01 January 2015

Black Lives Still Matter

TW/Content: Very detailed and graphic discussions of racism and abuse, anti-HIV/AIDS stigma, police violence, ableism, institutions, group homes, foster care system, abuse and neglect by parents, murder of disabled child by parents, childhood sexual abuse


Black Lives Still Matter

Photo: Smiling young black girl inside a classroom. Cyndi O'Neal.

This is Melissa Taylor Stoddard. She was born on March 27, 2001 to Kenneth and Lisha Stoddard in North Carolina. She died three months shy of her twelfth birthday on December 17, 2012.

Melissa was autistic and black. Her older brother was also autistic. Melissa's favorite book was The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle. She loved ladybugs and sang Disney songs in class.

In 2007, the Florida Department of Children and Families investigated the Stoddards after Melissa became obsessed with pulling down her father's pants and trying to touch his penis. Melissa and her brother were also caught touching and licking each other (Russon).

In July 2012, Misty, Melissa's stepmother, saw her brother pulling up his shorts while Melissa hid. Child Protective Services gave Melissa's mother an ultimatum: send her son to a group home or send Melissa to Florida to live with her father. Melissa was sent to Florida to join her five new step and half-siblings. Charges against her brother were dropped.

Once the semester started, Melissa stopped going to school. In a period of five weeks, she only showed up twice. When a social worker was sent to investigate, he claimed he had no reason to believe Melissa was in any danger. Her teacher remembered her repeating phrases she probably heard at home -- "Get out of my house!" "Now look what you've done!" He remembered her hoarding and hiding food. Even on her worst days, though, he knew she'd never hurt herself or banged her head. During a November 8, 2012 meeting with her father and stepmother, Melissa kept saying, "I'm sorry," but they completely ignored her. On November 15, 2012, the last day Melissa attended school, she was upset when it was time to go home; she whimpered and hung her head.

No one at Melissa's school ever called Florida's child protective service.

Her half-siblings later told investigators that Melissa had been tortured for months. She was tied up daily. At night, she was tied to a board. For months, a neighbor heard Melissa screaming and crying while Misty beat her and yelled at her. He could hear the abuse from his own house a few hundred feet away.

No one ever called 911.

On December 7, 2012, Melissa sat outside bleeding from a gash so bad she needed six stitches. Her father told hospital workers that she hurt herself by banging her head on the wall. They took him at his word. After all, Melissa was autistic.

No one ever reported the suspected abuse.

On December 12, 2012, Misty hog-tied Melissa in a four-point restraint, duct-taped her mouth shut, and repeatedly threatened to beat her. She found Melissa unconscious. After arriving at the hospital, the doctors noticed that her whole body was covered in bruises. There were ligature marks -- evidence of restraint -- everywhere.

On December 17, 2012, Melissa was removed from life support.

Her father and stepmother were charged in her death.

There have been no petitions and few blog posts.

Melissa's name is on the list that we read every March for the National Day of Mourning for disabled people murdered by family members or caregivers.

For the most part, she's disappeared from public discourse.

Photo: Front door of a now condemned home in Rockville, Maryland. There is a Do Not Enter notice taped to the door. Dan Morse/The Washington Post.

This is where Darnell and Derrick Land used to live in Rockville, Maryland. Darnell and Derrick, both 22, are twins. They are also autistic and black.

In July 2014, while police were searching their home because they thought their two other brothers might have drugs (hooray, more racism!) they found a padlocked, deadbolted door in the basement leading to an empty room reeking of urine. Darnell and Derrick were trapped inside. There was no functional light. The only window was too small for anyone to crawl through in case of fire or other emergency. The neighbors claimed they had never seen the brothers outside.

At first, prosecutors described the situation as "deplorable" and "unacceptable." Darnell and Derrick's parents, John and Janice Land, were arrested for false imprisonment and abuse of vulnerable adults. Their mother claimed, unbelievably, that she didn't know they were kept in the basement. A neighbor said she'd heard that they were first locked in the basement three years ago. She called police to report abuse, but no one did anything. Police didn't bother to investigate until they were already looking for drugs in the home of a family of color.

After the parents were arrested, Darnell and Derrick were placed into the custody of social workers for two months. The social workers moved the brothers to a group home. (Make no mistake; this is an institutional setting.) Their parents -- their abusers -- are allowed to visit them.

On December 23, 2014, prosecutors decided to drop all charges against Darnell and Derrick's parents. The defense attorney claims her clients are heartbroken that their sons no longer live with them. Another local attorney (not involved directly) who happens to be a parent of an autistic son and a disability law practitioner was quoted in a Washington Post article saying:

"This was absolutely the correct move to dismiss these cases. You had two struggling parents who were doing the best they could. They were failing, but they weren't committing a crime. It's unfortunate that the parents had to be arrested to get the care their adult children needed and are now receiving."

If you're autistic, it's not abuse.

If you're autistic, it's not neglect.

If you're autistic, it's not a crime for people to hurt you.

If you're autistic, your abusers will keep their visitation rights, and they will be depicted as loving, caring parents who tried their best to help you. Their actions will never be called abuse and they will always get away with hurting you.

Darnell and Derrick Land deserve to live in homes of their choosing, with appropriate services and supports, in their own community, free from fear of future abuse. Placement in a group home while their abusers have access to them is not enough.

Photo: Hands holding framed photo of young black man, Neli Latson, smiling. Linda Davidson / The Washington Post.

This is Reginald Cornelius Latson, better known as Neli, short for his middle name. Neli is autistic and black. Both of these details are incredibly important to this story.

On May 24, 2010, Neli (18 at the time) was waiting for his local library to open. He was sitting in front of the library, across the street from an elementary school. He was wearing a hoodie.

Police were called by a passerby who saw a young black man in a hoodie and said there was a suspicious black male, possibly with a gun. Approached by the school resource officer who asked for his name and identification, Neli panicked. He didn't give his name and he tried to walk away repeatedly.

The officer claims that Neli then attacked him unprovoked. Neli claims that the officer first called him (and President Obama) racial slurs, choked him, Tasered him, pepper sprayed him, and beat him. The officer was seriously injured afterward, and Neli was charged for assault. After his conviction, he was initially sentenced to two years of prison and eight years of probation, which could be rescinded at any time.

Since then, Neli has been in and out of prison repeatedly. While on probation after serving the first two years, he threatened suicide at the group home where he'd been transferred. Police were called, and he hit another officer in panic, landing back in prison. For over a year, Neli has been in solitary confinement. Because he is autistic and has intellectual disabilities, he is considered too vulnerable to be in general population (not without unfortunately very good reason). But instead of receiving any form of support, he's been punished further.

Like Darnell and Derrick Land, who have been placed into an institutional setting in the name of saving them from abuse, Neli has been essentially punished for his own protection. And yet, instead of arguing for a practical transition plan back to the community, the most prominent advocates calling for Neli's release recently (other than ASAN) have proposed sending him to a locked institution in Florida for "treatment."

#FreeNeli doesn't mean release Neli from the state's prison only to send him to a different kind of prison "for his own good."

Whenever anyone begins to talk about some kind of institutional placement or residential treatment as a humane alternative to incarceration, I want to cry. People with abusive and violent tendencies flock to positions where they have unchecked power and control over other people's lives and bodies. People with disabilities, especially those with the most significant intellectual and developmental disabilities, are among the most vulnerable to all forms of abuse and exploitation. In the context of an institution, the likelihood of violence increases manifold.

But in the four years since I first learned the name Neli Latson, since I first believed that better law enforcement training alone would be enough, nothing has gotten better for a young, autistic, black man suffering from completely preventable and unnecessary torture in solitary confinement. Instead of advocates demanding a transition plan to a community-based setting with appropriate services and supports, Neli has the specter of an institution lingering over his head. If all goes according to that plan, he'd be released from one kind of prison only to trade it for a different one.

Neli Latson should be released from prison. He should be returned to his community. His life matters.

Photo: Seven lovely people (five children), all of whom are people of color, wearing matching outfits, smiling at the camera.

This is Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and her beautiful family. Morénike is a fabulous autistic parent of multiple children with various disabilities, as well as an outspoken and accomplished advocate against HIV/AIDS stigma.

A couple of months ago, they were told that two of their children (one 11 and one 13) were going to be forcibly removed and placed into a "therapeutic" group home. Because they have not been allowed to legally adopt the children in question, they have been told that they have no legal right to decide where they should live. Instead, because they have various developmental and psychiatric disabilities, a decision has been made that it's in their "best interests" to be in a group home, because a family placement isn't "adequate" for their "high needs."

The children facing imminent removal have explicitly said they want to stay with their family, but because they're disabled, they've been denied the right to decide where they want to live. That is not community living or appropriate supports. That is total denial of individual autonomy and self-determination. That is ableism in the form of paternalism and compounded cruelty.

Morénike's family has created an online fundraising page for legal funds to fight this decision. They all deserve better. The fundraiser reached the $10,000 goal posted, but it couldn't hurt to give if you have access to financial resources. Their lives matter. Our community is deeply privileged to have Morénike and her family in it, and they need our support. Here, we do have the opportunity to do something that matters. Something that means something for someone.

My hope is that a day will come when absolutely nothing I have ever written will need to be said again. That no one will ever be forced into an institution, no matter how great or complex their needs. That no one will ever face the unrelenting force of state-sanctioned violence. That no one will ever have to live in fear of abuse from people who are supposed to care, from people who are supposed to help. That autistic community will no longer be so white-centric and white-dominated. That whenever violence is done against us, there will be real justice and not merely some farcical mockery of it.

This matters. Let's start the year off right.

#NoGroupHome #BlackLivesMatter #FreeNeli #BlackLivesStillMatter


Read more: (same trigger warnings apply to all links)

04 December 2014

One of the most awesome people who ever happened to me

Content: Discussions of ableism, racism, violence, brief mention of Michael Brown -- discussion of the death of a friend and fellow champion for justice. 

This is a picture of one of the most awesome people who ever happened to me. 

His name is Ki'tay D. Davidson. 

In this fabulous picture (from TL Talila Lewis), he's lounging on a wooden chair outside in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while at the National Lawyers Guild's Law for the People Annual Convention. He's got his laptop out, stickers facing frontward. One sticker is 3E Love's wheelchair heart. One says, Soapbox. One says, Some People Are Trans*; Get Over It. One says, I'm for Trans Students. 

He's smiling, his warmth and fullness radiating love. 

On December 2, 2014, Ki'tay left this world. 

This is my fumbling, completely inadequate attempt to express the immeasurable magnitude of this incomprehensible loss. 

Dear Ki'tay:

You are fierce and fabulous, an unstoppable force, full of love, among the best of humanity. A gorgeous, radically living, out and proud black, disabled, queer trans man. An ally to the autistic community. A student leader. Community organizer, cultural activist, speaker of truth to power, advocate for truly transformative, compassionate justice.

My friend.

There are people who have changed me so much that I cannot forget them. You were one of the best people to ever happen to me, and I know you have changed thousands of others. I am in awe of everything that you have done and everything that you are.

I only knew you for an incredibly short time, just a little over two years.

We met for the first time on Thursday, September 27, 2012. You and I (with others) were co-panelists in an American University sociology class. The phenomenal Allie Cannington asked us, separately, if we'd be willing to speak to Andrea Brenner's U.S. Society course about ableism, disability, identity, and the social versus medical models of disability. I remember the passion and commitment that filled your speech when you spoke on ableism.

It was impossible not to be moved, not to be impacted in some way by your energy. I have nothing but the highest admiration for your character, nothing but appreciation for your attitude, nothing but gratitude for your existence.

You became someone I went to first when anything came up. Something terrifying, overwhelming, and infuriating like a group I was part of deciding to support Autism Speaks over my objections. Something exciting and full of possibilities like the chance to speak on a panel about queer and disabled identities (that sadly never happened), or the request to suggest good speakers on ableism in education. Something personally important, something that made me feel accomplished, something I took as a success and wanted to share, like being quoted in two different news articles published on the same day. Something confusing, life-changing, and fraught with anxiety, like questioning my (a)sexuality. Something huge, intimidating, forward-thinking, like figuring out who to invite to join a planning committee for a Disability Cultural Center at Georgetown, or forming a new, community-based and grassroots-led disabled students collective.

When we were still barely acquainted, I was crying my eyes out on your shoulder because I sensed right away that you would get where I was coming from.

I began to see you at the Disability Rights Coalition meetings at American University, when I'd make the trek an hour or more each way -- shuttle bus to Dupont Metro, metro from there to Tenleytown, shuttle bus to American's campus, wait times in between. I didn't get to make it to all the events, but I made it to a few, drawn by the collective power of the group you were instrumental in forming. (I love the title you had: Director of Ableism Awareness and Community Outreach.)

