Forced Sterilization of Oppressed Citizens Continues
Prisoners at the White County jail in Sparta, TN, have recently been given a horrifying choice: Serve their entire sentence behind bars or agree to undergo a sterilization procedure, courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Health, in exchange for a reduced sentence.
More than 30 women have had Nexplanon—a small rod that can prevent pregnancies for up to four years—implanted in their arms, free of cost, in exchange for 30 fewer days in jail. Thirty-eight men have also agreed to undergo vasectomy surgery as part of the same program approved by local Judge Sam Benningfield in May.
“I hope to encourage [prisoners] to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, to not to be burdened with children,” Judge Benningfield WVLT. “This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves.”
The ACLU has condemned the program. In a statement to News Channel 5, the group wrote:
“Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional. Such a choice violates the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity by interfering with the intimate decision of whether and when to have a child, imposing an intrusive medical procedure on individuals who are not in a position to reject it. Judges play an important role in our community – overseeing individuals’ childbearing capacity should not be part of that role.”
The people Benningfield is sterilizing in the White County jail are merely the latest in a long line of incarcerated and low-income people to be sterilized under coercion or force by the criminal justice or social welfare systems in the United States.
In 1907, Indiana became the first state to pass a law allowing for compulsory sterilization of “confirmed criminals” and “idiots.” Thirty-one states soon followed suit.
In 1972, the Southern Poverty Law Center sued on behalf of two young Black sisters who were sterilized without their consent in Alabama. Sterilization laws began to be dismantled during that era, but eugenics practices have continued around the country. In California, for example, nearly 150 female prisoners underwent tubal ligations without their lawful consent between 2004 and 2013.
The US is not the only country to forcibly sterilize its citizens. In Europe, if a transgender person wanted to change their name or gender on government-issued documents, nearly two dozen countries mandated their sterilization until April of this year, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled the requirement to be an institutionalized violation of human rights.
Fight this Hate
For more than one hundred years, society has used enforced sterilization as a method to deny rights to poor, mentally disabled, Black, American Indian, LGBTQ, and others. Sterilization should be a choice, not a punishment.
If you happen to live in White County, Tennessee, contact your local officials and protest this inhumane treatment.
Heteronormativity Hurts Us All
An excellent article in HuffPost outlines why heteronormativity and provides five proactive steps teachers can step to counteract this problem.
Teachers have a responsibility to not make assumptions about their students’ identities—and that includes their sexual orientations and gender identities.
Here are steps teachers can take: Here are five proactive steps:
- Consider that at least one child in your class is LGBT.
- Be inclusive and incorporate LGBT examples in your teaching and classroom discussions.
- Show support by having LGBT-related books, signage, stickers or resource materials.
- Create an open, safe and affirming space.
- Be vulnerable, ask questions and have authentic conversations.
Fight this Hate
If you are a teacher, read the article and do the actions. If you are a parent, get involved in the parent teacher group. If you are an ally, share this information with your friends and family.
Sandra de Helen, author of the lesbian thriller Till Darkness Comes also pens the Shirley Combs/Dr. Mary Watson series. She is a poet, journalist, and a playwright. Her plays have been produced in the Philippines, Ireland and Canada, Chicago, New York City, and in thirteen states. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Dramatists Guild. Her books are available online, at Another Read Through Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, and Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. Samples of her work are available on her website.