Social Workers Must Fight Back Against Anti-LGBT Legislation

It seems like every week there is a new and more discriminatory law introduced in the United States. In Mississippi HB1523 and in North Carolina HB 2 have been signed into law allowing both public and private individuals and business to refuse service to LGBTQ people on the basis of religious beliefs. Tennessee’s SB 1556 is ready to be signed into law and states, “no person providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist.

Mississippi writes that their law is in response to religiously affiliated foster care agencies that closed in IL, MA and DC following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage, rather than having to recognize same sex marriages. Section 2 of MS HB 1523 protects only the following 3 beliefs: 1. That marriage is the union of one man and one woman; 2. Sexual relations should only be reserved for an above described marriage, and 3. Male and female refer to the biological sex assigned at birth. HB 1523 goes on to state that the state will not take any “discriminatory action”, defined as withholding, reducing or ending state contracts or grants, against foster care agencies or their foster parents who plan to provide services based on the beliefs from Section 2.

In practice, HB 1523 legalizes child abuse. It denies the existence of transgender individuals, protects agencies and individuals who engage in the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy, and prevents youth from receiving evidenced-based treatment and services if they are LGBT. This is particularly distressing in light of a recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) stating unequivocally that conversion therapy is not appropriate for LGBTQ Youth. Even more recently, a new study found no major differences in depression and anxiety between transgender children who are supported in their gender identity by their families and the general population.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics (2008) states that social workers are ethically obligated to respect their clients’ right to self-determination in decision-making. However, these laws will give social workers legal protection if they refuse to provide evidenced-based services to their clients based on their personal beliefs. These laws go beyond previous policies in that they not only prevent people in need of help, but they will actively harm those individuals seeking services and help. This law could also make it even more difficult for anyone who is sexually assaulted to report and receive services if they are worried about being punished for “sexual relations outside of marriage”? If a transgender male youth in a protected home is sexually assaulted by a cisgender male who could they report this to?

What can social workers do to fight back against these hateful and harmful laws? Contact your local representative to let them know that you do not stand for these discriminatory laws, organize with your local NASW chapter and LGBT organizations in your area to demonstrate your support for the rights of LGBT individuals, and find out where your agency stands. I know that in many places religiously affiliated organizations are the largest social service providers, and thus the largest employer for social workers, meaning that some will not able to speak out against these laws. Ironically, social workers who would like to follow their professional Code of Ethics and not legalized bigotry are not protected if their religious agency fires them for providing evidenced-based and compassionate care to their clients.

By SWRJ Co-Founder Maggie Rosenbloom, LICSW

Abortion Needs to be “Literally Accessible”

By Elizabeth Borngraber

On March 2, the biggest abortion rights case since Planned Parenthood v. Casey will hit the Supreme Court. Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will determine if Texas is allowed to enforce a law passed in 2013 that requires all abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that abortion clinics meet the building requirements of ambulatory surgical centers.

These so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws disguise anti-choice legislation by claiming that they safeguard the health of women. Arguments made by supporters claim say that House Bill 2 (HB2) protects women, despite various statements from organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Medical Association that these requirements are medically unnecessary and impose an undue burden on women seeking abortion care. Women in southern states such as Texas already face many barriers to care due to religious opposition and extreme conservatism. Laws like HB2 would close 75% of Texas abortion clinics, making having an abortion in Texas a near impossibility. If enforced, this law could give Texas the power to eliminate abortion providers entirely, setting a precedent for similar laws in other states. Right now in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Mississippi, TRAP laws are currently threatening to close abortion clinics. If these laws are allowed to pass, only one abortion clinic could remain in these states as a result.