We took this picture together on October 1, 2012, at a general meeting:

I fucking love how our only picture together, that's just you and me, is this one. I wanted to know, could you pick me up and hold me in a cradle grip like a baby. You picked me up, and here we are, captured on a shitty phone camera, grinning, laughing, and looking fabulous. Right in the middle of the Disability Rights Coalition meeting in a university classroom. Not everyone is willing to just throw professionalism and maturity and adult comportment out the window for someone they just met in a setting where a lot of other people would be more concerned with giving off a good impression.

You were one of the very first people I came out to as questioning and queer. I have no idea how to describe it, but you had a way of making me feel totally safe, totally comfortable, totally accepted.

Back at Georgetown, when I was looking for folks interested in building a Disability Cultural Center, you volunteered right away to be part of the planning committee. You came to our first committee meeting on Sunday, October 21, 2012. We met in a small room, called a library, which is really a glorified study room with an extra long table and one floor-to-ceiling bookcase. The meeting minutes, typed up by Reuben Atkins, suggest that I gave some ridiculous ice-breaker prompt for introductions. They say:

Ki’tay: cheetahs
Ally: rats
Colin: monkeys
Bernadette: Jellyfish
Izzy: porcupines
Lydia: mosquitoes

I can't tell if the question was about animals we're most like, animals we most hate, or what, but there we go, I said mosquitoes and you said cheetahs. I'm going to assume that this made sense at the time. (HA! When do things ever make sense?) 

In fall 2012, I planned a panel at Georgetown on Disability and Inclusion in the Humanities to coincide with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's annual gala. I asked four disabled activists to speak, and you were, once again, one of the first I thought to ask. Every time I heard you speak, I was blown away not merely by your wisdom and courage, but by your constant compassion and constant challenge. 

Here's the flyer, for which I asked you what picture you should use. You chose the one where you're against a darkish blue gradient, wearing a gray striped shirt, diamond necklace, and jacket, somehow looking snazzy and professional and rad and casual all at once. 

(Flyer has text on the left, a column of four photos on the right. Text says, "Disability & Inclusion in the Humanities. When: November 14th, 2012, 4pm - 5pm. Where: ICC 213, Georgetown University, 3700 O Street NW, Washington DC. Featuring: Elizabeth J. Grace, PhD, Ki'tay Davidson, Kassiane A. Sibley, Renleigh J. Bartlett. Accommodation Requests: lmb253@georgetown.edu or 202-618-0187. Please send before Nov. 1." The pictures are, from top to bottom, Elizabeth (Ibby) Grace, Ki'tay, Kassiane Sibley, and Renleigh Stone. Under those is the Lecture Fund's logo.)

We spoke together two days later on Friday, November 16, 2012 about Ableism and Exclusion in Education, a breakout session for Georgetown's annual Education Week conference. There were maybe four or five people there, including Shain. At the time, I felt so defeated, even though there were still more folks present than during the empty room earlier this year. But it meant so much to have that opportunity with you.

On Thursday, July 25, 2013, you were one of eight disabled young people who were honored at the White House as Champions of Change for disability rights on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Somehow, I was also chosen to be one of them.

During our panel discussion, you said, "Advocacy is not just a task for charismatic individuals or high profile community organizers. Advocacy is for all of us; advocacy is a way of life. It is a natural response to the injustices and inequality in the world. While you and I may not have sole responsibility for these inequities that does not alter its reality."

Here we are, all eight of us, smiling under the lights in the auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the screen behind us showing the White House's logo and the words, 23rd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There's Anupa Iyer, Zoe Gross, Anjali Forber-Pratt, Desiree Moore, Claudia Gordon (the White House's disability liaison), me, Zach Garafalo, Andrew Phillips -- and you. You all handsome in your dark suit, cobalt blue dress shirt, and black and white striped bowtie. The rest of us trying to look half as fabulous.

I will never forget how, for our blog posts for the White House's page, you opened yours, "An Open Letter," with this quote:

“It is our duty to fight, it is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” – Assata Shakur

The fact that you somehow got away with that and it's still up there is testament to your sheer awesomeness.

Just a few months later, you were there when Mia Mingus came to speak at Georgetown in October 2013. Her talk was called, "Disability Justice IS Queer Liberation," and it was soul soothing and empowering and beautiful.

At the end of 2013, after a surprisingly exhausting semester, I posted to Facebook my thanks for many of the people in my life whose existence has made it better.

Here, I find you too:

Ki'tay Davidson, Kylie Brooks, and [Nai Damato], thank you for your constant wonderful insights and challenges to re-examine and re-articulate how we do our relationships and how we do our activism.

