Not letting a little thing like insurrection stop them, the Trump administration on Thursday finalized a rule that will allow foster care and adoption agencies, along with other public health and social service organizations receiving taxpayer funds, to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – Hubert Humphrey Building. Photo credit: Sarah Stierch. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.
The rule, first proposed at the end of 2019 with a shorter-than-usual period for public comment, removes explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, and religion in programs receiving grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These programs include not only adoption and foster care services, but also ones dedicated to preventing youth homelessness, HIV, STI, and substance abuse, among others. The rule was filed in its final form last Thursday, while the capitol was still reeling from the insurrection, and will be officially published Monday. It is set to go into effect on February 11, 2021.
Even before this new rule made it explicit, HHS had said it would stop enforcing nondiscrimination protections among federal grantees. LGBTQ advocacy organizations have already been fighting this policy. Lambda Legal and Democracy Forward, in March sued HHS in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of Family Equality, True Colors United, and SAGE, claiming the policy was “arbitrary and capricious” and that there had been no opportunity for public comment.
Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Sasha Buchert said of the new rule, “Even as Trump administration officials abandon ship, HHS has announced yet another dangerous rule that invites discrimination against the very people federal grant programs are meant to help. We call on the Biden-Harris administration to address discriminatory policies such as these immediately, and commit to eliminating them root and branch. But in the meantime, Lambda Legal is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to protect the LGBTQ community from harm.”
M. Currey Cook, director of Lambda Legal’s Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, added that the rule “puts at risk some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including LGBT people who are poor or experiencing homelessness; LGBT seniors and LGBT youth in out-of-home care, including children in foster care, people living with HIV, and many others.”
Denise Brogan-Kator, interim CEO of Family Equality, also observed that “Removing nondiscrimination protections from health and human services programs could literally endanger the lives of vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including the LGBTQ+2S community.”
“We are particularly concerned that the 34% of foster youth who identify as LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit, who are eligible for $400 million in direct relief under the most recent COVID-19 relief bill, will be excluded from services and supports under this new rule,” said Julie Kruse, Family Equality’s director of federal policy. “Turning away those in need of health and human services during a pandemic is unconscionable.”
“Family Equality will sue HHS over this unlawful action,” asserted Brogan-Kator.
In the waning months of 2019, I sat in a friend’s home in East Oakland, looking down at defunct Oakland Coliseum, and the house lights flickering on in the twilight. I was there, ostensibly, to celebrate a friend’s birthday party. But as the evening slid into night, and gentle inebriation from La Croix wine spritzers began to take hold, small bags began to be pulled from pockets, their chalky contents poured onto trays, tested for fentanyl, then cut into lines and inhaled. We were each handed an inch and a half long trimmed segment of a plastic straw, to prevent cross contamination. This, in the home of a sex worker, with two healthcare professionals on either side of me, felt safe. It felt safe to do drugs that had been hammered into my social consciousness as always dangerous, as always a step away from death. As writer and activist Dean Spade outline in their 2020 piece “Solidarity Not Charity” for Social Text, “Mutual aid is a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.” Mutual Aid is not just about making a one-time donation, but about building a politics that is concerned with the safety and wellbeing of others, naming “the failures of the current system” and showing an alternative. And because of the safety protocols that we observed, I glimpsed what ensuring that safety might look like.
In the early months of the pandemic’s grip on the United States, I saw a graphic float across a friend’s Instagram story. Set in Barbara Kruger-esque text, the words “Guys Are Hooking Up During The Pandemic. Are You?” sprawl across a digital graffiti background. I tapped through to find the account Fagdemic, their bio a concise “Hot Work in Hard Times: fag harm reduction for coronaworld.” Seeing this account felt like being pulled through my phone screen; I wanted to reach out, wanted to peel off the layers of shame I felt for wanting to touch a stranger, to do drugs in a room with strangers, to be around strangers in a time of so much wanton isolation. For those unfamiliar, harm reduction, as defined by the International Harm Reduction Association, is a strategy of both policy and social programs “which attempt primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of mood altering substances” for individual drug users as well as their broader communities, without requiring a decrease in drug use. Harm reduction’s adoption as a viable set of socioeconomic and healthcare practices have been hotly contested because of decades’ long Drug War propaganda – the Mayor of Charleston, West Virginia, used his public platform to rally support for shutting down a needle exchange clinic just two years after it had opened.
When a gay men’s sexual health organization in Ontario decided to deal more coherently with substance use in the queer community, they called on two self-described “notorious drug using fags” to produce a video for them. But many of the most helpful, albeit transgressive parts of the video, such as speaking to an individual’s drug dealer about sanitizing practices, were edited or cut out in favor of a more conservative, abstinence forward approach on drug use. Frustrated with having to push a political message they didn’t feel aligned with, the two founded Fagdemic, and set out to produce information, messaging, and safer use tips for their broader community. For them, “starting with the language our community is already using,” around drugs, paraphernalia, and safety practices goes a long way to destigmatize the advice being given; the harm reduction tools are coming from inside the community, instead of a patronizing non-profit or ideologically-driven organization.
