Is The Debate Around Abortion Rights Transphobic?

Trans and nonbinary people sound off on Roe and the language of today's fight for choice

Although the draft was leaked, many have said when Roe v. Wade and 50 years of precedent were unceremoniously thrown out the window, they weren’t quite ready for it. And as Pride Source found, those within the LGBTQ+ community — who, in many ways, exist beyond our culture’s idea of who’s affected by the right to choose — are grieving alongside so many others. Pride Source spoke with six LGBTQ+ individuals in Michigan who sit outside the garden variety cisgender, heterosexual, white women norm we usually hear leading the discussion about abortion.

Lilianna Reyes Ebony

Lilianna Reyes Ebony told Pride Source if someone says something is going to happen, she’s not a person who really believes it until it actually does happen. That’s why she said she was “shocked” as well as saddened when Roe v. Wade was overturned June 24.

Reyes Ebony, who currently serves as the drop-in center director for the Ruth Ellis Center and is also executive director for the Trans Sistas of Color Project, began her career focused on LGBTQ-centric work at the Planned Parenthood health center in Battle Creek. She said she feels included in the conversation around abortion because “I make myself included."

But, at the same time, she said, "Anytime anyone's personal choice is taken away without regard for very specific nuances, it is an attack on personal freedom."

The right to choose isn’t Reyes Ebony’s number one issue, but it’s high on her list.

“I think it's important to uplift women of all walks of life,” Reyes Ebony said, “and that includes folks who are able to have children. I think that all our civil liberties are interconnected, and so I think it's important that, when one group's civil liberty is attacked, we all rally around it.”

Emily Dievendorf

Emily Dievendorf, a 2022 candidate for Michigan’s 77th State House District, is bisexual and nonbinary. She sounded alarmed by the ruling.

“It was not at all what anybody who is a marginalized person would have wanted to see, of course,” Dievendorf said, “both because of what could come and also because of how it can and will immediately impact those of us who are already needing to access sexual health resources [and] reproductive rights resources right now. And as somebody who has had an abortion in the past, is an LGBT rights activist, it was devastating and is a clear sign of the power of the Court and the harm the Court can do when it has its own agenda.”

Dievendorf said she only recently decided to publicly disclose, on a campaign video, that she had had an abortion.

As a community activist, Dievendorf is keenly aware that LGBTQ+ people have historically been left out or forgotten when considering reproductive rights.

“I don't think that LGBT people are usually included,” Dievendorf said. “I think that the conversation is getting better. I think that Planned Parenthood is very good these days at mentioning how important reproductive rights are to LGBT people and sexual health is to everybody. And Planned Parenthood has always been essential to LGBT people, has always been a safe haven to us. So Planned Parenthood as an organization being under attack is a problem for LGBT folks, but talking about abortion as a cis issue has always been a problem.”

Yet Dievendorf is not only concerned with the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. When she attended the first Women’s March, she was touched that her mother made her a pink “pussy hat” and she believes in its intent to show solidarity, “but I also think that it is essential that we recognize that so many identities and different bodies are both creating families and choosing not to, and need the right to abortion,” she said.

Jey'nce Poindexter

Jey’nce Poindexter is acutely aware of the need for reproductive justice for the Black community. She called the Roe decision “bone chilling” and “gut wrenching.” She pointed out that it also affects the LGBTQ+ community in that there are many individuals who can, and want to, form families.

As she unpacked the ruling, Poindexter called out Justice Clarence Thomas.

“He made it very clear,” Poindexter began, “that he has intention to revisit LGBTQ protections, particularly relating to same-sex marriages and also same-sex consensual sex in the home or behind closed doors. And so not only are they literally attacking rights and liberties, but they're also whistle calling and letting us know that [the LGBTQ+ community is] next. And so it was very concerning. It still is."

Referring to the Reproductive Freedom For All ballot initiative, Poindexter said, "Of course I signed the petition."

As a sister, aunt and cousin, Poindexter said she has a vested interest in protecting the reproductive rights of her family members. She also has friends, neighbors and other members of the LGBTQ+ community that she’s looking out for.

“Let's be very clear,” she said. “When you think about infant mortality, mothers dying in childbirth, all of that negatively impacts and affects, historically, women of color and particularly Black women. And so my mom is a Black woman, my sisters, my nieces, my cousins — and so therein lies my interest and my vantage point from their lived experiences.”