In light of the importance of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, over 1,000 people, myself included, will be at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 2 to rally in support of abortion access. The Center for Reproductive Rights has urged the court to repeal the law on the basis of the “undue burden” provision of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The decision the Supreme Court makes about HB2 will have resounding effects on abortion access in Texas and states throughout the country. As we fight for reproductive justice, we must stand to support equal access to abortion care for all Americans. In the words of John Oliver, “Abortion cannot just be theoretically legal. It has to be literally accessible.” For more information about the rally and how you can get involved visit

Elizabeth Borngraber is a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work in New York state whose studies and interests are focused around women’s health and rights, healthcare access, and policy.

Will the Zika Virus Increase Reproductive Health Access?

Zika and Brazil’s Abortion Laws

For the past few months the Zika virus has been in the news. What is the Zika virus? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the virus was first identified in 1947 and is transmitted through mosquitoes. While not fatal, Zika can cause fevers, rash, pain in the joints, and conjunctivitis.

The virus has the most impact on pregnant women as it can cause developmental issues and microcephaly (abnormally small head) in a fetus. Zika has hit certain areas of the world particularly hard, including Brazil. The country went from 150 documented cases per year to potentially thousands being affected. As a result of the stark increase in cases, Brazil is now considering revising its anti-abortion laws to allow women to terminate their pregnancies if they know that their fetus has microcephaly.

Brazil has strict abortion laws, which only permit abortion when it would save the mother’s life, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. Changing Brazil’s laws to incorporate women whose fetuses have microcephaly would be a significant step towards more abortion access in the state. At the same time it is important to think about the message that, that sends – if the fetus (often considered the most important actor) could be harmed then women can terminate their pregnancies. Yet again, it’s not about the woman, but about the fetus.

As social workers we are thought to think critically about self-determination and social justice. However, in areas with restrictive reproductive health policies, individual rights are neglected. As we think about the Zika virus and the impact it has on women in Brazil, we should also consider why so often women have no say in their reproductive health. It is unfortunate that in order for women to get access to abortion, they must play the state’s game – focus on the impact on the fetus in the hopes that eventually their voices will be heard.

You can learn more about the Zika virus and pregnancy on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website.

Anita R. Gooding, LSW

SWRJ Advisory Board Member

CDC Report Says Women and Alcohol Don’t Mix

Women and Alcohol Don’t Mix

Written by Anita R. Gooding, LSW                                                                                     SWRJ Advisory Board Member

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told women that they should not drink alcohol unless they are on birth control. Their report sent waves across the Internet – and it wasn’t the Kanye West kind.

In their report the CDC said that more than 3 million women might expose their fetus to alcohol, primarily if they don’t know they are pregnant. Clearly this is an area of concern and the high rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) should be addressed. Yet the CDC’s attempt at a public service announcement came across as condescending, sex-negative, and just plain offensive. At no point in the press release did the CDC talk about the effects of alcohol on males and their fertility (you know, semen, traditionally the other half of this equation). Furthermore, the infographic noted that the risks of drinking for women include injury/violence and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – as if violence against women and STIs fall solely on the shoulder of women-folk.

Here are some things the CDC should consider the next time they want to police women’s bodies –

  • Not all women want children so the assumption shouldn’t be that women are trying to get pregnant every time they have a drink.
  • What about Gay and Bi women? Genderqueer and Trans women/men? How does the focus on birth control and alcohol tie in with their needs?
  • Some women’s bodies react negatively to hormonal birth control making birth control something all sexual partners should think about. Therefore in heterosexual interactions, male partners should always be a part of the birth control process.
  • Don’t assume that because someone had a few drinks in the early part of the pregnancy they are a bad person and should be shamed. Most women who get pregnant cease drinking if they want to carry the fetus to term. Only 1 in 10 women in the CDC’s report had alcohol in the past 30 days. That means 90% did not.
  • Use this report to also talk about overall reproductive health in this country. Pregnancy is only one component. There are over 20 million new cases of STIs every year.

 You can contact the CDC directly with your additional thoughts on how they can address FASD while supporting women.