This strategy, of intercommunal language use to reach audiences not otherwise accessible, is notable in the work of New York City-based DISH (Do It Safe Heaux) which provided supplies for safer usage primarily to black and brown drug-using trans women. But this practice, of meeting people exactly where they are at, begins decades ago, with foundational work by John Paul Hammond, a queer Black man. Growing up in a North Philadelphia family of Quaker activists, Hammond became involved with ACT UP, and in 1992 helped to establish Prevention Point, a needle exchange clinic that has helped to prevent an estimated 11,000 new HIV infections since its founding. Dr. Lauretta Grau, associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, met Hammond in 1997 and said that, while his passion was activism, he was also an exemplary researcher. “He was on a multi-site project we were doing of active injectors as part of our research field team, and he was a very wonderful, careful, systematic researcher,” he said. “He did a lot of epidemiological research for us and was a wonderful, wonderful colleague. He was reliable, he was fastidious and he was organized. He was an extremely bright man.” Because of Hammonds’ experiences as both a drug user and as a researcher, advocate, and harm reduction activist, he was able to reach community members and individuals who would not otherwise be receptive to answering a university researcher’s questions.
Tim McCaskell, one of the most notable queer activists in Toronto’s history, also contributed deeply to work around harm reduction, helping to mentor the two men who started Fagdemic and so many others in the Toronto queer activism scene. His work spanned decades, beginning with AIDS ACTION NOW!, as well as serving as a spokesperson for Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. But in January 25th, 2019, McCaskell penned an op-ed for Now Toronto about the dangers of crystal methamphetamine use in the gay community. The byline, “I lived through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic… once again everybody’s pretending nothing is going on with the explosion of queer people experimenting with crystal meth during sex” and the contents of the article shocked so many who had trusted McCaskell to be a voice championing harm reduction. “That was especially kind of shocking coming from somebody we’ve learned so much from,” said Jonathan of the collective Fagdemic. For the Toronto-based harm reduction duo, instead of preaching the same old moralizing narratives, the work should involve “building solutions in our own healthcare modality.” The building of this modality of harm reduction should not just conclude with a politics of survival, of distributing naloxone or fentanyl test strips and calling it a day. For Fagdemic, and those interested in an abolitionist vision of harm reduction, building a politics which acknowledges how layers of marginalization impact your health outcomes, and still goes “beyond just surviving to actually enjoying our lives and accounting for those health disparities,” is the goal.
Over the summer of 2020 and into the Fall, protest camps, space collectivization efforts, free community fridges, and the distribution of harm reduction resources, PPE, and masks to those on the West Coast affected by wildfires, became more prominent than ever before. New York’s Abolition Park, an effort initially started as ‘Occupy City Hall’ became a site of communal organizing, education, and care. In Dean Spade’s writing about mutual aid projects, because they create spaces “where people come together based on some shared need or concern,” and end up encountering and working closely with people whose lives and experiences differ from theirs, they “cultivate solidarity.” Cassie, one of the organizers who was present at Abolition Park, spoke about acting not from a mindset of scarcity, or of lacking resources, but of abundance, in which “we can give everything to each other.” For her, any mutual aid project has to foreground those without resources, those “who are cut off from accessing means of life.” Nikki, a young unhoused transgender woman who began staying at Abolition Park, remarked that the life-affirming services AP offered not only allowed her a respite from the harassment she experienced on the street, but a chance to feel full and supported. She felt both politically aligned and socially cared for at AP, telling Gwynne Hogan of Gothamist “at the end of the day, [the] community takes care of the people”. Nikki’s participation in the aforementioned article seemingly led to her arrest by plainclothes NYPD officers, putting the demands of AP’s communal care and abolitionist framework even more starkly in contrast with systems of carceral justice and policing.
Abolition Park and the organizers present there worked tirelessly to create medic tents, a power charging station for people to charge their phones, and a People’s Bodega that handed out PPE, cleaning supplies, “just everything else that folks needed.” AP also hosted an eviction defense workshop with longtime tenants’ rights organizers – lessons which have become crucial, as major rent relief stalls or is denied to the majority of those who apply for it. Organizers at Abolition Park established a reading group centered around M.E. O’Brien’s Junky Communism essay that was turned into a zine and distributed. The essay, and the politics of harm reduction as a strategy of leftist organizing contextualizes, traces how syringe exchanges were a technique developed by activists in the 1980s that, despite often being illegal and organizers risking arrest, helped to combat some of the most severe devastation of the AIDS epidemic. O’Brien’s experience working at a syringe exchange, helped them to see “how harm reduction had helped politicize their experiences, transforming individual misery into a collective practice of solidarity and a basis for social critique.” For organizations like the Young Lords and the Black Panther Party, the political question of how to support, educate, and organize members of the working class who used drugs and could not reliably hold down a job was of utmost importance. While many leftists and organizers interested in respectability saw “junkies unable to maintain stable employment” as having no place in revolutionary organizing, Cassie speaks to the reality of being a queer person with a holistic view of radical work. “I know how to use Narcan out of, like, absolute necessity… This is like waking up and breathing.” She continues, saying “We live in a community that is structured around a lot of addiction. We need to have that compassion and love for ourselves and for our friends and for each other.”
