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SRHR and Queerness: Destigmatising for a Safer, Healthier Way Forward

By Kela S. Roberts

It is a truth well understood that SRHR knowledge and accessibility is crucial to the health and preservation of the queer community. Queerness has become an umbrella term, encompassing anyone who does not fall underneath the banner of heterosexual and cisgender, meaning Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, gender non conforming and many of the other intersections of people can fall under this gambit of queerness.

Getting healthcare is a challenge enough, medical expenses and the general disposition of overworked medical professionals can make getting true relief and help feel like chasing a proverbial carrot on a stick. Many of us can’t afford it. Many of us do not know our rights with respect to it.

The issue is made worse when the added label of queerness is put into the mix. If the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and 90’s can be referenced, sick and dying queer people who may need help are often relegated to the sidelines with regards to their sexual and reproductive health. Their ‘lifestyles’ were blamed for their conditions and their illness seen as a just and logical consequence of their decisions to live as they are. It was a brutal time to be queer. Though treatment for the disease has progressed at rapid speeds and is now a much more manageable ordeal than it was 30-40 years ago, the legacy of its destruction is still felt, and can still act as a warning for what can happen to a large segment of the population when proper SRHR is neglected due to discrimination. 

The stigma still sticks, especially within regions like the Caribbean, where homophobia, transphobia, and a lack of education based on sexual and reproductive health make for a toxic concoction inhibiting those who may need the help most from receiving it. 

Helping queer persons to realize the full potential of their sexual and reproductive health and rights is tied to empowering them within their sexual and gender identity, and is crucial to getting them the appropriate healthcare they need.

According to Outright International, empowering queer persons relates to the  right of persons to freely define their own sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. They also highlight the importance of people being able to have access over their lifetimes to the information, resources, services and support necessary to achieve this without discrimination, coercion, exploitation or violence (Daly). Of course none of this can happen without the empowering of queer individuals to acknowledge and accept their identity and as a result, adequately educate themselves on SRHR relating to queerness.

Additionally, expanding the definitions of SRHR to include queer definitions of sexual activity and engagement will help to broaden the spectrum with regards to rights and treatment, and can help destigmatize and even educate healthcare workers themselves on the issues relating to queer SRHR. 

One of the major challenges to SRHR and queerness is cultural factors. SRHR is typically seen as a gendered issue, and gendered within the very limited man, woman binary. Women are typically known or even expected to take care of their own sexual and reproductive health and be responsible for what happens to them as a result. Men are not encouraged by societal expectation to place this amount of emphasis on their sexual health and rights, rather they are encouraged and expected to only think in terms of virility and the sense of accomplishment and gratification that multiple sexual partners create, especially within the caribbean context. These gendered expectations ignore the reality of the queer experience.

Queer people need access to reproductive health care, including contraception, abortion, assisted reproductive services, HIV care, pregnancy care, parenting resources, and more, regardless of their gender. It is far from a women’s only issue as many  queer people—including lesbian and bisexual women, transgender men,intersex, nonbinary and gender non-conforming individuals—can get pregnant, use birth control, have abortions, carry pregnancies, and become parents”(“Queering Reproductive Health, Rights & Justice – National LGBTQ Task Force”). 

One of the major caribbean specific challenges faced by queer persons relates to medical exclusion. Persons with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expression, and sex characteristics, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people, have been neglected in efforts to advance sexual and reproductive health and this has held back progress among wider populations.

Exclusion has been due, in part, to pervasive stigma and discrimination of LGBTI people, including among health workers (Dawson, and Leong) . This is an attitude that is pervasive and very difficult to unlearn on a systemic level but in the interest of equality and human rights, it must. Expanding the definitions of sexual activity, including queer persons in data analysis and testing and educating health care workers on the specific issues queer persons face in addition to sensitization training can all assist in getting better care for queer individuals regarding SRHR. 

As a region we have a long ways to go in general when it comes to sexual and reproductive health awareness and treatment. Many people, both within the cisgender-heterosexual binary and those outside of it are still unable to feel safe and comfortable enough to ask questions on SRHR, and we have a culture of negligence which encourages the brushing off of it as a silly, ‘women’s’ issue. All persons should be able to adequately understand where they stand with their sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially those within the queer community, who are undoubtedly marginalized and as such have an even lesser degree of access to adequate care than others. To move forward we must take into account every facet of every human’s experience with their sexual and reproductive health. 

References

Daly, Felicity. “Sexual And Reproductive Health And Rights For All!”. Outright Action International, 2022, https://outrightinternational.org/content/sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights-all.

Dawson, Ruth, and Tracy Leong. “Not Up For Debate: LGBTQ People Need And Deserve Tailored Sexual And Reproductive Health Care”. Guttmacher Institute, 2020, https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2020/11/not-debate-lgbtq-people-need-and-deserve-tailored-sexual-and-reproductive-health.

“Queering Reproductive Health, Rights & Justice – National LGBTQ Task Force”. National LGBTQ Task Force, 2022, https://www.thetaskforce.org/reproductive-justice.html

Kela S. Roberts is an International Relations and History graduate. She is freelance writer and a member of the Feminitt Caribbean writing team, with a passion for understanding gender issues and furthering women’s liberation.

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