‘We Can’t Be Complacent’: Thoughts on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Trans Day of Remembrance vigilToday is international Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day where we honor those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2017 has already seen at least 25 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means—and the vast majority were transgender people of color. “While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable,” HRC declares.

GLAAD has more about the history of TDOR here; a number of vigils are taking place around Maine. A memorial was also held in Portland on Sunday evening.

Maine Family Planning offers Open Door trans health services to folks at our clinics in Waterville and Lewiston, and statewide through our groundbreaking telemedicine technology. We are thrilled to also be on the cusp of expanding in-clinic services to additional locations in 2018. Soon, clinicians in Belfast, Bangor, and Fort Kent will also be able to offer trans health care on-site. This is an important deepening of our organizational commitment to reproductive justice. As Cazembe Murphy Jackson wrote today at Rewire: “It is so important for trans people to be included in the conversations about reproductive justice. ”

Jackson said:

We must reflect on our struggles and ensure that all of us have the ability to decide if, when, and how to become a parent, on our own terms. I believe this is at the core of reproductive justice: In order for any of us to have a taste of reproductive justice, it must be available to all of us. We must honor trans people as we are, while we are here, in every expression of our gender identity and reproduction. Honoring our resilience is resistance and remembrance.

To mark TDOR, Maine Family Planning nurse practitioners (NPs) Meredith Hunt and Sara Hayes—who manage the Open Door Program in Waterville and Lewiston, respectively—offered these reflections on the transgender health services they offer and their impact in Maine communities.

Meredith Hunt:

I really enjoy providing transhealth services.  It feels good to have such a direct impact on improving people’s lives. I love when I can see the happiness in someone’s face when I say “Yeah, I can help you with that.”  I also love that my patients in the Open Door Program really like coming in.  Many of them have told me that it is the only medical appointment to which they look forward.  I think what we are doing is so important and I see the impact in the community first hand. It is not just young people coming to see us. I have several patients who are over 50 and are so happy to finally have a place to go where they are accepted as who they truly are.

I will be attending the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) services in Waterville this year.  I have attended the ceremonies in Portland in the past.  When they read all the names of the transgender people who have lost their lives in the past year, I can’t help but get emotional.  It is just so wrong and heartbreaking.  I hope that by providing the services we offer, that we in some way are making the lives of transgender people in Maine better.

Sara Hayes:

I am very proud of our trans program at MFP.  We currently have roughly 100 trans patients who Meredith and I are helping through this process and I absolutely love my trans practice.

Working with trans folk to get their inner and outer selves in balance is incredibly rewarding.  Going through puberty as a teenager is especially rough for trans people and together we go through it again, but this time getting the hormones right. I love hearing about and seeing the physical changes my trans patients go through and their excitement is catching, for sure.

I’m also pretty excited that we are expanding the number of MFP NPs doing trans care. We have patients coming to us all over the state.  Meredith and I can do visits via telehealth at any of our sites but I think it is important that we expand our on-site trans care options as well. Julie in Belfast has been getting up to speed and thanks to a MeHAF grant, we are getting Priscilla from Bangor and Christina from Fort Kent trained as well.  My dream is that before too long, trans care is going to be available at all sites with any of our NPs.

Trans folk, especially trans women, have been the targets of violence and derision for forever.  I have been doing trans care for almost 5 years and I hear from my patients that they are getting more support from their families and friends than trans folk have in the past. But for many, safety and support are not a given. The Transgender Day of Remembrance is not only a tribute to those who have tragically lost their lives because of other people’s hate and intolerance, but it is a reminder to all of us that we can’t be complacent about safety because unfortunately trans people are still and will continue to be targeted. Especially since the current administration in Washington is just adding fuel to sparks of intolerance and ignorance that will ignite into violence, not only against LGBT people. but also against minorities, women, and low-income people.

Reflections on Listening to Feminist Leaders

Here is a dispatch from intern Casey Rogers. Casey is a senior at the University of Maine, studying social work, and is spending this academic year as a field practicum student with Maine Family Planning.