In the last few years, the growing rates of drug overdose have lowered American life expectancy for the first time since the peak of the AIDS crisis. As reported by the American Medical Association, millions of Americans with difficult relationships to substance use have been struggling beyond the difficulties produced by the pandemic, because it has so “complicated access to basic resources” like medical care, resulting in an increase in drug overdose related deaths. Even in San Francisco, an epicenter of the AIDS crisis and a city which has harm reduction institutions like St.James Infirmary and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, overdose deaths are outpacing deaths from COVID-19. O’Brien writes how, “As the crisis of capitalism and working-class life deepens, insurgent movements will need to grapple with drug addiction.” By refusing the implied disposability of drug users, and the isolation or ostracization of those assumed dangerous because of drug use, we must “move towards a communism not based on the dignity of work, but on the unconditional value of our lives.” Cassie notes that, for those drug-using individuals who were present at Abolition Park, after receiving the sorts of care made freely available, they began doing fewer substances because of the level of communal support they were surrounded by and had access to. The act of giving someone else the tools and material resources necessary to change their life has been the driving mission behind the Portland Sex Worker Resource Project, which aimed to “provide low barrier financial support to Sex Workers affected by COVID.” Prioritizing Black, Indigenous, and Trans sex workers, as well as those who live at the intersections of those identities, requires identifying that margnialized sex workers “face disproportionate violence within the industry… Black SWERS are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be assaulted by the police and/or clients, and more likely to be murdered by the police and/or clients.”
For Kat and Saiya, the organizers of PSWRP, it’s been difficult “telling people “no” when you truly believe they deserve everything they’re asking for.” But while the project’s work has functioned on a limited budget and has not been able to fulfill every request they’ve received, they have been able to distribute $5,000 in microgrants, assisting 40 people with $200 in material support. Everyone who applied for a microgrant received funds, and in establishing a low barrier application system, were able to help Sex Workers who previously may have been turned away by state agencies or non-profits with more complex bureaucratic processes. Mutual aid work in the state of Oregon may also be buoyed by the recent passage of Measure 110 which means that “state’s residents will no longer face arrests or prison sentences for carrying small amounts of drugs like cocaine, heroin, oxycontin and methamphetamine.”
This encouraging step towards decriminalization signifies one step away from a carceral system that punishes drug users or sex workers with jail time, but fails to include the necessary steps of expunging records, freeing those convicted of drug offenses, and allocating revenue from sales taxes towards social programs for those previously convicted. As Emily D. Warfield, an MSW researcher said concerning the overlap of the two communities, “Any drug policy win is also a big win for sex workers, not just because of the overlap in drug users and sex workers but because it indicates the public is willing to rethink criminal punishment as a solution to economic and social problems.” This movement away from rampant carcerality is encouraging, although the trap of feigning reform in the guise of forced rehabilitation still remains. For Saiya, the Portland Sex Worker Resource Project has always centered the needs of the community, and establishing trust in organizers takes time – but they are intent to be “an ember, not a flame.”
A few years ago, while showing an ex around my hometown, we slid into the single occupancy bathroom of a crummy gay dive bar, the same crummy gay dive bar I had been going to since I turned 21. She pulled out a small container of cocaine, scooped out some with her long acrylic nails, snorted, and then turned on her heel to walk out of the bathroom, leaving me with the bag in one hand. A year or so afterwards, I was in the bathroom of a crummy Oakland dive bar that had come to feel like a second home, warmed by the presence of the first deep trans friendship I had made in the Bay Area. They pulled out a bag of cocaine, we each did some, and walked arm in arm to a house party just a few blocks away. But once there, they left me to ride out the high alone, my face numb, my fingers cold. And when I told them a short while later, still in the throes of a dull throbbing nose, that I needed to go home, they let me walk, by myself, into the predawn darkness. For O’Brien, “revolutionary politics must embrace the many broken and miserable places inside ourselves.” It is precisely from these sites of anguish, hurt, and pain “that our fiercest revolutionary potential emerges.” There are moments in which drug use has felt wrapped in the shame and stigma that isolate people in those moments of most crucial need. And there are moments in which people are met where they are at, with communal care and abundance offered to those who most desperately need it, enabling people to do so much more than just survive.
I lost my voice a bit last week and I couldn’t be more grateful for the reason why. Last Saturday I gave away care kits to celebrate the blue moon to Black women, femmes and non-binary babes in my community.
The kits were filled with things that I love that bring me peace, protection, and joy. Plants, beautiful floral bouquets, skincare products, candles, herbs and so much more. I wanted to give them away to spread tangible joy and love to those who are often expected to do all the work, take all the pain, and expect nothing in return. I wanted to show that I care and on top of all that — I selfishly wanted to be around my own people.
I wanted to safely share myself, give my love and just have a few cute, quick kikis with a bunch of random niggas like I normally would be. It’s great to have a diverse crew of homies but it is also completely ok to want to be around people with whom you have an unspoken understanding.
You know when your party starts and even though all your friends are perpetually late you still worry no one is going to come? That was me, filled with nerves and talking myself off the ledge behind my mask and then it happened. The minute the last rose was tied to the gate behind me a bunch of beautiful black babes came down the Chicago alley where the table was set up, the sunlight soaking them through the trees and Solange serving as the soundtrack to their struts.
I was soaked in Blackness and loved every minute of it. As they picked their bags I would laugh and shriek loudly with some, I would cry as I heard some of their stories of missing community, I social distance bopped with others when a song came on that called for shimmy — it was glorious.
