Stratifications of Queer Families after Roe

From the Series: After Roe

Bans Off Our Bodies NYC. May 14, 2022. Photo by Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0.

“We’re making plans to leave.”

The voice of my dear friend—family, really—in California had a somber tone, just days after the Dobbs decision. These calls had become a bimonthly ritual since I had moved for my sabbatical with my partner and two children, near my homeland of Scotland. Our conversations were often gritty, a fabric weaving the political and the personal across continents, through a pandemic that had taken the life of my father in the UK in its earliest days.

This was not the first time we had discussed queer futures outside the United States. Three months into our time in the UK, my fifteen-year-old daughter had noted the palpable difference in the young people around her—not to mention her own sense of relief—living in a country with a nationalized health care system and gun control. Here, people could live their lives without worry of lacking medical resources to support them if they, say, got pregnant or broke their front teeth (both salient for her surrounding adolescent community). She felt safe going to school. Now, she’s fearful about returning to her beloved home community in the United States, where a recent shooting scare at her high school shook the entire community days after the Uvalde, Texas, shooting. Entering her reproductive years, she feels deep discomfort at the post-Roe state of her home country. Having experienced what it feels like to be a young woman living in the UK in an LGBTQ family, she says, with trepidation, “I don’t think I want to live in the US.”

Echoes of this fear-yet-certainty came through now in my friend’s voice. I cradled my cup of tea, its warmth a comfort I knew I would need.

My friend—one of two transgender parents raising a seven-year-old transgender child—was unequivocal about what he would need to do to ensure his child’s survival as a young trans person who will likely wish to access gender-affirming care in an already-emboldened transphobic and homophobic policy environment across the United States.

“I don’t like that this is a concrete plan but we’re preparing for the worst.”

Dobbs is signaling a moment, a deeply disturbing sense of precarity for our reproductive futures, that is all too familiar for queer families as reproductive and intimate outlaws.

Now we were weeks from our return to California and the Dobbs decision was rattling our home community in the United States, stratifying reproductive lives (Colen 1995) in a uniquely vicious US way—for some much more than others. For Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities; for those who are poor, immigrant, and/or young women; for the queer and trans—all of whom have existed outside and presented a threat to white male supremacist forms of oppression codified into law through the regulation of intimacies, sexuality, and reproduction from the earliest days of colonial rule in the United States (see D’Emilio and Freedman 2012; Roberts 1997). In denying the federal right to abortion, the Dobbs decision reaches back to—and, most disturbingly, reproduces—this history, arguing (naively) that a Constitutional right to abortion is not “deeply rooted” in US history and tradition.[1]

Even as the Dobbs decision is threatening LGBTQ lives overnight through the immediacy of its denial of constitutional protections,[2] it is shifting the surrounding milieu and imaginaries of queer families in the United States.

Dobbs is both a reproductive signal and a reproductive warning, and for many LGBTQ families, leaving the United States has emerged as a concrete way forward given the very real impacts on LGBTQ relationship and parenthood recognition, physical safety, and well-being that so many are already facing.

The necessity of having a plan for safety and for security of queer kinship has become vividly present in queer parent spaces: When the world is falling apart, we have a plan.

For many BIPOC queer families and trans families the world has already been falling apart with an incessant march of decisions such as the Hyde Amendment that prevents the use of federal funds for abortion, and increased criminalization of poor and young women and transgender people of color. LGBTQ families are making plans despite the challenges, unknowns and economic strains involved in giving up communities and homes. LGBTQ+ adults in the United States are more likely to be living in poverty (Badgett, Choi, and Wilson 2020) and make $0.90 for every dollar made by heterosexual adults, facing significant economic and legal challenges in creating and supporting families. Within the LGBTQ community, queer and transgender people of color and young people are more likely to be living in poverty.

Discussions on online LGBTQ parent LISTSERVs reveal deep unrest for queer parents in the face of Dobbs, an uncertainty not only about the current moment but also about what is to come. While many parents note the privilege behind the fantasy of an “exit strategy” and concrete decisions to leave the United States at a time when solidarity in the struggle for reproductive justice is essential, others argue that this time is different: a breaking point. For some experiencing multiple forms of oppression, including families with Black, queer, disabled and/or trans members, planning to move has become a matter of literal survival. However, calculations of where in the world to find safety when race and sexuality are criminalized globally feel elusive.

Reproductive justice is LGBTQ justice. Queer reproductive justice integrates queer structural intimacies—the meeting of social structural patterns with intimate lives—with the underlying premises of reproductive justice, defined by SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” (Mackenzie 2013; Smietana, Thompson, and Twine 2018).

Stratified forms of reproduction are embedded within and furthered by queer families, contributing to disparities across and between queer and other nonnormative reproductive communities. Dobbs has the potential to further stratify reproduction within queer communities as well as within broader reproductive worlds locally and globally as queer families plan, conceive, and reproduce far more than babies.


[1] The problematics of this pernicious legal claim (known as the “Glucksberg test”) were explicitly rejected in the Obergefell v. Hodges 2015 decision to uphold the constitutional right to same sex marriage. However, Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion flags what he calls the “demonstrably erroneous decisions” of prior legal cases. The Supreme Court decisions cited in Thomas’s concurring opinion include Obergefell v. Hodges, which said there is a right to same-sex marriage; Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right of married couples to obtain contraceptives; and Lawrence v. Texas, which established the right to engage in private sexual acts.

[2] Lesbian, bisexual and queer cisgender women are statistically more likely to have had an abortion than cisgender heterosexual women, in part due to discrimination in reproductive healthcare settings leading to delays in seeking reproductive health care, and higher rates of emergency contraception use.


Badgett, M. V. Lee, Soon Kyu Choi, and Bianca D. M. Wilson. 2020. “LGBT Poverty in the United States.” In The State of Families, edited by Jennifer Reich, 385–87. New York: Routledge.

Colen, Shellee. 1995. “‘Like a Mother to Them’: Stratified Reproduction and West Indian Childcare Workers and Employers in New York.” In Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, edited by Faye D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp, 46–70. Berkeley: University of California Press.

D’Emilio, John, and Estelle B. Freedman. 2012. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mackenzie, Sonja. 2013. Structural Intimacies: Sexual Stories in the Black AIDS Epidemic. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Roberts, Dorothy. 1997. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Vintage Books.

Smietana, Marcin, Charis Thompson, and F. W. Twine. 2018. “Making and Breaking Families—Reading Queer Reproductions, Stratified Reproduction and Reproductive Justice Together.” Reproductive BioMedicine and Society Online.