The War on Drugs and the Criminalization of Pregnancy

The War on Drugs and Women’s Rights

President Obama announced last month that his administration will be taking steps to combat opioid abuse in the United States, including increasing the number of doctors who can prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid dependence, and crafting a national strategy to combat this issue in the coming year. This comes at a time when nationwide rates for prescription drug abuse have skyrocketed over the past decade enough for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to recognize it a national epidemic. Opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone now lead in deaths across the nation. Not surprisingly, approximately 55 percent of federal prisoners are serving time for drug related charges and the United States is now number 2 in the world for the highest rate of incarcerated women, most of whom are serving sentences related to drug offences. While the war on drugs has been slowly fraying at the seams since the term was coined, our country’s renewed spirit of revolution has finally brought the issue to the forefront again. It also doesn’t hurt that nearly 90 percent of heroin users in the last decade were white, resulting in more privileged individuals taking up a cause once dismissed as only effecting minority races and the poor.

One of the most vulnerable populations effected by this epidemic is pregnant women, particularly women of color where the intersection of the war on drugs, women’s rights, and racism collide. This past October, I had the privilege of attending the 2015 Symposium on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), sponsored by the National Perinatal Association and National Advocates for Pregnant Women. This meeting of providers, community members, and medical staff centered on the legal and medical implications for women who use substances or are in substance abuse treatment while pregnant. Coming from New York State where I work at a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) office, I could never imagine the things going on in states like Tennessee. Laws such as the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act are often manipulated to create statewide legislation that punishes women for their substance use disorder and essentially criminalizes pregnancy.

As a result of this legislation:

  • The threat of being arrested if a child is found positive for substances like methadone or heroin prevent women from seeking prenatal care and fosters a culture of mistrust between a woman and her doctors;
  • Medical providers are asked to police women’s bodies and a urine toxicology is used as the deciding factor for whether or not a women is able to parent her child;
  • Mothers are not allowed to spend adequate time with their children after birth and are prohibited from breastfeeding;
  • More children are placed in foster care;
  • Politicians and policy makers are encouraged to craft legislation that is reflective of stigma and not science;
  • In some extreme cases, women may decide to abort wanted pregnancies for fear of criminal charges should their baby test positive for illicit substances.

Despite what some may think, the problem is not that babies go home with their mothers who are in recovery, the problem is that there are not enough empathetic supports in place to help these women. Threatening someone with a report to CPS or jail-time does not create an effective therapeutic relationship. We need to work with mothers and pregnant people in a trauma-informed way, not in a manner that could further victimize them. It’s often true that parents in this situation need help balancing the care of a newborn with maintaining their sobriety; however, taking away a parent’s child increases the risk of relapsing. This is especially true for women who have just given birth.

Instead of putting it on Child Protective Services to intervene, intensive preventative and educational services should be offered to drug dependent women by an agency that is aware of the specific medical and trauma needs of this population. Women with a history of drug abuse need an advocate in their corner who can educate and support them through the beginning of their parenthood. Providing this service would eliminate the need for CPS involvement unless child abuse, neglect, or maltreatment is explicitly suspected. Being born to a mother who is in drug treatment or using drugs should not be an indicator of child abuse and policies that criminalize pregnant women with a substance use disorder do nothing to help mother or baby. They do not provide treatment or support and use subjective opinions to guide them. All they seek to do is punish a mother for her disease, instead of looking at the issue as a systemic problem often initiated by a legal drug prescription. As social workers fighting for justice, it is our obligation to work against these inaccurate and biased laws. We need to advocate for policies that are inclusive and reflect the lived experiences of mothers. We need more medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs and the adaptation of more harm-reduction models of care. Finally, we need to advocate for the creation of more interdisciplinary centers to treat and support pregnant mothers in addictions recovery, such as the UNC Horizons program and Lily’s Place.

Now that this issue is finally getting more attention, we need to be careful about what is done to fix it. Will policies be crafted in an inclusive, intersectional way or will the conversation go quiet once the privileged classes are no longer effected by the issue? Our role as social workers is to make sure all voices are heard and policies are relevant to all people. Substance abuse does not respect boundaries. It effects all genders, races, ages, and socioeconomic statuses and policies crafted to treat this epidemic must be inclusive of all. As Dr. Hendree Jones said at the 2015 NAS Symposium, “The opposite of substance abuse is connection.” It is our responsibility to stand by these mothers as allies and advocates and see these changes through.

