Attack on women & LGBT people must be answered

LeiLani Dowell

LeiLani Dowell

WW photo: John Catalinotto

A talk by National Committee member and Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) leader LeiLani Dowell to the WWP conference Nov. 17-18.

Sisters and brothers, comrades and friends, it’s no surprise that the attack on women and LGBT people has not abated. I want to start by providing information that I find relevant.

Reproductive rights



An alarming study came out this week from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which found that, if Roe v. Wade fell, a majority of states would ban the procedure. And the fall of Roe v. Wade is not an impossibility. [Roe v. Wade was the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions in the United States—ed.]

Anti-choice forces throughout the country are making an organized, concerted and multi-faceted effort to repeal the right of women to have safe abortions. It is an attack that warrants the serious attention of every anti-imperialist organizer.

Women’s E-News reports: “On one front, activists are pushing contentious legislation challenging Roe that is designed to be fought up to the Supreme Court. In the last three years, 27 such abortion bans have been introduced in 14 states. …

“Other states … enacted bans prior to the Roe decision that are still on the books. Many of the pre-Roe bans have been overturned or at least have not been enforced since 1973, but could be revived. …

“On the second front, activists are introducing ‘abortion-bans-in-waiting,’ or laws that would be enacted by a Roe reversal. Because these state-level bans are not yet law, it is not possible for pro-choice groups to mount legal challenges against them. … By 2007 four states had passed them. … Another five states … have already considered or are currently considering them. Authors of the report … estimate as many as 30 states could pass legislation to restrict or altogether ban abortions in the wake of a Roe reversal.”

All this is, of course, all the more precarious following the appointments to the Supreme Court of Samuel Alito and John Roberts.

Lastly, in an ominous sign, a ruling last April “eliminated the precedent that legal restrictions placed on abortion must include an exception to protect the health of the woman.”

In his work “High Tech, Low Pay,” the founding leader of Workers World Party, Sam Marcy, described the “feminization” of labor—the increasing numbers of women in the workforce. He explained that it was the pauperization of labor that made it imperative for women to work.

Well, by now it’s a given that there are lots of women in the workforce.

But has the situation for women improved in the past few decades? The United Nations Population Fund reports that worldwide, women on average earn slightly more than 50 percent of what men are earning.

As far as upward mobility in the United States, a recent study finds that women in the bottom fifth of the economy are more likely, across generations, to remain in the bottom fifth. So much for the “American Dream.”

An article entitled “Women at Risk: A Measure of Survival” states, “As long as family planning and reproductive health are perceived as only having to do with a woman’s body, achieving progress on critical global issues will remain out of reach.”

At the same time, we see the more visible presence of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in the workforce. A recent struggle involved the Employment Non Discrimination Act, or ENDA. This bill would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay and bi peoples, and passed in the House recently. But if you’ll notice, it’s only lesbian, gay and bi peoples—not trans—that I mentioned. The bill was watered down by Democratic politicians to exclude gender identity from the bill, despite a united struggle from some of the major LGBT organizations for greater inclusion.

Of course, the number of violent attacks against LGBT people has not abated, and even the right of LGBT people to defend themselves has been denied in the courts. I hope that you all know by now about the case of the Jersey Four—four young African-American lesbians who were convicted for defending themselves against a violent male attacker, and given sentences of three to 11 years.

While these attacks occur in the U.S., well-meaning progressives attack countries like Iran, under the threat of imperialist intervention, on the LGBT question. It’s just like the women question was used against Iraq. Yet in Iraq in the past few days reports have emerged of a sharp increase in attacks on women, with more than 40 killed, according to ABC News, between July and September. Two women teachers were killed in the past two weeks. ABC even noted, “Before the invasion, Iraqi women had rights enshrined in the country’s constitution since 1959 that were among the broadest of any Arab or Islamic nation.”

Meanwhile, about 1,500 veterans from the current wars have already trickled into homeless shelters throughout the country. The Associated Press reported that the Iraq vets seeking help with homelessness are more likely to be women. The New York Times reports that roughly 40 percent of the hundreds of homeless female veterans of recent wars have said they were sexually assaulted by U.S. soldiers while in the military.

Now, we also know that any attacks that fall on the working class will fall the hardest on those who have to deal with multiple layers of oppression.

Megan Williams was held captive for several days by six white people [in West Virginia—ed.] who tortured her.

We find that in the current sub-prime mortgage crisis, where working people are losing their homes left to right to foreclosure after signing up for almost impossible, sub-prime loans, it is women who have been given a disproportionate number of these loans. And in particular, it is women of color.

We have the example of Victoria Arellano, the immigrant trans woman who was murdered in a detention center through the denial of her HIV medication. The remarkable solidarity of the prisoners in the center, who took care of her when the guards wouldn’t, even staging a protest to defend her when their own deportation status was on the line, shows the potential of united struggle when repression breeds resistance.

After discussing the changing character of the working class, including the increase of paid working women, Marcy closes this chapter of “High Tech, Low Pay” with these words:

“Up until now when the word movement was used, it could mean either the Black movement, the Latino movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the lesbian and gay movement or the women’s movement. But the term seldom if ever referred to the working-class movement. By and large the progressive movement as a whole was more or less separate from the working class.

“Now, however, the change in the social composition of the working class lays the objective basis for a movement of the working class itself, of which these movements will become so many constituent parts.

“When we speak of the women’s movement or the anti-war movement or the Black movement as part of the working class movement, it doesn’t mean they won’t have an independent character. Of course they will. But they will be part of the working class movement because it will have come alive as the fundamental class in society which alone can weld these movements together in a genuine anti-capitalist and progressive struggle, a struggle both for democratic rights and for socialism.

“The change of consciousness which has so long been delayed … is bound to come as the result of deep-seated, profound changes in the social composition of the working class.”

Seeing these changes, we see more interest in pushing the movement forward, more interest in uniting all our struggles worldwide and looking towards socialism. The shining example is socialist Cuba, which consistently moves forward in the liberation of women and LGBT people—and not as a concession, as a necessary right for the wellbeing of all. As women, as queer people, we need socialism. We need an end to the system that oppresses us all. And so I am glad we are all here today to be a part of that struggle.


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