This Pride Month, we reached out to our friends at MassEquality to highlight the important work being done across the state to protect and empower LGBTQ individuals and to examine the intersection of sexual health/reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights.
Q: MassEquality posted an LGBTQ Coalition Agenda to support progressive legislation and partner with groups that do amazing work across communities and identities. What inspired this agenda, and why is it important to the work MassEquality does?
A: MassEquality’s foundation is rooted in addressing and eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The LGBTQ Coalition Agenda addresses several social and economic justice issues that affect populations within the larger LGBTQ community: these are LGBTQ issues. While we may not be the lead advocate organization, we work in coalition with other groups because we have a shared goal and because there is power and strength in numbers. Unifying to fight for social justice issues is the best way to combat the inequalities prevalent in our society.
Q: Why do you think reproductive rights and sexual health matter to the LGBTQ community?
A: Regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, we all have a fundamental right to be in control of our own health and our own bodies. Yet, there are some who believe they have the right to dictate how we use and care for our bodies. From limiting access to reproductive health services for women to imposing scientifically inaccurate health education curricula on students to denying us health insurance because of our gender identity, we often receive the message that we do not have freedom over our own bodies and health.
Reproductive rights and sexual health are important to the LGBTQ community because they are LGBTQ issues. We have less access to resources, information and care than the non-LGBTQ community.
Transgender people, for example, have much less access to the competent health care services and resources they need. According to the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, more than 27 percent of transgender people have been denied health coverage simply due to their gender identity. And, according to a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital and Fenway Health, 60 percent of young adults (ages 13-24) are not aware of their HIV/AIDS status, despite the fact that the risk of infection still exists within this age group.
MassEquality and Planned Parenthood, along with our allies, are devoted to ensuring that the LGBTQ community, suffering with a lack of culturally competent care, access and information, are given a voice and an opportunity to re-take control of their health.
Q: The Healthy Youth Bill, which PPLM has been working to get passed in Massachusetts, is also on your LGBTQ Coalition Agenda. This bill would ensure that any school that elects to teach sexuality education would use a comprehensive, medically accurate, and age-appropriate curriculum. Why is comprehensive sex education so important to MassEquality and the LGBTQ community?
A: Schools have an obligation to provide accurate and age-appropriate information about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, proper use of contraceptives, healthy relationships, intimate partner violence, sexually transmitted infections and other information that will allow these young people to make healthy and informed decisions in adulthood.
Surprisingly, teen pregnancy rates are actually higher among LGB youth than their heterosexual peers. According to the 2011 MA Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 13 percent of LGB-identified teenagers reported experiencing either getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant, compared to only 4.7 percent of their heterosexual classmates. With proper instruction and comprehensive materials and resources, teen pregnancy rates would drop, STIs would be detected and treated earlier (and possibly prevented altogether), young people would have a better understanding of gender, sex, and sexuality, and, most importantly, they could make wiser decisions around life choices and health.
Comprehensive sex education is important to the LGBTQ community because young people are not provided with the knowledge and resources they need to understand their bodies, sexuality and identities. Such an education gives young people a resource to help them understand themselves and gives all students an opportunity to understand the importance of sexual health and the different sexual and gender identities that exist in our society. This kind of comprehensive curriculum plants the seeds of understanding and compassion for diversity instead of cruelty and ignorance.
Q: Recently, both PPLM and MassEquality, endorsed Martha Coakley for Governor. What about Coakley makes her an LGBTQ rights champion?
A: Martha Coakley has been a fierce advocate for the LGBTQ community during her tenure as Attorney General. She has fought alongside the LGBTQ community on equal rights for transgender people, championed legislation to combat the bullying epidemic in the Commonwealths’ schools, and was the only Attorney General in the country to successfully challenge the Defense of Marriage Act. She is a proven leader with an impressive record of taking on the issues that others shy away from. She takes action to make an impact and instill a sense of justice. She’s the only gubernatorial candidate who has a consistent record on a range of social justice issues that have helped improve the quality of life for many people in Massachusetts and nationwide.
She has a concrete plan to help the LGBTQ community when she’s elected. Martha plans to provide women more access to affordable reproductive healthcare services. Also, she has committed to developing better strategies to address intimate partner violence, which disproportionately affects women and members of the LGBTQ communities and provide more resources for survivors of intimate partner violence.
Q: As well as our mutual endorsement of Coakley, PPLM and Mass Equality have endorsed Maura Healey for Attorney General. Can you tell us why Healey is the right candidate to protect and defend LGBTQ rights?
A: As head of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Attorney General’s Office, Maura Healey played a leading role in addressing hate crimes based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and religion. She supported Attorney General Martha Coakley in challenging DOMA and has been an enthusiastic advocate for LGBTQ rights and non-discrimination.
As the first openly gay attorney general, Maura will be in a unique position to not only implement progressive policies, but she will also be an invaluable role model to members of the LGBTQ community.
Like Martha, she has a comprehensive plan to protect reproductive rights and support women’s health care through enforcing the buffer zone legislation and ensuring that reproductive healthcare centers have perimeters that provide safety for women seeking services, regulating the practices of crisis pregnancy centers and ensuring that the information they provide is medically accurate, and working to ensure universal access to contraception.
Q: Why is this upcoming election such an important one in regards to women’s health and LGBTQ rights?
A: There’s a lot at stake in this election. Both Martha Coakley and Maura Healey are strong candidates for their respective offices and have proven records of supporting both women’s health and the LGBTQ community.
In the larger national context, LGBTQ and women’s rights are under attack. With Martha Coakley and Maura Healey occupying two of the most influential offices in the state, they have a prime opportunity to continue the Commonwealth’s tradition of being a role model on progressive issues. Their work on DOMA set the stage for legally married same-sex couples across the nation to access more than 1,000 federal benefits previously denied to them! Their efforts to support the buffer zone law and ensure rape and incest survivors have emergency contraception indicates their commitment to stemming the tide of this attack.
Both of these candidates have the compassion, knowledge, skills, and experience to take the Commonwealth in a bold new direction and we’re proud to support them!