Elizabeth Borngraber is a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work in New York state whose studies and interests are focused around women’s health and rights, healthcare access, and policy.

Supporting the EACH Woman Act in DC

I had the awesome opportunity to represent Social Workers for Reproductive Justice along with the Sexual Violence Center (where I work) in D.C. last week! I was invited by Pro-Choice Resources in Minneapolis to join the other 200 other delegates from 25 states and the District of Columbia to Capitol Hill Education Day with All* Above All, a public education campaign uniting organizations and individuals who support lift the bans that deny abortion coverage. Since 2012 All* Above All and its more than 90 partner organizations and other dedicated allies have begun to transform the landscape for low-income people making decisions about their reproductive lives. Our goal as delegates was to educate representatives about a brand new piece of legislation in the House called the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Care (EACH) Woman Act in hopes that they would co-sponsor the house bill or help advocate for the development of a senate bill.

all above all dc

The EACH Woman Act makes meaningful policy changes for people making decisions about whether to carry a pregnancy to term by creating two important standards: 1) It sets up the federal government as a standard-bearer, ensuring that every women (or person who can become pregnant) receives care or insurance through the federal government will have coverage for abortion services, so restores coverage to those enrolled in a governmental insurance plan (ie: Medicaid, Medicare), enrolled in a government-managed health insurance program (TRICARE, FEHBP) or receiving health care from a government provider or program (ie) Indian Health Services, Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Veterans Administration). Secondly, the act prohibits political interference with decisions by private health insurance companies to offer coverage for abortion care. This would essentially reverse the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from being used on abortion and disproportionately impacts low-income women and women of color. Minnesota is extremely progressive in that we are one of only 13 states that uses state Medicaid dollars to pay for abortion, but even with this, there are many instances (see above) where people are left paying out of pocket for the procedure.

Though we were there advocating for the ability for ALL people to be able to make choices about whether to carry a pregnancy to term without cost being a factor in that decision, a few of us got to represent a specific group of people in order to shed light on the way this legislation would impact individuals. Because of my affiliation with the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis I got to speak on behalf of victims/survivors who have become pregnant due to an assault. The talking points were simple: With the costs: emotional, mental and financial that victims/survivors endure during whatever route they choose to take on their healing journey, an additional financial cost to terminate a pregnancy caused by the assault should absolutely not be a factor. Total no brainer! We will  be following up with the representatives we met with in coming months to remind them of our talking points and reinforce our invitation for them to co-sign the bill if members of the House or support the effort in the Senate for the creation of a Senate Bill. You may see others posting about the EACH Woman Act in coming weeks and months. Reading up about the bill and sharing posts to spread the word are initial ways that folks can show support for this groundbreaking legislation.

be bold


Katherine, SWRJ Co-Founder

New Perspectives on Abortion: The Pro-Voice Framework

New Perspectives on Abortion: The Pro-Voice Framework

Reproductive justice was created as a response to the polarizing and non-inclusive political debates surrounding “pro-choice” and “pro-life” abortion politics. With this shift, advocates began to understand that women and people of color need more than just access to a safe and legal abortion. The connection between reproductive rights and other issues like education, economics, violence, and healthcare is now being promoted throughout this comprehensive and inclusive framework. This shift within the culture of American social change, fosters the creation of multi-issue movements that can communicate and collaborate with each other in order to achieve optimum change. In the politics of abortion care, having access to a variety of social change tools strengthens and promotes the movement. However, this political underpinning can also cause problems when labels create dichotomies within the issue and individuals become at risk of being exploited to support a particular political agenda.