Earlier this fall, I had the fortune of attending the Maine Women’s Summit on Economic Security. When I first read about the summit, I was excited for the opportunity to hear two amazing women speak on their experiences in leading major social justice movements in the U.S. The first of these powerful women is Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement. During her talk, Garza reflected on her experiences that led to Black Lives Matter, and I was moved by her strength, eloquence, and wisdom. It’s important to note that Black Lives Matter is a movement that was started by three Women of Color, and one that fights for all Black people, including women, queer and transgender people, poor people and immigrants. The second speaker is the amazing Loretta Ross, a professor at Hampshire College and co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Reproductive Justice is a movement also founded by Women of Color, and one that merges reproductive rights and social justice within a human rights framework.

Loretta Ross

Loretta Ross, a co-founder and former national coordinator for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, in Augusta last month.

Both leaders centered feminism and intersectionality, and what these concepts mean to them, in their discussions. Garza commented on our need to redefine feminism to better address intersectionality, as feminism is not about just one issue. Looking through an intersectional lens means recognizing that we all have many aspects to our identity:  our race, sexuality, gender, and socioeconomic class. It also means analyzing how these aspects intertwine, and how we may experience power and privilege in some ways, while experiencing powerlessness in others. A lot of what Garza said about intersectional feminism strongly resonated with me. I believe, both as a future social worker and as an individual, that you cannot look at one aspect of a person’s identity and expect to understand the bigger picture. When Garza described intersectional feminism as “transformative” and the “feminism that could free us all,” I was very much on board. Loretta Ross brought another perspective to the table. Ross prefers the term “justice feminism,” adding that “intersectionality is a process, human rights are the goal.” Ross calling herself a justice feminist reflects her feminist goals, while practicing intersectional feminist analysis better describes the process.

Garza and Ross are two powerful women in the fight for racial and reproductive justice. However, while they share some common goals, the process or paths they take may differ due to many factors, including being from two different generations, growing up in different areas, and, of course, being two different people with unique experiences. I felt that Ross touched on this well when she said, “If I only worked with people whose minds worked just like mine, I’d have a movement of one.” As a social work student, I’ve had discussions with my classmates on our tendencies to assume the people around us think exactly as we do. In reality, while we may have common goals surrounding justice and social growth, we may also see different paths to these ideas. A strong point to take away from Ross’s discussion is not to debate what “type” of feminism or advocacy is the best, as the energy spent doing so only takes away from the goal, whether your goal is getting certain policy passed, or changing the dialogue around a social issue. As Ross put it, “calling each other out on not being ‘woke’ enough is not helpful.” She discussed our need to change the dynamic from “calling out” to “calling in.”

It’s easy to write someone off because they are not on the same page, or they said something wrong, or because they come from very different experiences. However, when we’re put in a situation where we can “call in,” we may be surprised by the change we are able to make. This fall, as part of my internship, I participated in outreach work with the Mainers for Healthcare Campaign. When I started, my supervisor and MFP’s Community Organizer, Cait Vaughan, went through a canvassing training with me. Cait explained that while many interactions will be positive, that might not always be the case. She then gave me a piece of advice that really stuck with me, which is that people may say things that feel like they’re coming from a place of anger, when they may actually be coming from a place of fear, or having misinformation. It’s easy to react to anger with anger, but if we are able to stop and ask questions instead, we are also then able to meet the person where they are in how they are honestly feeling. Weeks and several canvassing shifts later, I have had a few of these interactions with folks where someone made a cringe-worthy comment, and while it was difficult not to feel upset, I did my best to engage with them and ask questions.

With all of this said, I feel it is also important to note that we are not always able, nor are we ever obligated, to “call in.” While I agree with the notion of leaning in and asking questions when we are able, call-in culture should not come at the expense of sacrificing one’s values. We should always leave room to allow ourselves to draw a line and exit a conversation if someone really is coming from a place of anger, hate, or aggression.

Being able to attend the Maine Women’s Summit on Economic Security and experience Alicia Garza and Loretta Ross’ talks was an amazing and inspiring opportunity. Seeing so many strong women from Maine, the country, and the world was a wonderful experience to take away from my field placement with Maine Family Planning. It gives me hope for my community and excitement to go out and work with some of these amazing people in my career.

