Western States Center Blog
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This International Women’s Day we celebrate and honor those who have come before us and all those who have helped us along the way in the work for justice and dignity for all. The courage and determination to move beyond just surviving to thriving must be a mission on this International Women’s Day.
January 22 marked the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States. This historic decision supported the right of self-determination for women and transgender people who can become pregnant, brought abortion out of the back alley, and represented a significant milestone in the fight for all people’s access to the care and resources they need to thrive.
Yet as we celebrate this day, I can’t help thinking of the women and transgender people who do not have access to the reproductive health care that this decision was intended to secure. The Hyde Amendment, first passed by Congress in 1976, denies Medicaid coverage of abortion. This measure, and others like it that restrict federal dollars from covering abortion, is renewed in the federal budget every year. While we are lucky that in our state, courts have reaffirmed that everyone who qualifies for Oregon Health Plan has insurance coverage for abortion care if they need it, there are many across the country who live in states that do withhold these benefits.
These federal bans still impact people in Multnomah County and across Oregon who utilize federal insurance programs, like federal employees, veterans and members of the armed services, and people who qualify for the Indian Health Service and Medicare. What’s more, the Hyde Amendment is just one of a long list of policies and practices at the federal, state and local level that prevent people from making healthy decisions about when and whether to parent for themselves and their families.
Stigma and misinformation surrounding cruel policies like these lead many more to believe that insurance won’t cover this essential aspect of reproductive health care, even in states where it does.
Many of us in the queer and transgender community in Multnomah County know all too well the harmful effects of a lack of comprehensive reproductive health education and quality care. We face a staggering lack of provider education on queer and transgender health needs. We confront prejudice and stigma from those charged with providing care to us. Queer and transgender people of color are also more likely to be low-income and to face sexual and interpersonal violence. Restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion care and other crucial reproductive health needs only further disenfranchise an already-marginalized community. As Senator Hyde, when he first proposed the Hyde Amendment, famously said, “I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”
Make no mistake: this policy was designed to directly impact our communities, and we must fight back.
As a transgender person, who often passes as white, I have my own experiences encountering barriers to care within our medical systems. As an advocate working across the state of Oregon with the We Are BRAVE network through Western States Center, I have earned even greater insight into the barriers faced by other queer and transgender people of color seeking care. Through the years, I have heard devastating stories from our community members in Multnomah County and across the state about the inadequate reproductive health care they are often provided.
Take Grey, a self-identified transgender Afro-Latino gay man, who recently tried to access abortion care in Portland. Like many transgender people needing an abortion, Grey encountered enormous challenges. Facing an unintended pregnancy after his doctor insisted he could not conceive and therefore did not need contraception, Grey was coldly asked to leave the clinic when he asked for information on termination. Anxious and confused, Grey and his husband had to navigate a system that is not set up to address the specific reproductive health care needs of transgender persons. Unfortunately, I am learning that Grey's story is an all too common one.
Another story comes from Kara, a BRAVE leader from Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, who faced delayed diagnosis and treatment for a sexually transmitted infection because her provider was unaware of how queer bodies have sex and what our risk factors are. This lack of knowledge is not only dangerous, it’s unjust.
All LGBTQ people, young and old, should have affordable access to the full range of reproductive health care services from knowledgeable providers, without stigma, shame or silence. We face enough barriers to access without politicians withholding insurance coverage for abortion. Until the Hyde Amendment is repealed nationally and we take measures in Oregon to ensure all communities have more comprehensive access, essential parts of reproductive health care will remain out of reach for too many in our community. This year, let’s reclaim Roe for those affected by harmful bans on abortion coverage. Let’s honor this historic anniversary by advocating for secure, affordable, comprehensive and accessible reproductive care for all.
Owen Smith is Capacity Building Manager with Western States Center, whose mission is to build the power of community organizations to challenge and transform individuals, organizations and systems to achieve racial, gender, and economic justice.
The political fire of 2016 is off to a roaring start, fueled by state legislative sessions meeting, the anticipation of the Presidential election, and an armed takeover of federal land in southeastern Oregon. The Bundy Militia is just a recent iteration of a decades-long extremist movements. Make no mistake -- this isn’t coming out of nowhere -- this is a movement. What exactly is happening in Harney County? What’s the bigger picture? What else can you do? Click to learn more.
