment of the average participant’s open-mindedness to even say they would objectively listen to our arguments, as we are expected to do by attending.

However, tabling outside the front gates captures the attention of a much larger portion of the Georgetown community, some of whom may not even be aware of the conference. Every person who stops and asks, “Why are you tabling here today?” has an opportunity to hear the group’s opinions that they otherwise would not have had. In terms of spreading awareness, tabling outside is an easy choice.

Despite the fact that HFC seems to constantly butt heads with the administration, that is not its purpose. Its purpose is to empower the students of Georgetown to have the information necessary to make sexual-health decisions for themselves, while spreading information and agitating for reproductive-justice issues. Visibility is a clear and integral part of that agenda.

To conclude: Was H*yas for Choice obligated to attend the conference in order to stage a legitimate protest? No. Was it a better use of HFC’s time to protest where we could reach a larger, more willing audience? Yes. Does this mean, if HFC students chose to attend, that they should not have done so? Of course not. However, I, for one, am not apologetic for the protest, and I am not apologetic for not attending the conference.

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Emily Stephens (SFS ’17) is the secretary of H*yas for Choice. Her views do not necessarily represent the views of HFC as a whole. 

Mary Hasson, a Secular and Pro-Choice Worldview Did Not Kill My Great-Grandfather

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Beginning and end-of-life questions are deeply personal decisions that should be made within families. These decisions can be incredibly difficult and are often made in response to nuanced situations. In Christian families like mine, we often turn to God for guidance in making these decisions. This is a practice that Mary Hasson, a panelist at this year’s Cardinal O’Connor Conference, does not respect.

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For example, despite what anti-choice extremists may believe, a secular and pro-choice worldview did not kill my great-grandfather. One such extremist, Mary Hasson, pens an article in which she treats a family’s personal decision as a cruel injustice perpetrated by a Godless worldview. The “injustice” in question is ceasing to provide nutrition to a dying patient. This is a common and caring practice often enacted in the final days of a patient’s life, but the uninformed extremist Mary Hasson brands it as “starving grandpa” to demonize the beliefs of families that come to different conclusions than she does.

Withholding nutrition does sound like a strange practice if you are not familiar with end-of-life care, but it is often the most loving and logical thing to do. For patients with advanced dementia, force-feeding a dying patient does not provide comfort, but in fact introduces stress and suffering. Medically, it does little to improve the nutritional status of a patient, and it does not appear to increase the lifespan of a patient. (More on this topic can be found here.)

Not a year ago, I received an uncomfortable call from my mother. Great grandpa’s health had taken a turn for the worse, and he only had days left to live. This was not a total shock. I had watched my great-grandfather’s Alzheimer’s progress for years, and I did not remember a time when his heart was healthy. As is typical with advanced Alzheimer’s, his body was no longer capable of swallowing and digesting nutrition. His daughter consented to not forcing artificial nutrition. Forced nutrition would have just added another burden to his ailing body. This decision was made with a heavy heart, not a callous, secular world view.

During this time, faith was an incredible comfort to my family members and me. We acted in accordance with our Christian values and provided love and care to one another. Personally, I prayed often and was able to find peace in my faith that his death was part of God’s plan.

This is not what I would call “starving grandpa.” Mary Hasson and the anti-choice community should make an effort to better understand the world around them before passing malicious judgment on things clearly beyond their grasp. If Georgetown continues to host the Cardinal O’ Connor Conference, surely they can do better to find panelists willing to give serious thought to serious issues.

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Sarah Rabon (COL ’16) is a member of H*yas for Choice and a dedicated feminist. 

Pro-Life Advocates Didn’t Want Me to be Born

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I was conceived in a loving union. My parents were thrilled to find out they were going to have a child. My mother delivered me in Georgetown University’s Women’s Hospital just over twenty years ago. Four years later, my brother joined our family in the same manner. But to the leadership of the Catholic Church, our lives were never supposed to happen.

My two mothers decided to have children by artificial insemination, a practice prohibited by Catholic doctrine. Although many have lauded Pope Francis for supposedly adopting a more tolerant stance on homosexuality and gay adoption, the keynote speaker of the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, says that the pontiff should not be understood as changing doctrine: “The church cannot change its views to suit the times,” but must rather work harder to persuade an increasingly unconvinced public that its social teachings are holy and true.

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley is the keynote speaker of Georgetown's 2015 Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life

Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley is the keynote speaker of Georgetown’s 2015 Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life

Not only does Cardinal O’Malley not want LGBT folks to conceive children, but he would also rather end all adoptive services than allow gay couples to adopt and care for children. I can say from personal experience that there has not been a single detriment to my life due to the fact that I was raised by lesbians.

I can say that there have been moments where the social stigma around my family’s arrangement has caused disapproval from peers and onlookers — I think my 6th-grade boyfriend (Catholic) dumped me because he found out. But my mothers cannot be held accountable for the weight of society, nor can any other individual.

Mona Charen, another conference speaker, thinks that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to raise children because male and female parents bring complementary and necessary skills to the table. Children raised by two members of the same sex are deprived. I appreciate the concern, really, but there is no evidence to support her claims. My moms offered my brother and I untold wisdom, and I respect them more for the fact that they faced judgment and adversity about their lifestyle. If anything, my life has been enriched by being raised by people who are more tolerant of others than your average parents.

So, here’s the thing that I can’t resolve about pro-life dogma: Why, on the one hand, are women who get pregnant without planning on it required to give birth, while women who want to get pregnant — despite the odds being stacked against them — are discouraged from doing so? Is it truly pro-life to tell committed and loving unions not to use the means available to them to create a new life?

I cannot reconcile pro-life ideals with bans on gay adoption, IVF, or artificial insemination: all devices with which men and women who have a desperate calling to raise and love children can make their dreams come true. I cannot support a conference hosted by a group of people who believe that my very birth was a sin while at the same time proclaiming to value the sanctity of life. I cannot respect a doctrine that spews hatred toward the first women on the planet who ever loved me.

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Marilyn Arwood (COL ’17) is a member of H*yas for Choice.