When Nai Damato and I began to talk about who we wanted leading the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective, you were one of the first people I thought of, but you were already living and working in California. It says right in our mission statement that we aim to be intersectional about disability justice and disabled activism, and if anyone's grounded and embodied in intersectional disability, it's you.

When I was invited this summer to the White House's first ever event on the intersections of LGBT and disability intersections, I was not surprised at all that you were among the speakers. Who better to ask? Who better to hear from?

Here you are, on the final panel, Youth & Resilience. Rebecca Cokley's moderating from her seat at the end of a long, polished wooden table. Then, arranged around the table, facing a room full of movers and shakers and dreamers and organizers and doers, you're in the middle, surrounded and covered in love. Smiling between Rohmteen Mokhtari, Allie Cannington, Rachel Eva Bass, Scottie Thomaston. Five people changing our communities at every moment.

When the Autism Women's Network and I announced the beginning of a fundraising campaign for an anthology on autism and race to be written by autistic people of color, you were among the first folks I asked for support from and among the first to show it.

This summer, (another) unarmed, young black man, Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer, shot six times, his body left lying in the sun in the middle of the street for four hours and twenty-eight minutes. You invited me to partner with you and Allie in conversation about solidarity and racial justice with the disability community -- a conversation you called, Answering the Call: A Conversation on Race, Disability, and Accountability. On Friday, August 22, you cultivated deep, critical conversations that have continued with #DisabilitySolidarity.

On September 23, you and Allie offered media partnership with #DisabilitySolidarity for the Lecture & Performance Series on Disability Justice that I've organized and hosted all semester at Georgetown. Coming from you? I immediately said yes. (Actually, I said, "That would be epic!")

The final event in the series for the fall was the other night, on December 2. The event was a panel called Critical Intersections with(in) Disability, Sexuality, and Feminism. The speakers were Julia Watts Belser, Julia Sanders, Karen Nakamura, and Ilana Alazzeh, four magnificent scholars, activists, poets, community builders. You would have loved the truth they spoke. I'd thought about asking you to join through Skype, but never followed through.

That night, I found out that you were no longer among us.

You were a part of so many communities, and I have absolutely no doubt that your existence, your presence was a transformative force for the better in every single one of them. The dozens upon dozens of messages left on your Facebook page, from those who knew you in middle school or high school, American's debate club, the Young People 4 fellowship, radical activist communities for queer liberation, disability rights, racial justice -- for all our limitations, for all our flawed memories, for all our bodies, shaking, weeping, empty, hollow, stiff, frozen, numb, devastated, bereft of you, for all our grief -- I can only weep for the loss we thousands must now grapple with in the wake of your departure.

Tonight, while moving through downtown D.C., spontaneous protests filled the streets after a second non-indictment in another case of police murdering a Black man. I checked my Twitter feed for the live updates streaming in, and I could only think of you. Just a few days ago, you posted to #BlackLivesMatter.

I tweeted: .@KitayDavidson, rest in power & love. For you, from all of us, #DisabilitySolidarity with #DCFerguson. You're with us. #BlackLivesMatter

The echoes of you, echoes of love, will keep reaching thousands more.

Ki'tay, may you rest in POWER and LOVE.

Lead On.

Ki'tay's family has requested that donations be sent via PayPal to dorcasone2003@yahoo.com, where funds will be used to cover funeral and memorial costs. There will be a funeral in Chicago and memorials in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. 

TL has created a page to share memories of Ki'tay.

Read more about Ki'tay from the U.S. International Council on Disabilities and.Kurt Falk.

You can also read some of the amazing things Ki'tay has written here:

29 September 2014

This is What the Empty Room Means

Today, the Georgetown University Center for Student Engagement (formerly known as the Center for Student Programs) hosted a Lunch & Learn training session aimed at student organization leadership. The goal of these trainings is to provide student leaders with knowledge and skills to assist them in running a student organization. Topics could range from strategies for bringing in outside speakers to budgeting for programs or partnering with other student groups. Today's training was to be on accessible and inclusive event planning.

About a month ago, CSE asked if I would be willing to present during a training on accessibility in event planning. I said yes, enthusiastically yes. The outline for the event included an introduction from CSE, a presentation from our disability support services office on Georgetown's policies for accommodation requests, and a presentation from me about the importance of accessibility and inclusion, as well as an overview of the great diversity of possible alterations and accommodations that planners might consider when developing an activity or program.

