Ashley is the PPSAT Field Organizer for Charlottesville, VA.
Living as a queer person in the rural South can be difficult. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to constantly hold onto the inherent anxiety, especially when the source of your fear is your own identity. I was afraid when I came out to my family, who were not accepting. And ultimately, when I look at my local and state elected officials, I fear for the future. They don’t represent my interests and often legislate without my health, safety, and wellbeing in mind.
Without protections from our lawmakers surrounding health and sexual health education, my needs and those of my queer peers are left unmet. Further, the stigma around our sexualities and gender identities has kept us silent, frightened, and in the closet. From my grandmother’s disappointment when I disclosed that I was dating someone of the same sex, to my struggle in accepting and finding pride in who I am, I neglected to think about my sexual health, and how being queer might factor into that.
I let the shame imposed by others become shame I felt about myself. I internalized the homophobia around me and my health suffered for it.
For birth control, my family doctor prescribed the Pill. I initially sought the Pill for an irregular period but once I became sexually active, it became difficult to remember in the midst of my everyday life. It wasn’t the right option for me and I ended up not taking it reliably. The only place I could think of that would offer affordable, non-judgmental care was Planned Parenthood.
It was in a Planned Parenthood consultation office that I disclosed for the first time that I had had partners of the same sex. The Health Care Assistant gave me the compassionate care that I had hoped for and gave me the confidence to feel comfortable with my sexuality.
The relief was overwhelming. It made all the difference to be able to talk openly to my provider about my experience. I didn’t feel that I had that freedom with my family doctor, who hadn’t made it clear he could prioritize queer bodies and our unique needs.
To know that I could trust my provider was powerful, and I didn’t need to explain why I still needed birth control. Places like Planned Parenthood understand that queer folks still need access to contraceptive services. Not having to educate my provider about my sexual health needs was a weight off of my shoulders.
In 2016, I was unable to access healthcare outside of Planned Parenthood for financial reasons. I was underinsured, as were tens of millions of other Americans. Again, though so many were in my same position, I felt shame. It embarrassed me to explain that I did not have the financial means to pay for my visit. But I was instead reassured that Title X funding would help cover my IUD.
Title X is the nation’s only federal funding source for sexual and reproductive healthcare. 41% of Title X patients in the US rely on Planned Parenthood, just like I did.
Having that financial barrier town down meant that I could finish college. And having the barrier to my bodily autonomy torn down meant that I could finally feel ownership over my health decisions as a proud queer person in the South.
The Trump Administration issued a gag rule to Title X a few months ago. The gag rule bans doctors in the Title X program across the country from telling folks how they can safely and legally access abortion. It would make it impossible for patients in the program to get birth control at places like Planned Parenthood, and it prohibits doctors from giving our community full information about their healthcare options. Importantly, Virginia Planned Parenthood locations were cut off from Title X entirely for reasons that remain unclear.
Taking away crucial Title X funding not only affects heterosexual couples, but it affects people in the LGBTQ+ community like me. Queer people need access to birth control. Queer people need access to testing for sexually transmitted infections. Queer people need annual exams that help screen for cervical cancer and other infections that can affect our health down the line. Reproductive healthcare is queer healthcare and when you take away that funding you are putting lives like mine at risk. I am forever grateful to Planned Parenthood and their continued mission to fight for queer lives like mine, no matter what.
I refuse to let my healthcare needs and my identity be erased. I may not see myself or my identity represented by my state and local politicians, but I can use my voice and my vote to let them know that “queer” and “proud southerner” are not mutually exclusive.