The importance of community and taking care of my own is something I was taught by my parents as a kid. They reminded me to always do it from the heart, it will be obvious if you’re doing it for clout or something more. When the day was over and my voice was gone, I clicked through my IG stories and cried. In giving from my heart, the universe paid me back tenfold and gave me sweet memories that will get me through 2020 and last long after.
If you’re able to be around your own, I hope you don’t take that community for granted. Make dinner together, scream and laugh with each other during your next streaming binge, bask in each other’s greatness, and appreciate the safe space you are for each other.
I’ve been a fan of FKA Twigs since she made the short with Spike Jonze that made me want to give Apple even more money than I already have.
I came across the short for her single “Sad Day” while clicking around on Hulu. In the short, directed by Hiro Murai, who I’m familiar with from Atlanta on FX, her late-night visit to a Chinese takeaway spot takes us on a beautifully dope six-minute adventure.
When folks came to pick up their care kits from me last weekend, and were chatting and dancing while waiting in line, I looked at them and missed community more than ever before. This week’s playlist is filled with “I Miss You’s’” — there’s an “I miss you to taking over aux cords in cars and playing songs that no one asked for,” an “I miss you to turning a 4 AM bar into Black girl karaoke,” and an “I miss you to happily singing loud and off-key with a group of my homies.” I miss you… see you soon?
We are a week away from the 2020 elections. President Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett has just been seated on the U.S. Supreme Court. A case that the court will be hearing the day after the elections has me as concerned as the elections themselves, for it goes to the heart of how our country treats its children and to LGBTQ people’s right to be treated equally as prospective parents.
The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, began in 2018, when the City of Philadelphia stopped referring foster children to Catholic Social Services (CSS) because the agency would not license qualified same-sex couples to be foster or adoptive parents. CSS then brought a lawsuit in federal district court.
The ACLU intervened on behalf of the Support Center for Child Advocates, which provides legal representation and services to children in the foster care system, and Philadelphia Family Pride, a nonprofit organization for LGBTQ parents and prospective parents. They argued that children and families would be harmed by CSS’ actions. CSS countered by arguing that they had a First Amendment right to deny service based on religious beliefs, and asked the court for a preliminary injunction requiring the city to continue referring children to them while the case proceeded. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied that injunction in July 2018, and a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2019 supported the district court’s position.
CSS had also tried in August 2018 to petition the Supreme Court to grant them an injunction, but this was denied, though Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Neil Gorsuch dissented. CSS appealed to the Supreme Court again after the appeals court ruling, and in February 2020, the Supreme Court took the case. In June, the Trump administration filed a brief siding with CSS.
Depending on how the Supreme Court rules and how broad or narrow its ruling is, Fulton could create a license to discriminate in Philadelphia or around the country, said the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) in an August report. Otherwise-qualified prospective parents could be turned away by child service agencies. LGBTQ children could be turned away or be placed with families that don’t support their identities.
Beyond child welfare, MAP said, a very broad ruling could even mean that other institutions receiving government funding, such as soup kitchens and job training programs, could claim religious exemptions and “serve only those who share their own beliefs or [refuse] to provide critical services to those who don’t.”
The outcome could also reduce the possibility of successfully challenging existing discriminatory laws. Eleven states now allow discrimination in child services by agencies citing religious beliefs, all but two allowing it even for taxpayer-funded agencies. And the amount of taxpayer money in child services is significant. An estimated $29.9 billion in federal, state, and local funds was spent on child welfare in 2016, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit research center Child Trends. Beyond child services, the Trump administration last November issued a rule that allows not only child service agencies, but also other recipients of grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to cite their religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate.
It’s important to understand the arguments made by those wishing to allow this discrimination. One is that faith-based child service agencies would otherwise be forced to close, limiting the number of homes available to the more than 400,000 children in the foster care system. As the ACLU notes on its website, however, most faith-based foster care agencies do accept all qualified families. Bethany Christian Services in Philadelphia, in fact, changed its policy after the city objected and now accepts same-sex couples wishing to foster children. When some agencies have chosen to stop offering taxpayer-funded services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws, others, including faith-based ones, “have stepped in to provide those services,” says the ACLU. The shortage is thus of foster families, not of agencies—and turning away otherwise-qualified people would exacerbate this.
Another argument is that prospective foster parents who are turned away can just go to another agency. Even if there are other agencies nearby that will serve them, however (not always a given), the prospective parents may choose to stop trying and not to “risk further humiliation,” notes the ACLU.
Yes, freedom of religion is a founding principle of this country—but so is the separation of church and state. That means that any organization using public funds should not impose its beliefs on others or use them as a reason to discriminate. Many agree. In August, more than 1,000 experts and organizations—including LGBTQ, civil rights, and child welfare organizations, faith-based foster care agencies, faith leaders, legal scholars, and bipartisan elected officials—filed nearly 50 briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Philadelphia and its position.
Taking Action, Looking Ahead
A loss in this case would first and foremost be harmful to the many children in need of homes. It would also set back the family-building plans of many LGBTQ people and others and could have a far-reaching impact on other critical social services.
Family Equality is launching a storytelling project with the goal of changing “hearts, minds, and policies” around this case and these issues. If you have experience with the child welfare system in any context, visit their website to see if your story can help.
No matter what happens on November 3, our work fighting for equality—for our families and others—will continue on November 4 and far beyond.
