During an afternoon session of Women Funded 2021, Cazembe Murphy Jackson (We Testify) joined Brandi Collins-Calhoun (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy) and Megan Murphy Wolf (WFN) for a discussion on trans equity and feminism through abortion access. Jackson, who has been an advocate for Black and trans rights across his career, shared his experiences as a Black, Southern, queer, trans organizer.
Storytelling as the Path Toward Trans Rights
“I don’t hear a lot of trans men talking about abortions,” said Jackson. “I want to tell my story so that other people like me will know that they can get an abortion and that there is somebody who went through a similar situation to what they’re going through.”
As the Membership Organizer for the Rising Majority and an abortion storyteller with We Testify, Jackson’s mission is “to love himself so deeply that others are inspired to love themselves just as deep”. We Testify is a community organization designed to offer trans and LGBTQ+ people a place to express themselves and come together to tell their stories.
“If you asked a different storyteller, you’d get a different answer,” said Jackson. “Everybody does it for their own reasons. We Testify and other reproductive justice organizations are changing the narrative on abortion by telling our stories.”
Introducing New Narratives to Philanthropy
With the rise of intersectionality, there is a question surrounding how the philanthropy world engages with trans and LGBTQ+ communities equitably.
“A lot of trans-led organizations that are providing for people’s material needs [funding, medical expenses, etc.] are not necessarily listed as an abortion fund. It’s still really hard for organizations like that to get funding,” Jackson explained. “This definition of who needs abortions, or who needs funding, needs to be updated. People are getting more familiar with the gender identity spectrum… There are people who don’t necessarily identify as men, but don’t necessarily identify as women either. And those people need access to abortions, too.”
Best Practices for Advocacy Groups and Grantmakers
Answering a question from the audience, Jackson encouraged funders and advocacy groups to let people tell their stories for themselves. Instead of taking a direct approach to oversight, funding groups can take steps — like trust-based philanthropy, flexible funding, and open conversation-style events — to strengthen the autonomy and power of other storytellers.
“These organizations need to be funded as much as we would fund any other gender justice group,” he said. Not just general funding, but operational funding to allow these organizations to get their work done on the ground.
Jackson stressed that access to abortions needs to be available for everyone — women, trans people, LGBTQ+ folks, and anyone who would benefit from these sorts of services.
“Many people tell their own stories for themselves,” said Jackson. “[We need to be] listening to their stories and doing things like this, having conversations with people and letting them tell you what they need — instead of assuming.”
Access to Reproductive Services — Where Do They Fit In?
Other reproductive services, like hormone replacement therapy, are often provided at the same organizations that provide abortions.
“When I go into a place, I want to feel comfortable — I don’t want Bible verses put into my face to make me feel like I’m doing something wrong,” Jackson said. “And that’s true for HRT as well. Abortion and HRT have saved my life. But they have to be available at places where we’re comfortable going and the staff is trained to deal with trans and gender non-conforming people.”
Jackson’s own story comes from a place of trauma and recovery. Following a violent attack from four men on his college campus, Jackson discovered he was pregnant. In college, struggling with money, and unsure of where to go, Jackson had to fight to find the proper support and empathy from organizations in his Texas college town. The legal system failed him as well — Jackson’s attackers only received six months of jail time each.
“I was in a really bad place,” he said. “Suicidal and extremely depressed — I couldn’t see what my future would look like going forward.”
Having grown up in a missionary Baptist family, Jackson struggled to tell his mother about his experience, but needed her help to get the procedure done. Like many abortion clinics in Texas in 2001, there were “people lined up out front” spouting demeaning language and adding to the grief of the situation.
“When I got to the clinic, they asked, ‘Who’s getting the abortion?’ as if a trans-masculine person didn’t have reproductive organs,” he said. “It made me feel dehumanized. But I always say that my abortion saved my life because I did go to that Planned Parenthood.”
Putting ourselves in Jackson’s shoes, it’s impossible to imagine the feelings that came with such a situation: the lack of empathy from the onsite workers only added to an already traumatizing moment. However, one kind worker called the Rape Crisis Center on Jackson’s behalf, setting up an appointment for him and helping him find the resources he needed to move forward.
“Most people who work in abortion care typically go above and beyond because they’re really passionate about this work,” he said. “But had I not gone to the right crisis center, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Jackson went on to say that person-to-person training is what grantmakers and community organizations need to leverage their funding to provide. Expanded services, empathy and diversity training, and collaboration with organizations like Planned Parenthood are all ways to strengthen connections with the communities these organizations serve.
Roe v. Wade: The Long Game of the Supreme Court
In the wake of Texas’s restrictive abortion laws, philanthropists and organizers are beginning to note “how bad it’s going to get” when it comes to access to these critical reproductive health services.
“It’s terrible how far people are now having to travel — many people can’t do that,” said Wolf. “In some cases, the care is harder to find, especially for people seeking abortions who [do not identify as] women.”
So, what does this mean for the larger community?
“Queer people and trans people have been taking care of ourselves for a long time,” said Jackson. Jackson’s own abortion cost $300 at a time when he was in college and struggling with finances. In order to get the care he needed, he had to take out a payday loan — making the procedure cost upwards of $1,000 after fees and interest.
“I’m sure that people are finding ways if they have to to get out of [Texas] and do whatever it takes to get their abortions,” he said, remembering his own experiences in the state. “There are so many reproductive justice organizations that understand people’s material needs need to be met.”
Hope Out of Uncertainty: Positive Movements for the Community
The American South is often considered conservative, especially in its interactions with the queer and trans communities — not to mention, reproductive health and abortions in particular.
Jackson, a Southerner himself, described the duality he experiences every day — anger at the current situation mixed with hope for the future.
“The anger drives the hope,” Jackson said. “There are many days where I sit back and think, what if I wasn’t able to have my abortion? What would my life be like? I feel bad for the people in Texas, and we know at this moment that that’s not enough.”
In response to changing laws, for example, like what’s happening in Texas, Jackson encourages members of the community and funders alike not to simply accept things the way they are. Community organizations, he explained, have known the legislative changes were coming to Texas, and have been preparing to respond to them accordingly.
“A lot of these organizations, even though they are trans friendly, [have names that] keep trans people from them. That’s why trans people are donating to trans organizations — they’re going where they feel comfortable,” he explained.
This exclusionary language — think things like “sister” or “woman” in organization names — makes it difficult for trans people to feel that same sense of community and safety that they may feel in an openly trans-friendly organization.
“Rather than take the risk, you go somewhere you know you’re welcome,” he said. “Donate directly to trans organizations: They’re the ones who are meeting the material needs of trans people.”
Brandi Collins-Calhoun: Holding the Philanthropy Sector Accountable
Following technical issues, Brandi Collins-Calhoun joined the conversation to speak with Jackson about access and equity. Her work at NCRP focuses on giving seats at the table to those whose voices are not typically heard: trans folks, sex workers, marginalized community members, and other people whose stories need to be told.
“You are the folks that the sector pivots toward to remove the stigma and change the narrative around abortion,” she said. Abortion narratives are often centered on white, cis-gendered women. NCRP and other organizations like We Testify aim to shift this narrative and give diverse stories a safe space to be told.
As Jackson shared his story, both Jackson and Collins-Calhoun encouraged attendees to take a moment to ground themselves and understand that abortion narratives can often be triggering — as part of the process of shifting these narratives, it’s critical to take care of ourselves and be open to the feelings that come out of telling these stories.