In order to unravel politics from the personal experiences of women, one group is working to change the way we talk about abortion. Exhale, founded in 2000 by Aspen Baker, is an organization that works to address the emotional needs of pregnant people and their loved ones who have experienced an abortion. Their after-abortion talk line, postcard project, and private online community provide safe spaces for women to discuss their personal experiences in an environment that is neither pro-life nor pro-choice. Instead, Exhale is pro-voice. This approach, which “creat[s] a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported, respected, and free from stigma,” stresses the importance of empathy and listening to stories.

If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like social work, you’re right. Our profession is one of the only whose guiding philosophy is to support individuals in reaching their healthiest desired potential. Baker’s discussion about the importance of person-centered storytelling and living in the gray areas sounds a lot like the role of a social worker, while after-abortion talk line counselors fulfill the role of validating caller’s emotions and connecting them to resources. Their strengths-based approach highlights options and resources as counselors work to discover what wellbeing means to the individual caller. In terms of after-abortion care, the pro-voice framework provides a nonjudgmental service to many people effected by abortion. It values their emotions while respecting their beliefs and working towards their goals. This approach, Baker argues, leads people from conflict to conversation.

Providing a safe space for people to share their abortion stories is a much needed service, however, many people feel that abortion is too inextricably intertwined with other politically charged issues (e.g. oppression due to male dominated culture) to separate it out completely. While I agree that our two party system of abortion politics is greatly inadequate at capturing the complexities of the issue, developing a philosophy about abortion without acknowledging its political aspects seems false. In fact, it could be said that this framework fails to tackle important aspects of our society that negatively impact utilizers of abortion services and leads to the necessity of Exhale’s services. In terms of social work, this seems very reminiscent of our profession’s current focus on micro level practice. While both are necessary to creating a holistic approach to interventions, many issues faced on the micro level could be alleviated if positive change was achieved on the macro level. Both practices alone are not enough to stimulate change.

The social dialogue generated by models like Exhale Pro-Voice can help to inform future policy and create “a social climate free from abortion stigma, where each person can find respect and support for their personal experience.” No matter your opinion on the pro-voice movement, creating a world free from stigma where self-determination is valued above all is something we can all agree on.



In addition to Exhale other “pro-voice” resources include:


Elizabeth Borngraber is a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work in New York state whose studies and interests are focused around women’s health and rights, healthcare access, and policy.


Stop Trans Murders: Anti-Transgender Violence at Historic High

By Elizabeth Borngraber

So far this year, at least 18 transgender people have been victims of violent acts that have led to their death; due to a trifecta of structural inequalities and oppression most of these individuals were transgender women of color. Unfortunately, this number may be higher than reported due to ignorance and misgendering in police reports. While not every case has been legally ruled a hate crime, the effects of racism, misogyny, and transphobia cannot be overlooked and despite an increase in the media sharing experiences of transgender individuals, their heightened profile has also put them at greater risk for discrimination.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 42% of respondents (N = 6,450) reported attempting suicide. They were also four times more likely to live in poverty and had double the national rate of unemployment. The survey also revealed that many transgender individuals experienced inadequate or discriminatory health care, in fact, 50% of respondents reported that they needed to teach their health care provider about their needs. It should also be noted that higher concentrations of negative life experiences and discrimination were specifically found among African-American respondents, highlighting the web of oppression faced by transgender people of color.

In the wake of these tragedies, Social Workers for Reproductive Justice would like to extend our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of all those whose lives were taken due to violence. As social workers, we urge lawmakers to support policies that include justice for all people and work to end laws that perpetuate discrimination and violence. Nationwide acceptance and change can only be achieved by educating people about the needs and experiences of transgender individuals. The reproductive justice framework recognizes the importance of examining the intersection of all aspects of life in order to provide a holistic approach to combating oppression. It is our ethical responsibility as social workers to stand with marginalized populations and work together for social justice and human rights. Here are five simple ways you can learn more about transgender individuals and take a stand to support them:


  1. Don’t assume someone’s gender; ask what, if any, pronoun they prefer
  2. Expand your cultural competence by reading books by transgender authors and learning more about their lives
  3. Reflect on your own personal biases and be aware of your privilege
  4. Volunteer at an organization that serves trans individuals
  5. Sign an online petition to urge the White House to address this issue


We cannot allow the hateful murder of transgender individuals to continue; strong support and concrete action are needed to address this national epidemic. By actively taking a stand to support transgender rights, you can help end this violence. As social workers, we are perfectly poised to act as change agents on this important issue. To do nothing, would allow this culture of hate and oppression to continue. You can read the NASW policy statement about transgender issues here.