(Originally published with slight modification as my Mombian newspaper column.)
As we head into the 2020 election, our contributing data brain, Himani Gupta, is analyzing data from past Autostraddle surveys to find out what issues are most important to our readers and what is currently at stake.
In this week’s Senate confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett’s reticence to talk about her positions made it pretty clear how much damage she plans to do once she gets to the Supreme Court. Among the many disturbing things we know about Barrett’s political views, her stances on several health care issues are going to inflict a lot of harm on a lot of people.
Autostraddle’s Politics Survey, launched in December 2019, asked about a number of topics related to health care, namely: religious freedoms, reproductive rights and the affordability of care. At the end of July, I followed up with some of the original survey respondents to see if anything changed in terms of how they thought about the affordability issues in the wake of the pandemic.
We’re going to look at just how important these issues are to our community and discuss what’s at stake with Barrett’s impending nomination to the Supreme Court.
Who Took the Politics Survey
Before we turn to those results, we need to start by understanding who took the Politics Survey and who participated in the follow up.
The Politics Survey was available for anyone to take on Autostraddle’s website between December 3, 2019 and January 10, 2020. Over 4,400 people started the survey and just over two thirds made it to the mandatory questions on gender identity and sexual orientation. The analysis is restricted to queer people who identified as women, non-binary and/or trans, which gives us our sample of 2,834 respondents.
At the end of July, I reached out to the 994 Politics Survey respondents who said they were open to being contacted for follow up. Between July 26 and August 16, 662 people completed the Follow Up Survey. This divides our original sample into two subsamples: people who took the Follow Up Survey and people who didn’t.
For the most part, the Follow Up Survey respondents are a similarly diverse group of people compared to those who didn’t take the Follow Up Survey. A slightly greater proportion of trans women and non-binary women took the Follow Up Survey. The gender identities and sexual orientations of respondents to both surveys are shown below.
While the two subsamples are similar in terms of race/ethnicity, disability status and age, they differ on education. As shown in the figure below, more of the Follow Up Survey respondents earned a bachelor’s degree as their highest degree.
Another key difference is that fewer people living outside the U.S. participated in the Follow Up Survey. As a result, more of the Follow Up Survey respondents are registered to vote in the U.S. Once we account for this difference, the two subsamples are similar in terms of what region they live in. They also live in similar types of places, generally. (Note that the U.S. Census uses “urbanized clusters” and “urbanized areas” in its data collection, which are very different from how most people think about urban and suburban.) In terms of income, there is some variation, even after accounting for the differences in the proportions of non-U.S. residents.
There are, of course, unmeasurable differences between the type of person who would complete a second political survey and the type of person who wouldn’t. That being said, the Follow Up Survey provides important insight into shifts within our community.
“Anyone Who Would Discriminate ‘Based on Their Religious Beliefs’ Should Not be in Health Care.”
Far too often religion becomes the justification for mistreatment in health care, particularly when it comes to LGBTQ+ friendly and, especially, trans-inclusive care and reproductive rights. Based on a poll conducted by The Economist/YouGov in October 2019, Americans are conflicted in their views on a government regulation allowing medical providers to deny services because of their religious beliefs. Those divisions are largely along partisan lines with 81% of liberals opposing such a measure compared to 55% of conservatives supporting it.
Autostraddle Politics Survey respondents were in resounding opposition. Going beyond that question, several people further emphasized in free text comments that providers who have religious qualms about providing services should not be working in health care.
The figure below compares the results from the Politics Survey to the Economist/YouGov poll.
While the topic of religious freedoms in health care specifically didn’t come up in the confirmation hearings, Barrett’s views on religious freedom more broadly are well established. Earlier this week, writers for the Washington Post laid out Barrett’s disturbing history of supporting “preferential treatment” for religious expression. It’s likely, based on her record, that if a case on religious freedoms in health care were to make its way to the Supreme Court, she would rule in favor of those who are denying health care.
It’s also very possible that a case on this exact issue will make its way to the Supreme Court soon. In May 2019, the Trump administration created “conscience” protections that would prevent health care institutions from accessing federal funds if they took disciplinary actions against health care workers who denied services because of their religious beliefs. A few months later, in November of that year, a federal judge struck down the rule.
Anti-Trans Discrimination In Health Care Was Already A Big Problem. And Then the Trump Administration Intervened.
The Politics Survey asked respondents if they had been denied health care because of their gender identity or presentation. Among the overall sample, 5% of respondents said they had been denied services and 8% said they were unsure if that had happened to them.
But those overall numbers mask a deeper story. The figure below shows the stark differences in responses to the question on denial of services by the gender identity of the survey respondent. 50% of our trans women respondents had either been denied services because of their gender identity or presentation or had an ambiguous experience along those lines. About a third of our non-binary respondents shared that experience as well.
In addition to the responses shown above, several people shared other negative experiences in free-text comments, such as being discriminated against in other ways, traumatized and mistreated by trans-incompetent health care providers. Others mentioned putting off health care to avoid mistreatment and discrimination.
It seems almost inevitable that trans health care protections will find themselves before the Supreme Court sooner or later. And while Barrett’s views on the rights of trans people did not come up in the confirmation hearings, her use of the term “sexual preference” when asked about LGBTQ+ protections speaks volumes about how she views the community as a whole. Though she later apologized for using the term, her ties to a law firm that has fought to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ+ people have also been reported this week.
