Avatara Smith-Carrington speaks on a Zoom webinar about LGBTQIA+ rights in post-Roe America
Courtesy of Sejal Patil

The University of Michigan Spectrum Center hosted a Zoom discussion Thursday night on the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade on LGBTQIA+ civil rights. Jesse Beal, associate director of the Spectrum Center, said the Center wanted to create a discussion space for questions after hearing concerns from students, staff and alumni following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson.

Avatara Smith-Carrington, a staff attorney in the Washington, D.C. office of Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization dedicated to LGBTQIA+ rights, was the keynote speaker at the event. Smith-Carrington said they realized they wanted to do work in the reproductive justice space after graduating from college. They described a discussion they had with a friend about reproductive justice, which they said opened their mind to this area of activism. 

“My friend Sam said, ‘Your body is your body, whatever you want to do to make yourself more comfortable is okay. That is a decision that is truly yours,’” Smith-Carrington said. “It sounds like a simple statement, but it turned everything on its head for me.”

Smith-Carrington said the 14th Amendment doesn’t specifically mention abortion care, so it’s important to find other legal bases for these rights and other rights that affect the LGBTQIA+ community. 

More rights may also become unprotected as Justice Clarence Thomas referenced three other cases in his concurrence in the Dobbs case: Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Thomas and Obergefell v. Hodges. Judge Thomas said the rulings of these cases should be reconsidered. 

Smith-Carrington said in a post-Roe America, it is important to keep in mind that abortion care is an LGBTQIA+ issue.

“The national conversation about who is impacted immediately turned to cis women … but it really applies to anyone who is using reproductive healthcare resources,” Smith-Carrington said. “Abortion care has always been and will always be an LGBTQ issue.”

They added that voter suppression often makes it difficult for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to advocate for themselves in the field of reproductive healthcare.

“(LGBTQIA+ people) should continue to vote, but I would not be honest if I didn’t also mention that disenfranchisement is real,” Smith-Carrington said. “Dealing with voter suppression is also real. We see how other states are trying to respond to changing state constitutions’ access to abortion care.”

Beal said everyone should vote on Nov. 8 to support the policies they agree with. Beal highlighted that abortion access is on the ballot in Michigan this fall and said we can all continue to have access to the resources and care we deserve but it’ll take some work.

During the Q&A portion of the event, one attendee asked what legal structures can be used or built upon to protect reproductive care rights and gender-affirming medical care. Smith-Carrington said the Supreme Court must uphold the right to privacy, but activists have to be innovative given the absence of Roe v. Wade as precedent.

“I have really appreciated the work that’s being done by the lawyers in the role of reproductive care and activists who have been thinking of a true strategy to combat this,” Smith-Carrington said. “They started looking at state constitutions and litigating these cases in state court.”

Smith-Carrington said their identity as a non-binary person helped them see the vast problems that occur when people are left out of reproductive justice conversations. Intersex and transgender people need reproductive services, too, Smith-Carrington said.

“I personally donate to groups that have a strong connection to saying that intersex and transgender people also need abortion care,” Smith-Carrington said. “We have created an environment that excludes so many groups and I am always going to fight to make it better.”

Beal tearfully said Smith-Carrington’s passion to fight for justice made them feel grateful for them and all activists that fight for LGBTQIA+ rights.

“I’m really presenting my gratitude towards you and to folks who are fighting for us,” Beal said. “We need you to show up and do the work you are doing, because not all of us can do what you do.”

Correction 11/2: This article has been updated to clarify that Beal did not encourage voters to vote in a particular way, merely that they ought to vote.

Correction 9/26: Jesse Beal uses they/them pronouns; this article has been updated to consistently reflect correct pronoun usage.

Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at sejpatil@umich.edu.