Elizabeth Borngraber is a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work in New York state whose studies and interests are focused around women’s health and rights, healthcare access, and policy.

Fight For $15

Four Myths About the Fight For $15 Movement

By Elizabeth Borngraber 


After New York State passed the minimum wage increase to $15 for fast food workers last month, my initial reactions were mixed. My social work brain was happy people would be earning a living wage, but arguments against $15 made me worry about the economic impact of the ruling. Fast-food chains could start firing employees because of higher costs. Jobs could disappear and unemployment could rise. Advanced degree holders could earn a position paying less than a job requiring no degree. All these things sounded scary, so I decided to do some research and found the following arguments against raising the minimum wage:


 Forcing employers to pay $15 will cause prices to rise and jobs to decrease.

            Now, I’m no expert on economics, but according to the Economic Policy Institute, if the minimum wage had been adjusted each year for inflation it would be about $11 an hour. Change that adjustment to be based on productivity and that increases to approximately $18 an hour. Given those figures, $15 an hour seems a good compromise for wages that should be higher anyway. And while not explicitly citing the $15 wage, the United States Department of Labor states that there has been no study to prove that increasing the federal minimum wage will result in job loss. In order to combat any negative effects, the Political Economy Research Institute suggested strategies to raise fast-food wages to $15 without losing jobs. And a study by Purdue University shows that food prices would most likely increase only a little. With some creative thinking on the part of business owners, $15 an hour is possible and profitable.


Fast-food workers have minimum motivation and, therefore, shouldn’t be paid more than minimum wage.

Other than reasons of economics, this is probably the number one argument against $15 an hour that I found. Many opponents of the bill argue that fast-food jobs are meant for high school or college students or those looking to supplement a second full-time income and any person who views it as a career must not have any motivation to better themselves and find a higher paying job. However, this argument starts to fall apart when you consider the fact that not everyone can access the education required for other jobs and those living in rural areas face career opportunities that are far more limited. When you grow up in a small town and do not have as many resources, fast-food restaurants may provide you with the easiest and most accessible form of income. Since realities like these are not under the control of the individual, people should not be subjected to living in near poverty because of the place they were born. While many studies show that college graduates earn more than those without, not everyone is well suited to pursing a college degree.

As social workers, we value the right of client’s to choose their own path and sometimes that means not pursing higher education. Therefore, we need to advocate for jobs that pay a living wage regardless of formal education. Forcing someone to live off of $8.75 an hour ($18,200/year pretax) because they didn’t go to college or grew up in an area with limited career opportunities perpetuates generational poverty within families and communities. In turn, these individuals rely on public assistance in order to help pay for food, housing, and health insurance. Wal-Mart workers alone cost taxpayers $6.2 billion dollars a year. If companies paid their workers more, fewer burdens would be placed on the average American to subsidize low wages.


Minimum wage jobs are not as valuable to society as other jobs.

            This goes back to America’s bias for valuing people with a college degree over those without. Don’t get me wrong, as someone with a Bachelor’s and currently pursuing a Master’s degree, I understand the importance of higher education and its effects on poverty. However, I also don’t believe in putting all of your eggs in one basket. If everyone is expected to go to college, those who don’t will be forced out of any job that provides a living wage. These minimum wage jobs include things like farm workers, home care and child care employees, and housekeepers and cleaners. Just because someone didn’t study four years at a university in order to earn their position, doesn’t mean it is any less valuable to the functioning of our society. If you’ve ever eaten produce, dropped your child off at day care, or enjoyed the comforts of a clean hotel room, you’ve most likely benefitted from the services of an underpaid worker.