Reproductive Rights Have Been Steadily Eroded for Decades.
Even before Barrett was nominated, the alarms were sounding that Roe v. Wade would be effectively gutted by a Supreme Court with a conservative-majority. In many ways, it already has been. Abortion is such a hot button issue that any law that gets passed, whether at the state or even a long-shot attempt in Congress, inevitably will make its way to the courts and, often, up to the Supreme Court. That small handful of people wields an incredible amount of power when it comes to reproductive rights.
Respondents to Autostraddle’s Politics Survey could not be farther from Barrett in their views. There was near unanimous support for abortion with almost 90% supporting that basic right to choose in all circumstances and another 10% wanting it to be “legal with limitations.” That was, more or less, consistent no matter how I sliced the data. In contrast, a Monmouth University poll from June 2019 found that while nearly two-thirds of American adults want abortion to be legal in some capacity, only 29% fully support it in all circumstances. The figure below compares these results.
The High Cost Of Health Care Hits Our Community Particularly Hard.
Alongside these battles over what medically-necessary services are legally permissible is the fight over the prohibitively high cost of health care. A well-established problem nationally, this is another aspect of the health care system that especially harms our community. The Politics Survey asked whether respondents to indicate whether they or someone in their household had forgone needed services because of they could not afford them. Results from the Politics Survey are compared to a Monmouth poll conducted May 2019 in the figure below. Note that all results discussed in this section exclude Politics Survey respondents who live outside the U.S. because of the policy-specific nature of this issue.
Once again, the overall numbers hide a deeper story. The Monmouth University poll found substantial differences in the response to this question by income, which is unsurprising given that cost is the underlying issue. A similar pattern was observed among Politics Survey respondents, as well. This comparison is shown in the graphic below.
A direct consequence of these disparities in access to care by income level is disparities in access to care by other demographic characteristics that are correlated with income, including gender identity, race/ethnicity and disability status. So while the rate of forgoing health care because of the cost among our community as a whole is 63%, among trans women and non-binary people that rate is 70% and 73% respectively, among Black and Latinx people it’s around 70% and among people living with disabilities it is a galling 78%. Health care is just one more arena where some of the most marginalized members of our community face the dual threats of identity-based discrimination and poverty.
The Growing Appeal of Medicare for All
Several policy ideas have been floated in the last few years to address the high cost of health care. A single public plan like “Medicare for All” has gained substantial traction on the left and dominated much of the conversation during the Democratic primaries. Among Politics Survey respondents, over 80% wanted to move towards a universal public system either immediately or eventually. The American public, of course, is much more divided. The figure below compares responses from the Politics Survey to a Monmouth University poll conducted in August 2019.
Support for a single payer was substantially higher among Politics Survey Respondents than U.S. adults, regardless of income. But, nonetheless, a greater proportion of our lower income respondents wanted to move towards a universal public system at some point than our higher income respondents: 88% of respondents with an annual income below $30,000 compared to 78% of respondents with an income above $100,000. There wasn’t much variation in support for Medicare for All by gender identity, race/ethnicity or disability.
I was curious to see if the pandemic led to any shifts in how people viewed Medicare for All, so this same question was asked on the Follow Up Survey. Among the people who took the Follow Up Survey, support for moving to Medicare for All at some point stayed about the same. The urgency, however, changed. In the Politics Survey (conducted December 2019 – January 2020), 70% of Follow Up Survey respondents said they wanted to get rid of all private insurance compared with 14% who preferred an opt-in with eventual transition to single payer. By the time of the Follow Up (conducted July – August 2020), that had shifted to 77% and 9%. The change is modest but not statistically significant.
The Supreme Court Could Affect Single Payer Health Care in Many Ways
One of the drawbacks of a single payer public health plan is that, depending on who’s in power, it might not cover politically divisive but medically necessary procedures like hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery or other trans-inclusive care, contraceptives or abortions. If recent history is any model, it’s fair to assume that even if Democrats managed to pass a plan like Medicare for All that covered all of these things (more on that in a minute), private companies would start suing left and right and the matter would make its way to the Supreme Court. Conservatives on the Court have already proven that they will side with religious freedoms at the expense of contraceptive care, as we saw in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. All evidence suggests they would act exactly the same way if there were a single payer law with a mandate for covering trans-inclusive care or abortions. And we know Barrett will fall even farther to the right on this than the conservatives currently on the Bench.
In addition to legal scrutiny over what could be covered in such plan, a single payer plan will very likely find itself in court for mandating health coverage, the way the Affordable Care Act has on multiple occasions. Here again, history is instructive of what the future may hold. In 2012, the ACA was narrowly saved with Roberts writing the majority opinion. As a legal scholar explained in a recent interview with The New Yorker, a key issue in that case and the one that will be heard by the Court the week after the election is whether requiring people to purchase health insurance is “an unconstitutional act of coercion.” In the 2012 case, Roberts ruled that the ACA, specifically, was not because of the fines imposed on people who did not purchase health insurance (which Roberts viewed as a “tax” and therefore under the purview of Congress). After Republicans did away with the fines in 2017, the latest challenge to the ACA argues that the current form of the ACA is now coercive.