Every year on November 20th, LGBTQ advocates and allies come together to remember all of the transgender people around the world lost to anti-trans violence. This year, like in years past, the majority of those transgender people are transgender women of color. The undeniable reality of extreme cisgenderism/transphobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia/heterosexism all rolled into each violent act is a life ended too soon by violence. This day – today – is nationally known as Transgender Day of Remembrance, or TDOR.
Please join with us, our partners, and other reproductive justice advocates like yourself for our "Oregonians for Reproductive Health Campaign Day of Action!" Here's how you can join us on Wednesday, November 18th for this important action!
I'm sharing with you today that I will no longer be working for Western States Center as Director of Programs. I have decided to stay in the Philippines and help care for my mother as she grieves, be with my family, and just as important, serve my fellow Filipin@s. This is a big decision, and not one easily made. In the end, I know you will all appreciate that I am choosing to support my bigger family and serve communities in the Philippines.
Western States Center was approached by members of our organizing communities for help in fundraising to send Portland-area Black and African American folks to The Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland, days after AMP (Activists Mobilizing for Power). Our pledge was to contribute 10% of our total raised during our leadership development conference to a local scholarship pool, raising over $1600. These funds were matched by PFLAG Portland Black Chapter. PFLAG Portland Black Chapter Design Editor and AMP photographer, Darion Demartez Jones, shared a few thoughts on his experiences as well as pictures.
On behalf of Western States Center’s Board and staff we want to thank YOU for all the goodwill, patience and creativity that you shared at AMP (Activists Mobilizing for Power) 2015.
In the newness of 2015, we look back on the last few months of 2014 to take stock of the ways our organizing for social justice experienced seismic-level shifts. Our role has always been about a long-term vision and to support the leadership development and organizational collaboration that partner groups need to win. In 2015, whether it's through our innovative work with We are BRAVE, providing guidance and accountability at the state legislature under the RACE Program, or building connections between movement organizers and activists with the return of our summer camp for activists and organizers (AMP!) - there will be so many opportunities for us to continue building towards these wins, together. Read more about our reflections and vision going into the New Year!
This week, I am moving back to Wisconsin to reunite with my partner and his kids. (I may be on the road somewhere in Idaho or Montana or North Dakota as you read this!) It's a really bittersweet moment for me. I've grown so much through my work with the Center, built really beautiful relationships and friendships in the Northwest, and been honored to be part of some true movement-building work that will keep me fire- up for a long time. There is a lot more road I want to walk - and will find ways to walk - with the organizers, leaders, and partner groups that I’ve had a chance to work alongside of.
Tara Villalba with Community to Community writes about how LGBTQ Justice is inextricable from workers’ rights and economic justice. "By our participation in the fields and our very existence, on the streets and within our organizations, we hold our rightful place in our movements for social justice. There will be no economic justice unless each and every one of us is accounted for and benefits from our just demands. Social justice will continue to be an unfinished project unless our LGBTQ members and organizers are able to be fully present and powerful in all spaces without discrimination, harm, or violence."
Khalil Edwards, the PFLAG Portland Black Chapter Program Coordinator, writes for the first day of the We Are Powerful - Coming Out for Social Justice Week campaign.
"The World That We Will Create Together" by special contributor, Monica Beemer, KBOO Community Radio/Western Regional Advocacy Project. Portland is hosting the PNW Social Forum on September 26-28th and activists are encouraged to register and share their issues and connected to others.
Cynthia reports back from Momentum Alliance’s two-week reproductive justice leadership camp for youth. Momentum Alliance is one of three organizations that comprise the We are BRAVE (Building Reproductive Autonomy and Voices for Equity) cohort.
Kelley Weigel, Executive Director at the Center, interviews activist Kathleen Saadat ask her what we have learned from winning the freedom to marry in Oregon, how LGBTQ issues are immigrant issues, and the need for drivers cards in Oregon.
Shantae shares how the love for her children informed her decision to have an abortion. And how through We are BRAVE she found a community of sisters that have shaped her into a reproductive justice warrior.
Yee Won reflects on six years at the Center and the life-saving work of organizers.
Kelley answers the question of why the West is such a hotbed for initiative politics and provides an overview of the ballot measures that are gearing up for 2014.
Kelley shares news about our new mission and vision as well as an update on the future of AMP.
Jen talks about the 2013 report card, the new grading system, and the utility of this tool to organize within communities of color.