While Poindexter speaks freely and passionately about reproductive justice for all, as someone who is not a white, cisgender heterosexual woman, and as someone who does not always feel included in the discussion, she believes what’s vital is that we take action.

“There is not a lot of inclusion,” Poindexter said plainly. “I'll be really honest. But also there's so much work to be done that now is not the time to, ‘Oh, what about us? What about us?’ It is time for all hands on deck, organizing, mobilizing.”

Alexandra Beninda

Alexandra Beninda remembers the early days of the reproductive rights movement in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Today, Beninda said, “I identify fully as a woman,” but back in those days, she legally identified as male. “However, I always felt that laws designed to target what a human being could do or not do was up to the individual person, not politicians."

Beninda added that she feels included in the abortion discussion.

"It would be quite impossible for me to get pregnant, whether it is my lack of a uterus or the fact that I am now 67 years old,” Beninda said, though she added that can empathize with any woman not having the right to decide for themselves. She believes the decision should be made “with the assistance from their doctor, such a critical issue as the right to carry a fetus to birth or not.”

Beninda is just one of many women today who lived to see abortion legalized in 1973, only for the decision to be overturned last month. Although she said she was prepared for the ruling because of the leak, and while knowing that all along SCOTUS had planned to reverse 50 years of precedent, “I had to hang my head over this news and whatever might be next such as same-sex marriage, which is still quite possible,” she said.

Percy Brown

Percy Brown is a young transgender man who said it was hard to go to work the day he learned that Roe v. Wade had been overturned. He was terrified and remains on edge.

“I'm scared, and I'm on hormonal birth control,” Brown said, “and I'm terrified that's gonna get challenged next. But I'm doing everything in my power so that it doesn't get challenged, and so that everyone can access the healthcare they need.” At the same time, he’s afraid that if something were to happen accidentally, he would be too afraid to seek out medical help.

Within his social circles, Brown feels part of the discussion on reproductive health. In general, he sees things improving.

“People have definitely been better about being aware that it's not just women who can get pregnant and need access to abortion, which is nice,” Brown said. “It wasn't intentional, but it was more transphobic in the past. But it's gotten a lot better.”

What’s been especially important to Brown right now is having a supportive partner, though his partner is not directly affected by the Roe decision.

“They've been super supportive in maintaining safety during intimacy,” Brown said about his partner. "But also still giving me peace of mind: ‘We can still get a procedure done if we need to. It's not illegal yet in Michigan.’ And they're also reminding me to take care of myself.”

Emme Zanotti

When the Roe decision was announced, community activist Emme Zanotti said her reaction was somewhere between shock and being shocked at how shocked she was.

Like other members of the LGBTQ+ community, Zanotti, who is also vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party’s LGBT & Allies Caucus, was particularly struck by Clarence Thomas’ opinion about re-litigating other SCOTUS precedents that could affect the civil liberties of the LGBTQ+ community.

Zanotti considers the modern reproductive justice movement more inclusive of trans, queer and nonbinary folks prior to the Dobbs decision, because they, along with activists from communities of color and other progressive activists, had been fighting collectively for civil liberties for a long time. However, things changed.

“That space has quickly become a space full of a lot more cisgender, hetero, white women,” Zanotti said. “Inherently, it's not a bad thing to have to share space with more folks, but I do think there needs to be more intentionality from this group of folks who have sat on the sideline for a long duration of time, and I think they need to be more inclusive in their approach.”

As a woman without a uterus, and therefore unable to bear children, Zanotti said that doesn’t figure into why “choice” is an important issue to her. She said she knows what it’s like to have limitations or societal expectations forced upon her body and she knows what it's like to feel she doesn’t have autonomy over her body. Trans women, trans men, nonbinary folks bring an element of diversity to the table when discussing abortion, said Zanotti, echoing many others.

What’s most concerning for Zanotti, though, is that those who have the least amount of privilege will be hit the hardest: the queer community, communities of color, lower income communities and any intersection of those communities.

Zanotti said she doesn’t wish to shame or guilt cisgender, heterosexual white women. Instead, she is issuing a call to action.

“I say these things and offer this as a plea from my community to a different community,” Zanotti said. “I think there's a real high potential here that we actually have an opportunity to make something good out of what has been a disastrous situation.”