Waiting for the Title X Shoe to Drop

NFPRHA graphic on Guttmacher

Graphic via National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association on Twitter.

Any day now, we expect the Trump administration to issue its Title X Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)—and to be honest, we’re a little nervous.

After all, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) political appointee overseeing the Title X program, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs Teresa Manning, has publicly opposed the use of federal funds for family planning and stated that contraception is ineffective. The former anti-abortion lobbyist also opposes emergency contraception. What’s more, a memo leaked last month suggested that advisers to the Trump administration are seeking to slash Title X funding by half—and/or to promote the “fertility awareness” method of birth control in place of other, more effective forms of contraception.

The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, of which we are a member, sees the likelihood of an attack on Title X as “High;” the Guttmacher Institute said in October: “Never in its history has the nation’s family planning safety net been in such jeopardy as it is today.”

You can see why we’re not exactly optimistic.

There are a few ways HHS could go after family planning providers through Title X:

  • By cutting or eliminating Title X funding altogether;
  • By altering the parameters of the grant to include so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (which use tactics of misinformation and deception to prevent women from accessing abortion care) as eligible entities or “tiering” providers (giving preference to public health departments or primary care providers in order to shut out non-profit organizations like MFP);
  • By putting onerous conditions on Title X recipients—and their patients—such as requiring parental notification and consent for teens seeking contraceptive care, a policy repeatedly rejected by the Maine Legislature;
  • By instituting what’s known as the Domestic Gag Rule, which would bar Title X-funded health care providers from talking about abortion as one of three choices available to pregnant patients who come to us for comprehensive options counseling.

Under any of the above scenarios, the Maine Family Planning network of providers (18 MFP clinics, plus four Planned Parenthood sites, 20 Federally-Qualified Health Centers, and five school-based health centers) would be hamstrung in its ability to provide a full range of contraceptive and reproductive health care services to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women, men, and teens around the state.

We are staying vigilant as the right wing’s latest attack on women’s health care looms. Stay tuned.

We’re Still Fighting

#ImStillFighting

I’m Still Fighting image via Physicians for Reproductive Health

Today, we celebrate Maine’s historic vote to expand Medicaid (MaineCare). The margin of victory (59 to 41 percent, as of this writing) and geographic distribution of votes (supportive communities stretched from towns bordering Canada all the way to southern Maine) clearly demonstrate that Mainers believe access to health care shouldn’t depend on where you live or how much money you earn. Tuesday’s vote means more low-income folks will benefit from a full range of critical health care services, including family planning and reproductive care, and thus brings us closer to realizing our overlapping goals of reproductive and economic justice.

But we’re still fighting. 

First, we must ensure that our elected officials act on the will of the people. Already, Gov. Paul LePage (R) is snubbing Maine voters, declaring Wednesday that his administration will block the expansion until the program “has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels [the Department of Health and Human Services] has calculated.”

That’s not right—or legal.

According to Talking Points Memo:

Mainers for Health Care, the organization behind the campaign to expand Medicaid, said despite LePage’s bluster, he can’t stop the expansion train without violating state law.

“Under the state constitution, 45 days after the legislature reconvenes, Medicaid expansion will become the law of the state,” the group’s spokesman David Farmer told TPM. “According to the statute, the Department of Health and Human Services has 90 days after that to submit an implementation plan to the federal government, and the implementation itself will take place in mid-August of 2018.”

As Maine Family Planning community organizer Cait Vaughan reminded supporters in an email today, “we’ll need all of you to show up and make sure state legislators follow through on Medicaid expansion.”

Meanwhile, we must remember that until women can use their Medicaid coverage for all the medical services they need—including abortion—this victory remains incomplete. And so we’ll continue our battle to overturn the state’s ban on Medicaid coverage for abortions.

We’re fighting because the right to an abortion is meaningless if low-income or rural women can’t access one.

It’s appropriate that we participated today in the #ImStillFighting “tweetstorm” organized by Physicians for Reproductive Heath, marking one year since Election Day 2016—a year that has seen a wholesale assault on reproductive rights, the family planning safety net, and women’s health care.

See why other, like-minded organizations are Still Fighting, below: