Progressive Politics Makes for Great Bedfellows

Progressive Politics Makes for Great Bedfellows

I have been campaigning for abortion rights since I was a student. I was Women’s Officer back in the 90s, so female students who found themselves with a crisis pregnancy in Northern Ireland often came to me for advice on how to access abortions, which usually had to be in England for a toe-curling fee. I have also been fully supportive of LGBTQ rights in Northern Ireland, and have attended many Pride events, campaign meetings, protests, and rallies.

In 2011, I was part of a team that ran a small festival to highlight the absurdity of the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act being on the Statutes for 150 years. Our series of events was entitled the ‘Carnival for Sexual Rights and Freedom: Pro-Choice, Pro-Sexuality’. Our collaboration of activists  came from Alliance for Choice, Belfast Feminist Network, the Rainbow Project, and Irish Congress of Trade Unions Youth Committee. Although we attracted only a small –– but dedicated –– audience, for me it marked the beginning of a new set of conversations around bodily autonomy with progressive activists working together for change. We agreed and understood 3 fundamental principles:

  • Sexual freedom is the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality.
  • The right to personal autonomy: bodily integrity, sexual dignity, privacy and consensual sexual expression without societal or governmental interference, coercion or stigmatisation.
  • The right to exercise sexual freedom and choice over the most intimate and personal aspects of our lives.

In 2014 as part of the International Women’s Day programme, Alliance for Choice Belfast organised a comedy gig in Mandela Hall, Belfast, featuring Mark Thomas, Robin Ince, Josie Long and Bridget Christie. Our local compare Gemma Hutton is a well known ‘celesbian’ on the comedy scene, and as we stood having a smoke before the gig she said to me – ‘I never really considered abortion rights important to the lesbian community because let’s face it: we don’t do cocks’ which prompted the start of a conversation where I outlined to Gemma that LGBT-identified people who could become pregnant are at risk of an unintended pregnancy. Lesbian and bisexual women are at a higher risk of sexual assault due in part to their sexual orientation, which may also result in an unplanned pregnancy.  We know, for instance, that Transmen or transitioning people will often experience debilitating dysmorphia if they become pregnant and will often experience barriers to the appropriate healthcare. After this conversation, Gemma started campaigning for abortion rights and exploring queer politics to the point that we now have the amazing Queertopia in Belfast. I realised that we as a pro-choice activists had a lot more conversations to have with our LGBTQ comrades, so we started contacting youth groups and went out and had those conversations. With one in three women accessing at least one abortion in her lifetime, we know that many gay and bisexual men will have friends, partners, and relatives who will have to access treatment. We know that for both LGBT people wishing to have their marriages recognised in the same way as their fellow citizens in England, Wales, and Scotland, so too do people who need abortions wish to be treated equal to those who access them elsewhere in the UK.

Photo credited to Alliance for Choice & the ‘Trust Women at Stormont’ campaign.

What we have in common in both movements are individuals’ fundamental freedoms to control their own bodies and to decide for themselves the paths their lives will take. LGBT people should care about women’s right to safe and legal abortion not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because our two movements depend on each other as well. The fiercest opposition to both the LGBT and reproductive freedom movements comes from conservative Christian political forces. In Northern Ireland, that is the DUP. They not only gain political power through denying people fundamental rights, but impose their personal religious and moral views on everyone through law. LGBT and reproductive choice supporters have fought side by side in efforts to defeat this right-wing agenda, and we will continue to do so with your support.

Kellie O’Dowd
Co-Chair of Alliance for Choice

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