Most minimum wage workers are teenagers.

            The average minimum wage worker is a 20+-year-old white female, who works full-time and might have children. She has most likely graduated high school and may have completed some college coursework. For many of us, this picture is not surprising since women are paid 78% of what men earn (even less for women of color) and women are more likely to be living in poverty than men due to a variety of factors including the jobs they hold. According to The Center For American Progress, careers such as teaching, nursing, waitressing, and child care are still traditionally held by women who earn an average of $27,383 a year. Since many single parent households have a female head of house, and many women still take on the brunt of financial costs related to children, what does this mean for women trying to start and raise families?

            The real reason you should be upset about Fight for $15 isn’t because fast-food workers will be earning more, it’s because we live in a democracy that doesn’t provide equal opportunities and fair wages for all jobs. We should support raising the minimum wage overall because businesses have an ethical responsibility to provide workers with fair pay. Many social workers who work with disenfranchised populations see the effects low-wages have on the functioning of an individual and a family. For women trying to make ends meet as a fast-food worker or child care provider, low wages restrict their access to birth control options and ability to raise a family in a financial stable environment. After all, self-determination and empowerment can only go so far when a client is facing a structural inequality.


Elizabeth Borngraber is a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work in New York state whose studies and interests are focused around women’s health and rights, healthcare access, and policy.

Marriage Equality is Just the Beginning

By Elizabeth Borngraber

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling to guarantee the right of same-sex couples to marry is one important step forward in creating a nation that recognizes and values the human rights of all its citizens. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, men and women should have equal rights to marry, and while it does not explicitly mention same-sex marriage, the United Nations has spoken out in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

As social workers, we value our client’s right to self-determination in shaping their goals and life decisions, which is why the SCOTUS decision is so important to our practice. Clients who are engaged in same-sex relationships will now have the choice to marry and social workers will not have to navigate the strange space between our professional obligation to support social justice and a system that inherently denies a client’s rights. Within the old system, and in many places that are still fighting the implementation of these laws, social workers were tasked with operating within the context of a law that did not support our code of ethics. When this happens, we are faced with the ethical dilemma of either siding with an unjust law or upholding the values of our profession, a choice many social workers will hopefully no longer have to make. While this is now the case, it should also be noted that in places of continued discrimination, it is the role of social workers to facilitate change and understanding among citizens in the fight for human rights and positive social change.

As this ruling begins to be implemented across the nation, the farther reaching effects of the SCOTUS decision will come to light. One effect will most likely include healthier LGBTQ communities due to decreased social stigma and increased access to health insurance. Since the LGBTQ population has traditionally faced worse health outcomes and greater heath disparities, allowing same-sex couples’ access to a spouse’s insurance will ensure that a greater number of individuals will have access to quality healthcare.

Specifically, the American College of Physicians has come out in support of same-sex marriage, noting the public health benefits in terms of alleviating psychological stress associated with discrimination. Allowing same-sex couples to marry also allows them to experience the tangible health benefits that come with marriage and provides couples with a legally stable environment in which to raise children. Same-sex unions will also now be recognized in having and adopting children, expanding their rights to parent and have a family.

The legalization of same-sex marriage further acknowledges the humanity of same-sex couples by expanding access to a human right previously reserved to a closed group. However, this one victory is far from being the end of the war for sexual orientation and gender identity rights. In many states it is still legal for an employer to fire an individual they believe is gay or trans+ and many people are denied housing based on their sexual orientation or gender. In my home state of New York, employment non-discrimination laws only fully protect sexual orientation, however, there is no comprehensive law protecting gender identity. While this is at least some progress, we cannot forget that there is an entire section of the population that is often overshadowed by the battle for same-sex marriage. It is our responsibility as social workers to recognize this and continue to be a vocal champion of equal rights for all people.