I arrived on campus today to find the CSE person and the disability services person sitting at one table of eight arranged to form a large square. From the other end of the table, I could smell the fresh pizza in three boxes beside three crates of different types of soda. The tables were clean and polished, so white and bright they made a stark contrast with the muted hardwood floor. The room could easily hold over 100 people, and around 30 or 40 at the tables in the arrangement we had.

But there was no one there. Not one student organization sent even a single representative to attend the training. CSE had received no RSVPs in advance (though they weren't required), and there were absolutely no attendees trickling in even as the clock turned past 12:30.

Photo: Me wearing a white button-down dress shirt and khakis, standing alone inside the Herman Meeting Room with several tables and chairs inside the Healy Family Student Center.

The room was vast and I was small. I was alone in an empty room.

Nothing demonstrates more clearly the utter disregard that disabled people face every day at Georgetown than this. That of literally hundreds of student organizations with hundreds (possibly even creeping into the low thousands) of students involved on their boards or other leadership positions, not even one person deemed it worth their while to learn about access and inclusion.

Of course I recognize that there are many legitimate reasons that people can't attend midday trainings. They have work; they have classes; they have prior obligations; something comes up at the last minute; they didn't know about the specific event. But even if you make the generous assumption that 75% of all students involved in leadership with some or another club would have been unable to attend for some such reason, let's say the remaining 25% could have come and either knew about it or could have been told by someone else in their club's leadership about it. And no one came. How plausible is it that an event run by CSE, the administrative office responsible for oversight of all student organizations, is somehow off the radar of every single club on campus? That every single student involved in any leadership position whatsoever is simultaneously unavailable to attend a one-hour training?

It's not deliberate malice or cold contempt. It's casual indifference.

It takes very little to drive home just how little we matter in the grand scheme of things. And this is what the empty room means. The empty room means that our existence continues to be largely unacknowledged. The empty room means that our ability to participate fully in campus life isn't worth anyone's time. The empty room means that when we talk about improving conditions for disabled people, it's little more than lip service. The empty room means that no one cared enough to figure out how to go or send someone else in their stead. The empty room means that we don't matter. The empty room means another reminder of that fact, clawing into our consciences until we can't forget it for even one second, one brief slip of time.

Georgetown never fails to disappoint me. I attend an elite educational institution that has literally no excuse whatsoever to perpetuate inaccessible environments. Yet for all the talk of cura personalis, community in diversity, being men and women for others ... we continually fail to show even the most minimal concern for the wellbeing or meaningful inclusion of a particularly invisible community on the margins of campus life. The empty room means that the road ahead will be tortuous and long, that my work will never be done, that an entire collective of seven thousand-odd students, and thousands more faculty and staff, every one of us, remain complicit in this complicated system of ableism.

The empty room means that our fight is less against willful hate and more against the easy ignorance cloaked in the privilege of never having to live a disabled experience -- the privilege of never being guilted and shamed into going to an event that you lost the spoons for but had requested an interpreter for beforehand -- the privilege of never having to decide days in advance whether you will go to an event or not -- the privilege of never having to wonder whether you'll be able to access the handouts, presentation slides, or speech of the presenter -- the privilege of not worrying whether other attendees' perfumed products will induce an allergic reaction, meltdown, or physical illness -- the privilege of not sitting on edge in case something triggers a seizure -- the privilege of not thinking about whether something will surprise you by triggering a panic, anxiety, or PTSD attack -- the privilege of not having to think about whether you can even get into the fucking building -- the privilege of being able to go to any event you like, anywhere, with little difficulty or inconvenience except perhaps finding parking --

The empty room means that this state of affairs, a state of affairs in which our completely avoidable and unnecessary yet routine exclusion from programming on campus is simply ordinary.

Author's edit: Since 2012, I have been working in various ways to advance disability justice at Georgetown. I formed a committee of students advocating for the creation of a Disability Cultural Center. I am the first person ever to serve in GUSA (our student government) doing work on disability within the diversity section, and am currently serving a second consecutive term in that role. I have organized several events on different disability rights topics. I'm collaborating with faculty who are proposing creation of a Disability Studies minor. I am agitating all the time for better physical accessibility and accommodations policies for students with disabilities. I've interviewed dozens of people with connections to the university, past and present, on their experiences while disabled. Back in January 2014, I organized a conversation under hashtag #BDGU (Being Disabled at Georgetown University) in the footsteps of other such conversations on experiences of different racialized groups on elite college campuses.

