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I cannot get pregnant. Yet the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, three years after my birth, profoundly changed my life. I am among the men who know the liberty recognized by Roe in personal terms. The ripping away of Roe today is a calamity and a catalyst.

I call on men—gay, straight, or bisexual—to take a probing moral inventory of how they, too, may be beneficiaries of women’s right to self-determination protected in Roe. And I invite my brothers with the humility to assess their stakeholder status honestly to join as allies in the struggle to reaffirm women’s right to choose at every level of policy and politics.

In 1989, I was a nineteen-year-old college student who was finding my voice and my sexual identity. That spring, a conservative Supreme Court, with only one female member and only two appointees of Democratic Presidents among its nine Justices, handed down a ruling in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services of Missouri.

The ruling opened up the Constitutional right to privacy in accessing safe and legal abortion, then a precedent for just 16 years, to infringement and restriction by state lawmakers. For me, the last of four kids with two older sisters, a light went on in a dim hallway of adulthood I was beginning to navigate on my own.

At my college campus in northeast Ohio, where I was finishing my first year, several of my female friends expressed anxiety and anger about the court ruling. Their concerns struck a nerve in me. Why, they argued, should politicians in the state legislature who have no medical know-how or any connection to their lives suddenly gain authority and say-so over their reproductive decisions, or those of millions of other women in Ohio?

The beam of light that awakened my conscience that spring soon led me to discussions with women across the political spectrum on and beyond campus. From a variety of racial backgrounds, from throughout the country and from overseas, they voiced a galvanizing insight about autonomy. 

Who decides? How can lawmakers, overwhelmingly men, usurp the power to restrict and intrude on the decision to carry forward an unwanted pregnancy, or not? How can they relegate women to illegal, less safe methods of ending such a pregnancy? What would that kind of interference feel like for me? Once begun, how far could such intrusion go?

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Stepping into that light soon reshaped my life. Within months, I was volunteering to attend a rally in Washington, D.C., to protect choice and in Columbus, Ohio, to oppose legislation to interfere with safe and legal abortion. This included bills to mandate waiting periods and coercive counseling showing bloody fetuses or requiring ultrasounds.

Protests felt transformative. Under gentle sunshine on a Sunday afternoon in late October in 1989, thousands of abortion-rights supporters gathered near the Ohio Capitol. The joy and outrage of women and some male allies seemed like muscles, not yet exercised, that could shake up state government and replace the threat of repression with respect.

In these same months after Webster, when asked by alert and empathetic friends if I was identifying as a gay man, I answered truthfully, “Not yet.” To have that safe transitional space of emergence created and opened for me by the companionship of women friends, young and old, sometimes claiming for the first time their own right to self-determination, was a gift of courage and solidarity more precious than oxygen.

Within two years, I had come out to everyone in my life who mattered. In that age before e-mail and text messages, each of those difficult dialogues required handwritten letters or long-distance phone calls, and often both, when they could not be done face to face. The ever-present stigma of AIDS and the fear, some real and some exaggerated, of HIV transmission overshadowed all of them. But Roe, and the struggle to defend it, helped give me the language to carry out those conversations. They helped me claim a right to privacy and to self-determination—and to dignity.

Thirty years later, I am still a passionate advocate for abortion rights who considers Roe v. Wade to be a sacred term in the lexicon of liberty. One reason is that Roe and the 1992 ruling in Casey that reaffirmed it are cornerstones, with good reason, for later Court precedents to safeguard LGBT people and our equality. In 2003, the Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws in several states that justified discriminatory and even sadistic treatment of lesbians and gay men. 

That ruling, in Lawrence v. Texas, mentions Roe 22 times and Casey 23 times. In 2015, the Supreme Court recognized a federal right to marriage encompassing committed same-sex couples. That landmark ruling, in the case brought by James Obergefell of Ohio, invokes Roe twice and Casey once.

Now I enlist activists in every town and city and state to elect pro-choice candidates and reject opponents of safe and legal abortion, foot soldiers in Republicans’ War on Women. I wage this fight because it is right and required to respect basic liberty and the American way. I also do it because Roe and the movement to protect it provided both the language and the light switch that went on for me to claim my own autonomy and my own identity, with honesty, and to experience the pursuit of happiness.

My life, too, is a legacy of Roe v. Wade. I cannot and will not go back. And I urge men and boys who truly value equality to stand with women and girls determined to protect their health and human rights. This is a struggle that could define the next fifty years of American politics, as it has the last.