A Statement to the Trans and Gender Expansive Community

On May 21, 2019, we co-organized two rallies to #StopTheBans and by May 23rd, our Portland rally event page had become a discussion forum rife with transphobic and TERF-y (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) comments belittling, undermining and threatening members of the trans community who were attempting to ensure that the rally would be a safe space and educate other online users about the specific barriers trans individuals face when attempting to access reproductive healthcare.

We would be remiss if we apologized without acknowledging that this is incredibly overdue. This apology, published publicly on June 14th 2019, is far too late and for that, we apologize.

We are also apologetic about our inability to quickly address transphobic comments and moderate the online space established within our event page. We have an incredibly small staff, with no dedicated communications staffer and lacking in experience hosting large online discussion forums. Both event pages were set up so that all posts required admin approval. This allowed us to filter out unsavory or inappropriate visitor posts. However, once a post was approved, there was no way to require admin approval for comments made on that post. Within two days following the event, several posts made by community members had been hijacked by hundreds of comments debating the validity and humanity of trans, gender noncomforming and gender nonbinary identities. Early on, when comments were being posted at a rate at which we could keep up, we made a number of posts on behalf of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon supporting trans-inclusive posts. Unfortunately, these were lost in the deluge of comments – numbering in the hundreds per day.

With limited capacity, we attempted to moderate this online space by deleting transphobic comments as we saw them. Unfortunately, the submission of comments outpaced our ability to keep up and transphobic comments went unchecked for too long, as many of these comments were written in between the time that our staff went to bed at night and woke up in the morning. We heard from several community members that comments attempting to educate others or defend members of the trans community were hidden or deleted. While nearly ten partners were co-hosts of both the rally and the event page and had the ability to moderate comments, we had no formal agreement outlining moderation expectations or best-practices. Believe us when we say that we played no part in the deletion of comments in support of the trans community, affirmed conclusively after several internal conversations about the deletion of said comments. In the future, we will implement a moderation agreement with partners who agree to co-host events and will put a plan into place to formally assign moderation shifts to responsible staff members.

We spent several days attempting to moderate the online event space, with extremely limited capacity to do so, and while simultaneously hearing calls from community members to cease harboring transphobic discussion spaces, we made the decision to delete the event page. We factored into this decision our inability, due to capacity, to moderate the online space, and the fact that the event had ended days earlier. It was not our intention to undermine community members’ emotional labor, and it was a serious point of deliberation in our office. Ultimately, the influx of comments outpaced our ability to ensure a safe space for marginalized people, and we made the decision that we could no longer host the online forum.

Finally, we made a mistake that was ultimately born of convenience, rather than addressing the problem that had taken place over several days on our Facebook page. Instead of making a statement that addressed the state of events, clarified our stance on transgender rights within the reproductive healthcare movement, and denounced the transphobia occurring on the event page, we made a blanket statement which many of our own friends called performative allyship. While many of our gaffes were the result of sheer lack of capacity, this mistake is one for which we are deeply sorry and truly ashamed. In making this statement, we attempted to end the conversation without taking accountability and did not make a clear statement that reflected our values, which further alienated members of the trans community and likely had the unintended effect of kowtowing to those individuals making transphobic comments in our spaces. We are sorry.

While we have undoubtedly participated in the marginalization and alienation of members of the trans community, we remain stalwart in our mission-driven work which aims to make reproductive healthcare, including abortion, available and accessible to all Oregonians, regardless of zipcode, income, immigration status, gender identity or sexual orientation. We know that the movement for abortion rights has historically been centered on the experiences of wealthy cis white women, while at the same time, marginalized populations face severe restrictions and barriers to accessing even basic reproductive healthcare, oftentimes resulting in bodily harm or death. In a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equity and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, respondents reported “very high levels of postponing medical care” primarily due to inability to afford care or blatant discrimination by healthcare providers including refusal of care, harassment, or lack of provider knowledge about transgender care. In addition to facing restrictive barriers to accessing care, trans people, and especially trans youth, are – by multiple magnitudes – disproportionately more likely to face homelessness, sexual assault or harassment, suicidal ideation and attempts, and violence and murder, than their cis counterparts. These inequities are especially acute among QPOC.

