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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Creating an LGBT-Inclusive Pro-Life Community

Students discuss abortion within a human rights framework at a Justice for All outreach.

[Today's guest post by Rebecca Stapleford is part of our paid blogging program. Rebecca attends the University of Georgia and majors in Greek, Latin, and Classical Culture. She is vice president of UGA Students for Life. A proud physically disabled autistic woman, her passion is pro-life and disability rights activism.]

It was my first day of Justice for All outreach this past spring at the University of Georgia, and I noticed two counter-protesters holding up signs that said, respectively “If the fetus that you save is gay, would you still fight for its rights?” and “I was not aborted, but turned out to be gay, trans, and pro-choice.” My first reaction was frustration. As a queer pro-lifer, I have faced more discrimination from the LGBT community than from the pro-life community, even though the vast majority of pro-lifers in Georgia are religious conservatives. UGA’s Women’s Studies Student Org passes out stickers that equate abortion rights with LGBT equality; UGA’s taxpayer-funded LGBT Resource Center endorses politicians based not only on their stances on LGBT rights, but also specifically on their support for abortion rights without any restrictions; and the majority of pro-choice individuals that I meet in the course of my pro-life outreach make the assumption that I am straight, opposed to LGBT rights, and that I view LGBT people as inferior, despite the fact that all of these things are false.

I marched over there and informed those two individuals that I felt that they were marginalizing and excluding LGBT pro-life people such as myself; that I had worked hard to make Students for Life @ UGA an inclusive place for all pro-lifers regardless of religious belief, gender identity, or sexual orientation; and that no one associated with Justice for All hated LGBT people. They both assured me that it wasn’t their intent to marginalize me and told me that they appreciated my inclusive stance. We then got into further conversation, and the girl revealed to me that she was adopted by Christian parents who rejected her once she came out as a lesbian. At once, the reasons for her sign became clear. Her only experiences with pro-life people had been with those who devalued her very existence and personhood based on her sexual orientation. I recalled to her my own painful years of struggle with my sexual orientation, which manifested itself in severe depression and suicide attempts, and the fact that I will probably never be able to tell my own father the truth about myself, and we found common ground. We understood each other, despite our ideological differences. I was reminded again that people are never arguments to be won, but individuals to be loved. The JFA staff also showed her love and care, despite the fact that same-sex relationships were against most of their religious beliefs, because one does not have to agree in order to understand and empathize. 

At the same time, an unaffiliated street preacher who frequents our campus came by to let the queer individuals know that they were going to hell and abominations in the sight of God while at the same time declaiming against abortion, and I realized that the pro-life movement as a whole has a lot of work to do, not even to be welcoming, but not to be actively hostile towards LGBT people. I remembered the angry man at a state right to life meeting that I had attended, proclaiming that “the gays” were destroying America, and the comments made at a Students for Life meeting that made a lesbian friend of mine in attendance feel excluded. I looked back on the support that I had received in coming out of the closet and recognized that had I not announced that I would not be dating other women due to my own personal religious beliefs, not only would I have probably not received that support, certain individuals might have even questioned my fitness for presidency of the pro-life club. When the mainstream pro-life movement so frequently combines opposition to LGBT equality with opposition to abortion, is it any wonder that so many LGBT individuals won’t even consider the pro-life point of view?

The counter-protesters returned each day of the JFA outreach, but there was now genuine respect for us now that they realized that we respected them and their humanity. They listened to what we had to say, and we were able to have civil conversations on abortion where we found genuine common ground with each other. Why? Because we all viewed them not as arguments to be won, but people to be loved. That empathy and understanding can make even the most difficult conversations between the most ideologically opposed people not just possible, but highly productive and meaningful for both parties.

That particular outreach taught me that a way forward is possible for the pro-life movement, where all people can be included. It does not require individuals to change their personal religious beliefs, but it does require them to gain respect, understanding, and empathy. It requires our movement to lay aside the demonization of LGBT individuals and to stop pairing opposition to abortion with opposition to LGBT equality. It requires us to speak up when we encounter discrimination and prejudice within our ranks. It requires us to refrain from stereotyping and assumptions. Change is hard, but I believe that it is possible. In the past few years I have seen the pro-life movement grow more queer-inclusive, and I am confident that this trend will only continue, however, we still have a long ways to go. My hope is that the mainstream pro-life movement will realize the ways that they have excluded and harmed queer folks in the past, and work to prevent this from happening in the future.

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