For my community service project this year, I chose to compile sexual health resources that were specifically made with LGBTQ youth in mind. It felt like something that would be relatively easy to complete in my free time between my course load, job, activism work, and other on-campus commitments, as well as something that would ultimately end with a helpful and comprehensive product that I know I would’ve appreciated while navigating my adolescence. However, as I began collecting numbers for suicide hotlines, finding graphics explaining the importance of exploring pleasure without shame, and creating an entire section for advice on how to get access to contraceptives and protection, I began to think about the historical context this moment existed within.
Two things stuck out immediately about our current political landscape: The efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as well as the Trump administration’s retraction of the injunction filed by the Obama-era Department of Education and Department of Justice that instructed public school districts to allow trans students the ability to use the school bathrooms that correspond to their gender. The conjunction of these two events reinforced, for me:
1. The notion that the school is a site of potentiality of affirming queerness and gender non-conformity in a way that threatens heteronormative and cisnormative power structures.
And, more saliently,
2. The danger of depoliticizing access to national health services, including information on sexual health.
Oddly, universal health care has never been positioned as a specifically queer issue in mainstream outlets, even though it should be. The work of the late Eve Sedgwick comes to mind in particular when articulating this. Her contributions to the development of modern Queer Theory are numerous, but, for me, the most striking thing she has offered was a reflective piece called “Queer and Now” that uses her experience of having a close friend dying of AIDS while she was diagnosed with breast cancer to examine mortality and its relationship with homosexuality in the early 90s. Towards the end of the piece, she writes:
“It is different to experience from the vantage point of one’s own bodily illness and need, all the brutality of a society’s big and tiny decisions, explicit and encoded ones, about which lives have or have not value. A thousand things make it impossible to mistake the verdict on queer lives and on women’s lives, as on the lives of those who are poor or are not white.”
In a more elegant way than I would likely be able to muster while watching my body and the bodies of those around me deteriorate from neglect, she posits that lack of universal health care isn’t a difference in opinion or a budgeting decision, it’s the systematic genocide of the vulnerable and marginalized. It’s important to reconceptualize sexual education in the political context that our health and access to critical resources exists within. We’ve been conditioned to only be able to conceptualize violence in the swift forms it takes, like the fatal stabbing or the assault in alleyway, while the slow deaths by systematic neglect are chalked up to simply being tragic and unavoidable.
But I maintain that poor communities that stick with a health curriculum restricted to abstinence – leaving children without the knowledge or resources to protect themselves – is violence. Trans kids being routinely reminded that their bodies are moralized political battlegrounds for congressmen and that they might never be able to afford gender-affirming surgery, is violence. The lives a health of poor, Black, brown, undocumented, queer and trans populations not being center stage of LGBTQ discourse while white, cis gay couples in Target ads are celebrated as a material victory, is violence. With the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, inaccessible health care can’t be depoliticized or removed from the conservative framework of gay panic and genocide. We can’t let health services be positioned as a luxury or let comprehensive education that includes the issues specific to LGBTQ students be a matter of state rights.
I shouldn’t have to be scraping together medically-accurate information about how to talk about consent or what a dental dam is, hoping on the off-chance that young queer and trans kids – who have become victims of a long history of information gatekeeping (as a means of state-sponsored death) – stumble upon it. But, in our current political moment, it is crucial. In order to protect queer students, we need to start radicalizing and expanding our political platforms. It’s difficult to believe platitudes that assert that children are the future if we aren’t fighting tooth and nail to make sure that a future is even possible for them. Healthcare should never be reduced to a talking point with debatable merits for anyone, but it is a particularly heinous affront to the memories of those we have lost and continue to lose because of lack of access to treatment.
This post was written by Point Scholar Syd Roberts.
Syd is currently studying Political Science at Duke University. As an activist for trans and non-binary visibility in the mainstream LGBTQ rights movement, mental health awareness, and intersectional feminism, Sydney’s long-term career goals include opening a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth and working as a union defense attorney. Read more about Syd here.