Acknowledging these inequities is why, since 2010, we’ve reevaluated our approach to policy and systems change that addresses health inequities and centers people most impacted by disparities in reproductive healthcare access. We know that only addressing the legality of abortion, without acknowledging the myriad barriers that affect marginalized populations, leads to a reiteration of the ways in which abortion access has remained a privilege – not a right. It’s why we’ve dedicated resources and work with partners to lead on policy initiatives that address inequities and discrimination. In the last five years this work has included economic justice; like fighting for a $15 minimum wage, mandatory paid sick days, and our top priority this session – paid family and medical leave (HB 2005-3); criminal justice reform, like equal access to justice; housing reforms like stable homes for families (SB 608); protections for survivors of sexual harassment and discrimination, like the Oregon Workplace Fairness Act (SB726); and immigrant and racial justice, like equal access to roads (HB 2015) and the Oregon Voting Rights Act (HB 3310).

It’s also why we led the fight with the Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) of 2017, the nation’s leading and most progressive reproductive health policy, which codified the legal right to abortion, provides postpartum coverage regardless of immigration status, prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender marker so that all Oregonians can access the healthcare they need without fear of discrimination or being denied care. Our work on RHEA didn’t end in 2017. We currently work with healthcare providers, state agencies and national partners to ensure its implementation is equitable and carried out in a way that is consistent with the original values and vision of the bill as it was authored. This has included leading provider trainings which include information on the barriers that trans and gender nonconforming individuals face when attempting to access reproductive healthcare, and information on referring patients to Reproductive Health Program Certified Providers who can meet their needs.

We are also on the steering committee of the Time to Care Coalition, which, with fewer than three weeks left in the 2019 session, is working to pass the nation’s most progressive paid family and medical leave policy which includes the nation’s most expansive and inclusive definition of family, extending Oregonians’ ability to care for their loved ones far past the traditional scope which includes only parents, children, and monogamous heterosexual partners.

And after making endorsements in school board elections in 2017 for the first time in organizational history, we’ve become deeply involved with school board members statewide, providing electoral and policy support, with the goal of electing and supporting champions who will vote to provide trauma-informed healthcare – including transitioning care – to all students in the form of school-based health centers and expanding the school nurse network, as well as implementing comprehensive sexuality education including information about gender identity, transitioning resources, and anti-bullying tactics. We are also working with school board members to counteract the presence and strength of hate groups who are actively targeting school board members who support comprehensive sexuality education, and who are outwardly hostile toward young trans students and their allies. We are working to build a network of school board members willing to use the authority of their position to promote healthcare access and gender nondiscrimination in their districts to the fullest extent of their capacity.

We are continually learning and internally struggling with how we can be the best allies possible. There are several actionable items we plan to implement, resulting from this event, that we hope will improve our responsiveness to transphobic comments within our online spaces:

  • We have updated our commenting policy on our Facebook page to state, specifically, that anti-trans sentiments will not be permitted and any comments expressing transphobia will be hidden, deleted, and may result in a ban for the user.
  • Events co-hosted with other organizations will now include a formal moderation agreement, including assigning moderation shifts to responsible staff members. In cases in which events are not co-hosted with other organizations, we will assign moderation shifts to our internal staff. This adds accountability for comment moderation, including for deletion of comments that should be preserved.
  • This statement will remain public on our website, under “News” and we welcome you to share it with members of your community.

While our commitment to reducing barriers to care for marginalized populations is reflected in our policy and structural change work and individually, we recognize that it was not reflected on our #StopTheBans event page, nor was it reflected in our initial public statement. Furthermore, we recognize the irreparable harm this event has caused the trans community and that this has marred the trust the trans community has in our organization, our values, and the work that we do. Nevertheless, we remain committed to protecting and expanding abortion access and access to reproductive healthcare for those who face the greatest barriers to care, including and especially trans Oregonians. We hope that we can work to rebuild trust within the trans community and hope that this can be the beginning of ongoing dialogue pushing us to do better. We are grateful for the opportunity to learn, strengthen our commitment and engage with our community, and are thankful to all of you who reached out to us, asking us to do better. Thank you for being a part of this movement. We are deeply sorry for the hurt and pain that this has caused, and we are committed to continually educating ourselves to ensure that we are the best allies we can be.

If you have questions, we invite you to direct them to our general inquiry email address: admin@prochoiceoregon.org.

With kindness and in solidarity,

NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon

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