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We’ve got to make this journey together

January 22, 2012

By Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force via Huffington Post.

On April 25, 2004, I stood with one million other pro-choice supporters on the National Mall for the historic March for Women’s Lives.

Women and men, some with children, some without, boarded buses, trains and planes from every corner of the country, and everywhere in-between, to make the trek to the nation’s capital.

All who showed up were clearly fired up, and they came bearing one collective, uncompromising message: Women’s lives matter.

I was grateful for the chance to speak before this massive, inspired assembly.

Grateful because it was an incredible opportunity to build and bolster a bridge, and to talk about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s unwavering position that reproductive justice and freedom and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality are, at their very core, inextricably intertwined.

It’s why we joined with a million others for the March for Women’s Lives in support of reproductive justice health and the freedom to make choices about our own health and bodies.

It’s why we helped defeat California’s Proposition 85, a 2006 measure that, if passed, would have jeopardized the health and safety of teenage girls.

It’s why we teamed up with reproductive rights organizations to launch Mapping Our Rights, a national website that tracks and scores legislation related to sexual and reproductive rights across the country.

It’s why Task Force staff traveled to Mississippi this past election to stand with reproductive rights groups working to successfully defeat a state constitutional amendment that sought to establish legal “personhood” at the moment of fertilization. If the measure had passed, it would have become the nation’s most restrictive law against abortion and birth control.

That campaign showed that when we stand together, we can win. And when we win, it has a positive, lasting impact on the real lives of individuals and their families.

Yet, there remain those who don’t quite get the connection between our movements. It’s not unusual to hear comments like “Why are you working to protect reproductive rights when we have our own issues to deal with?” or, “Marriage equality has nothing to do with abortion rights. Our two movements are different.”

To such sentiments, we say: “Not so fast. Think again.”

What the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights and reproductive freedom ultimately comes down to is this: a person’s fundamental right to sexual health and the freedom of whether or when to become a parent.

A woman’s future can forever be altered when the government restricts her right to make safe medical decisions about birth control or pregnancy. The consequences of state interference in her decisions can be frightening, even downright dangerous.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t that long ago when someone could be thrown in jail for having a consensual adult sexual relationship with someone of the same sex — in their very own home! Talk about government intrusion.

And while the unjust sodomy laws have finally been tossed from the books, LGBT people and our families continue to experience pervasive and government-sanctioned discrimination designed to block recognition of our relationships and hinder our ability to form and protect our families.

Our movements share common struggles to choose who we love, to create our families, and to live free of unwarranted government abuse and intrusion.

Ours is also a common struggle because those who seek to restrict reproductive decisions are often the same people who make the fight against marriage recognition and LGBT equality a cornerstone of their agenda.

Just earlier this month, for example, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a major address where he claimed that both marriage equality and abortion are dire threats to “the future of humanity itself.” This is not the first time our issues have risen to the top of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s hit list, and it won’t be the last.

Then, of course, there are right-wing organizations like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council that label women’s right to control their own bodies and LGBT people’s fight to live free of discrimination as major menaces.

These are just a couple of examples of many that bring to life our shared struggle, and shared opposition.

They also point to a road that we — LGBT rights advocates and reproductive rights supporters -— should be sharing more often. That road is the road to justice and equality, to human dignity, to a world where the lives of women, the lives of LGBT people and our families, are no longer under attack and systemically placed in harm’s way.

To get there, we’ve got to make this journey together.

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