Celebrating the 19th Amendment: The Struggles of our Grandmothers, the Rights of Our Daughters

Julie Burkhart

Every day, I’m grateful to all the women who fought so tenaciously for universal suffrage; we are the beneficiaries of their vision for a better world. I’m grateful to my great grandmother for helping me understand civic responsibility and the tenuousness of our rights if we do not remain diligent. Without our foremothers, we would not have gained the rights we enjoy today.  Yet even today, millions of women do not enjoy these same rights.

This month marks the 90th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which, after decades of long battles, gave women the right to vote in the United States. When you think about it, 90 years is a relatively short period of time – especially when you ponder things such as the age of the earth, human evolution or the wondrous redwood trees in the Western United States. However, when you’re engaged in the middle of a struggle, as many of us know, even a day can feel like a lifetime. Oppression slows the hands of time, as the oppressed are not fully able to realize the full potential of their lives.

Even within our own families, we have relatives whose lives have intersected with our own and who were well into adulthood before they had the right to vote. My great grandmother, Lillie, born in 1886, was 34 years old before she was able to benefit from the suffragist movement. She died when she was 101 years old so I benefited from a couple of decades spent with her.

I am now a mother to a nine-year-old daughter, Olivia – the apple of my eye. Even though she never met her great- great-grandmother, I work to instill what Lillie taught me as a child. I can remember having long conversations with her in the kitchen as she carefully dissected her daily grapefruit or as she baked a perfectly delicious angel food cake. These moments in time I seek to pass down to my daughter, so that she can also know what was important to Lillie.

When I look into her eyes, it breaks my heart that there are people in the world who do not believe, solely due to the sex of my child, that she’s not capable of full autonomy and rights. When I witness her natural curiosity, hunger for knowledge and unconditional embracement of the world, I know that it is only the oppressive structures and confines of our world that dampens the potential of women and girls.

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Being a feminist mom, I try to lead by example and engage my daughter in a variety of discussions. Such discussions might involve talking about the meaning of feminism, what it’s like to be a teenager, how babies are made and born and the meaning of abortion. I always try to lay out the facts, without judgment, so she can then base her conclusions about such things on her own thoughts and feelings. It just so happened that we were driving home one day when I said something about purchasing “back-to-school” clothes and shoes. I’m not even sure what I said, but it set my daughter off on a lengthy diatribe about her body and the rights that she has to make decisions regarding all aspects of her body. It was crystal clear – my daughter had been listening to and absorbing everything I had been saying along the way.

When I was leading the pro-choice community response to the Summer of Mercy Renewal in 2001, when anti-choice groups descended upon Wichita, Kansas, to “finish the job” left unfinished from 1991’s Summer of Mercy, I encountered a situation that still haunts me. One hot summer day, I was standing across the street from Women’s Health Care Services, which was owned and operated by Dr. George Tiller, monitoring the crowds and looking for anything that may appear out of the ordinary. A verbal altercation broke out between anti-choice protestors and pro-choice supporters when an anti-choice man with a very young daughter turned to me and declared that he was proudly raising his daughter to be subservient to her future husband and to follow his rules.

This was absolutely heartbreaking to me. I looked into the brown eyes of that little girl with the dark wavy hair and saw nothing but wonder and curiosity about the world, but knew that some of her hopes and dreams may be dashed because of the strict gender roles that her father adheres to for women and men.

When I think about my daughter and that little girl, I think they deserve to have all the opportunities in the world available to them. They need not be limited by doctrine, or dogma, or fear. These little girls, who will one day be women, are feeling, thinking human beings who deserve to experience life to the fullest. Nothing less is acceptable for them.

Every day, I’m grateful to all the women who fought so tenaciously for universal suffrage; we are the beneficiaries of their vision for a better world. I’m grateful to my great grandmother for helping me understand civic responsibility and the tenuousness of our rights if we do not remain diligent. Without our foremothers, we would not have gained the rights we enjoy today. In these times, women and men go to the polls regularly to vote for candidates from president to city council. It’s almost an afterthought. Women are no longer expected to vote as their husbands or fathers or brothers vote; women vote the way in which they see fit.

I long for the day when all rights are fully realized for women; when women and girls can be freely educated, when women are paid a salary equal to men, when women have universal access to birth control and when women can make decisions about their pregnancies without interference. I thank Lillie for helping me understand the importance and I thank Olivia for her innocent approach to the world and being able to see its limitless possibilities.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

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