It’s hard not to imagine that all of this would replay itself in one form or another if a public, single payer plan were to somehow become the law. Once again, the Supreme Court has tremendous power in determining the shape of health care in this country.
Biden, of course, does not support single payer, though Harris did during the primary. As the pandemic has worn on, Biden’s moved closer and closer towards it. In July, a “unity task force” between the Biden and Sanders campaigns put forward a plan to expand health care access substantially. While not single payer, the plan will lower the qualifying age for Medicare and includes a government-run public health insurance option. That public option would be available to anyone but would automatically enroll low-income people who lose their jobs. Again, what a conservative court will do with such a law remains to be seen.
Is Everything Doomed?
Barrett will be confirmed before the election. Republicans are bending every rule and norm to make that happen. We will have a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court in a matter of weeks. Roberts’ seemingly liberal sleight of hand votes that have, bit by bit, undermined policies that enshrine basic rights will no longer put off the inevitable. So where do we go from here?
The only say we have over who’s on the Supreme Court is through who we vote into office in the Senate and the Presidency. For his part, Biden continues to dodge questions about court-packing, which leaves us with something to hope for. Last week, Natalie covered the close Senate races; If you have the money or the time, donate to and volunteer to campaign for those races. And after the election, the phones need to start ringing.
Cancer is awful no matter who gets it. Yet there are few tailored cancer resources for LGBTQI+ people, although an estimated 81,000 of us are diagnosed with it every year. That’s why the National LGBT Cancer Network is launching a new survey to help inform cancer care for the LGBTQI+ population.
Out: The National Cancer Survey, seeks to learn about LGBTQI+ experiences of cancer treatment and survivorship. Scout, the executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network and principal investigator for the study (and also a transgender father of three), explained in a press statement:
We ran a smaller scale survivor survey years ago and the insights were profound, people telling us how their families would shun them, how they had to drive miles out of their way to find a welcoming provider, how their partners weren’t really made to feel welcome. This time we hope to get a larger and more diverse group of respondents, to really get a picture of what healthcare is like for our people right now.
Another project goal is to receive enough responses to publish a report on the experiences of Black and Brown LGBTQI+ cancer survivors. The Center for Black Equity is a major partner for the study. “Too often my community is not represented adequately in research, but our experiences are not the same as others, we need to elevate and explore those differences,” said President/CEO Earl D. Fowlkes, Jr.
“We want to use these findings to educate healthcare professionals, and show that as a whole, we are not adequately caring for this population. We need to do better for our LGBTQI+ patients diagnosed and living with cancer,” said Jason Domogauer, M.D., Ph.D., resident physician in the Department of Radiation Oncology at NYU, and a member of the study Advisory Board.
If you are an LGBTQI+ person who has/had cancer, please consider taking part in the survey. It takes about 30 minutes and your answers are completely anonymous.
No, this is not specifically related to parenting, like most of my posts. But I lost both of my parents to cancer, and I wouldn’t wish that on any family, queer or otherwise. If you can help by taking the survey or spreading the word about it, please do.
I hadn’t been super into romance before I had Olivia Waite’s Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. I sought sapphic representation when I chose books, but I was mostly a reader of literary fiction, so understandably a lot of what I was read didn’t have a happy ending. I didn’t even realize that was something I craved, and I was so giddy when I cracked open this historical romance and found myself enthralled.
I was very eager to read the sequel, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, another regency sapphic tale. I was intrigued by Agatha in Lady’s Guide and definitely detected queer vibes coming from her, so it was no surprise when she turned out to be one of the protagonists of this book. A no-nonsense small business owner who always seemed to entangled with artists, scientists, and subversives of all kinds, Agatha was intriguing when she was introduced as a side character, but she is delightful here—grumpy and direct, but also caring and cautious when it comes to her own romantic feelings.
I also loved Penelope from her very first moments on the page, which is something I appreciate about Waite’s books. I always struggle to stick with a lesfic romance when I dislike one of the main characters. Waite always write heroines who are quirky and not necessarily traditionally likable, but they hook me completely exactly because they jump off the page as whole human beings, with flaws and unique perspectives. I loved Lucy and Catherine when I read Lady’s Guide, but I think now I love Agatha and Penelope more.
A beekeeper, Penelope comes to Agatha’s aid when the printer finds a beehive nesting inside her warehouse. After Penelope manages to carefully remove the bees and suggests placing their new home just outside Agatha’s business building, the two start corresponding.
As Agatha and Penelope started exchanging letters, I found myself nearly racing to finish the book, because I just wanted these two to be happy already. I had to read it again to appreciate some of the story beats and I’m sure I will read it one more time to swoon over the beautiful prose Waite writes, but the first time had me breathless with anticipation, and even the promise of a happy ending that comes with a romance couldn’t make me relax and slow down.
I don’t usually enjoy characters who pine for each for very long. One of the reasons I loved Lady’s Guide was that there was little wait before the main characters got together and the focus was on their burgeoning relationship and past wounds. I wasn’t sure if I would be the audience for a book that withholds the payoff for so long, since I tend to resent when there are too many misunderstandings and obstacles and people just won’t talk to each other. This book is unabashed about the pining and the silly misunderstandings. But it’s so well-done, with Penelope’s hesitation to come out and Agatha’s resentment of Penelope’s marriage and assumptions about what that means, that I was captivated.
