Against the conservative rhetoric about gender identity, against pro life movements’ attempts to criminalize abortions and transphobic discourses still debating about all-gender bathrooms, a new generation is speaking their mind about gender equality, the equal access to women’s health and reproductive rights. My fifth grade student, Paloma, decided on their topic of research for an exhibition and she chose exactly those themes. When beginning to research I encountered different findings, but the truth is that generations of activists have fought for victories that have yet to be achieved.
Impacted by the numbers of transgender women that were denied a surgery or the 20% of them that were HIV positive, and the stories about mass sterilization of women of color, they said: “The quality of health care cisgender and transgender women receive is bad, I want to know How does mass sterilization affect our women and our community? How do prohibitions, laws, and stigma or misinformation about abortion affect women? And How difficult it is for transgender women to obtain adequate medical care?. If an eleven year old is concerned about these issues and is ready to find answers to these questions, so should we.
About women’s reproductive rights they found out that women of color were the ones that encountered the worst conditions. Sadly, they discovered that genocide found many forms, “Black women were sterilized because they thought that they were unintelligent, they also wanted to keep their society homogeneous. In 1914, 12 states passed mandatory sterilization legislation…The Eugenics Registry Office at Cold Water Spring Harbor, wrote a book on eugenic sterilization that claimed that if we sterilized all “mentally deficient” people, according to the book, the eugenics movement would remove “the most useless tenth of all the current population” in two generations. Indigenous, Latino and African American women were being targeted by the FPS (family planning service) and SPRA associations. These associations help people when planning for their families but what they don’t say is that they sterilize women without telling them. In 1970 20% of indigenous women were sterilized by the government without knowing it”. Understanding at this age that these practices respond to deeper struggles and developing a perspective about intersectionality they shared: “The fact that mostly women of color are affected says that this action is racism, organizations that took advantage of the women’s vulnerability should be closed for being racist and misogynistic”.
In relation to abortion, my student discovered that social class was a determining fact for access; “It is illegal to get an abortion in 43 states in the United States, you can only get an abortion if it is life or death. In 38 states abortions have to be performed by a licensed doctor. In 34% of the countries they have generalized legal abortion. Abortion is still unaffordable. In Alabama, the Draconian law allows abortion doctors to receive a life sentence in prison. The Guttmacher Institute did a study in 2014 that 93% of counties in Alabama do not have abortion clinics. This is because Alabama does not have abortion as part of its health care plan for low-income families”. About this they commented that besides the inequality in the access to safe abortions, having legislation about this was absurd; “It doesn’t make sense that men were trying to take the decision away from women.. these women did not have the right to make a decision that they had every right to”. When reading her input I thought, we, women in the world have been saying this for decades!!!
About the reality that transgender people face, in times in which even their schoolmates or friends experience the world as transgender people was hard; ”There are many reasons why being trans is difficult”, difficult is to see that we have inherited our eleven years old, a society in which their loved ones still suffer for being who they are. They found that “undergoing gender reassignment surgery seems very accessible but it costs money and many trans people live in poverty.” According to a 2015 study by the National Survey on Transgender Discrimination, 14% were uninsured and 33% had not yet received treatment due to cost. 54% of women were denied coverage for gender reassignment surgery and 18% were simply denied surgery outright. They also found that many transgender people experience mental illness, driving many to commit suicide. It is with my whole heart that I wish my student never has to see a friend or classmate die for living in a system of inequality. About this, they expressed: “Many people do not understand the difficulties that transgender people had. Many trans people have experienced depression at some point, but due to DSM there are many misconceptions and this affects transgender people in a negative way because it promotes discrimination. DSM-5 is the most recent version of this manual for mental disorders. The latter had listed being transgender as a mental disorder. Now instead of being transgender, it is a gender dysphoria disorder or gender identity disorder. In their own words “Having these discriminatory definitions in the DSM invalidates trans people and gives doctors and others the wrong idea about being transgender”.
As to why my student decided to write about these themes they said ”I really want people to be aware of all the health issues that women and transgender communities face, so that they can get the proper medical care they need. I want to educate people outside of school and on the street about these issues so that even more people know about these struggles.” As a mom and as an educator, my heart crumbles with pride for witnessing the strength and compassion my student shows for groups that experience deep pain and inequality. It also crumbles in the desire that in the research you conduct in college you find that the world has brought justice and reparation to those victims of racism, sexism, transphobia and discrimination.
Besides researching and writing Paloma took action by speaking at the Oakland LGBTQ Center after contacting them personally. Adults, please take note and let’s work as hard as this eleven year old did in their fifth grade research, to make sure patriarchy, discrimination and racism don’t touch them and their hopes for social and gender justice.
Cover image: Photo by en nico