I did miss the diversity from the first book, however. Lady’s Guide has more than one character of color and really came alive for me for painting a portrait of what Regency Britain might really have been like. Waspish Widows has several queer characters instead, which is nice, especially as Agatha and Penelope spend a lot of time supporting and conspiring with the other queers, but I still craved more diversity from the book, probably because I know Waite can deliver it and do it well. I assume Mr. Biswas is Indian, but can’t remember him being that big of a presence in the book, and that’s a pity.
I also really appreciated the side story with Queen Caroline and the real danger it brought to the characters that we cared about. I just wish the plot had been wrapped up a bit better. I felt like we heard way too much about this historical context in the beginning and then interest seemed to wane and narrow on the fictional plots that sprouted from it, but that too is sort of set aside at the end, and we only get an assurance that it was resolved by a certain character moving away. I was a bit disappointed.
The middle of the book has amazing tension due to Waite weaving so many threads exceptionally well and creating explosive confrontations. The writing is well-paced, so it propels you forward, making you want to know how it will all come to a head. So I felt a bit cheated that main antagonist in the story disappears off-page and the political tensions are resolved by people just losing interest.
Nevertheless, none of that ruined my enjoyment of the book. It’s a testament to Waite’s brilliant storytelling that even when my brain is picking on tiny things and I’m frustrated with bits and pieces, the whole narrative is still impactful and satisfying. Her character work in particular shines. All these people she creates stay in your imagination. Those characters live outside the page, leave a mark on the reader. When Catherine appeared briefly for a cameo in this book, I nearly shouted in excitement. When Mr. Frampton was mentioned, I felt nostalgic and sad that we hadn’t seen him in this book yet. And I would pay any amount of money for a book focusing on Joana Molesey and Aunt Kelmarsh, because there are so few sapphic romances between older women, and after reading Waspish Widows, I would love more.
I certainly can’t wait to go back to this mini world and see them once again, and while I know that Waite has only planned one more book for this series, I can’t help but hope she will pen many more historical sapphic books. I would certainly read them.
Thais is a Brazilian WOC queer. Her degree in Media Studies has slowly grown useless, even though she literary Majored in how to be good at social media (but can’t understand it better than twelve-year-olds) and she currently lives with her parents. She is an Editor and has too many opinions on books she should be reading for fun.
You can find her on Goodreads or Twitter (@ThaisAfonso).
When I first read The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, I remembered being enchanted by the writing, the world building, and the gorgeous, tender romance at the heart of the story. It was one of the smartest historical romances I’d read in a long while, and it fed both my heart and my brain. In the same spirit, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, while markedly different in pace and character, satisfies in the same way.
I’m a sucker for first lines, and enjoyed the way Waite’s novel catches the attention with these:
“The corpses were giving Agatha the most trouble. They looked too much like people.”
Besides grabbing the reader, the opening is excellent as an introduction to Agatha Griffin, a forty-five year old widow who runs a print house. She worries about her son’s penchant for staying out all night, as well as his inability to keep his hands off her brilliant assistant, Eliza. She also worries about keeping the print press going given the political climate, the oppressive taxation, and her son’s lack of business sense.
When she finds a beehive in her warehouse, it’s the last problem in the world she needs.
In comes Penelope Flood, a gorgeous beekeeper who helps her remove the beehive. Living in a small village where everyone knows too much about each other, Penelope spends much of her time with her bees, while her husband and brother work as whalers and are often at sea. When she and Agatha meet, it sets off a friendship that grows into love.
It takes time for the relationship between two women to develop–they don’t actually share a first kiss until three-quarters of the way through the book. However, what we do get is a great deal of deep connection and pining, evolving into a smoldering passion that sweeps Agatha and Penelope away. In the meantime, there are subplots involving Queen Caroline and Penelope’s village, as well as discourses on the politics of the time, the workings of print presses, and the art of beekeeping. I enjoyed the political commentary about the importance of a free press and the need to maintain its independence from the state, a topic of direct relevance to the times we live in today.
It also thrilled my 40-ish heart to see older protagonists depicted in romance, and especially in a Sapphic romance as this one, where both women have lived rich and interesting lives and are no longer at their peak. It’s an important story that isn’t often told. Even with the obvious constraints on the lives of Agatha and Penelope, both because of their gender as well as their sexual orientations, these are two fully-realized women who also find a way to be happy.
As a corollary to this, secondary queer characters in both novels have satisfying relationships that are not shrouded in secrecy and shame, but accepted by others. It is high time to modify our understanding of queer relationships throughout history, how much more common they were, especially Sapphic ones, which had a bit more space within which to be carried out.
Waite makes a point of centering women’s occupations, and illustrating their value. She demonstrates this brilliantly in the The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics and continues to expose the reader in this novel. The entire arena of female engagement is revealed, from print shops and beekeeping, to poetry and political activism. The story of Queen Caroline weaves throughout the fabric of the story, providing a wider historical arc against which Agatha and Penelope’s love story develops. The centuries change, but what matters to women doesn’t.
If you are looking for an intelligent, layered, historical romance featuring women of a certain age, then you will enjoy the book. It works well at the level of historical fiction, though as a romance, it does take a minute for it to take off. But when it gets there, the passion is wild and gorgeous. It is a romance that rewards a reader’s patience.