I'm currently organizing a Lecture & Performance Series on Disability Justice. The first event was September 23, when Kassiane Sibley came to campus to discuss abuse of disabled people by caregivers/family members. The next event is October 21 and 22, with Leroy Moore from Krip Hop Nation and Sins Invalid, performing and speaking on police brutality against disabled people, especially disabled people of color.

So there has been progress, just very incremental and largely invisible to the larger community.

04 September 2014

Letter to a Stranger

Hello. You may or may not ever read this letter, but as much as I'm (perhaps irrationally) afraid that you'll stumble across it, part of me hopes that you do indeed find it and read it and think for a long, long time about it.

The way we met was so common, so everyday, so ordinary that it would be easy to forget. I was sitting on the stairs with my friend eating ice cream and you were about to go up those stairs. So we moved to give you a path, and I made a brief quip about not knowing where a certain state is on the map. It's a normal social thing to say, comments like, "Just trying to get a snack before my fifteen is over," or "Really excited about the Patriots game tonight," or "Wow, I almost forgot to get my phone before leaving." And most folks will reply quickly, say something like, "Good luck!" or "Yeah, I hope they win," or "Hey, you could always carry it in your briefcase," and then they'd move on and you'd move on and the entire interaction would be over in around thirty seconds.

You decided right then and there that because I didn't know where this state was, I must obviously be from outside the country. You asked me where I was born and if I was born in the U.S. When I told you I wasn't, you were almost satisfied with that answer -- assuming that I'm foreign and so it's acceptable for me not to know where this state is on the map -- but then you asked when I came here, and I told you I was one. At that point your condescension started erasing what small amount of social nicety you might have had at the start. You started talking to me like I must know nothing at all, like I'm oblivious to everything and ignorant about everything, just because I've lived in the U.S. most of my life and somehow don't know where this one damn state is on the map.

But that's not even the half of it. That was warm-up for what you did next.

Somehow or other, the topic of what I do came up, and I mentioned that I work in disability rights and public policy advocacy. (Fancy schmancy way of saying, I go to people in power and try to get them to change the way things are so they'll be better for us disabled folks.) You asked me why I was so involved in disability, and I told you, like I tell anyone who asks this (very tired) question, I'm disabled and so are most of my friends and colleagues.

For the next twenty minutes or so (hell, it might have even been closer to thirty), you decided to interrogate me about my experiences, while invalidating them, delegitimizing them, erasing them, individualizing them (and I don't mean that in the positive way), and outright mocking them. Yes, I watched you rolling your eyes at me when I decided to suck it up and answer your questions. And you want to know why I stayed there and kept letting the conversation (if you can call it that) continue? Because I believe in cultivating allies, in raising awareness, in developing public conscious of ableism and disability justice and neurodiversity. Because I'd like to think that most strangers, if ignorant at first, are willing to learn and that if they ask questions it's because they're coming from a place of wanting to understand.

Instead, you went full-blown self-narrating zoo exhibit and kept pushing me to explain what it means that I'm autistic, how my autism manifests, all the way down to insisting that I explain my thought processes. In case you're wondering (though I very sincerely doubt it), my thought processes are pretty private stuff.

You were arrogant as you rolled your eyes at me, conveying quite clearly that you believed hardly anything I was saying and in fact probably assumed that I'm incapable of either understanding what it "really" means to be autistic or that I'm not competent enough to accurate interpret my own experiences. You were entitled as you pressed me for personal details about myself, my life, my history, and my neurological fucking processes. You didn't read my signals to stop the line of questioning, to return to discussing my work or my ideas but instead decided that my innermost thoughts were suddenly yours to examine and inspect to your own invasive curiosity while simultaneously dismissing everything that I said as fabrication, delusional, inaccurate, or otherwise symptomatic of a defective mind.

It was so obvious that you refused to so much as entertain the possibility that something I said might be valid or relevant or right -- whether about existing and new paradigms of disability, or about my own personal experiences -- that I'm surprised, honestly, surprised, that I didn't lose my temper at you. I could have. Easily. Your body language communicated hostility and incredulity; your voice communicated condescension and arrogance; your questions communicated nothing but entitlement and the presumption that you, as a well-educated person, automatically know and understand far more about my own experiences that I do.

Somehow, I was not surprised when you started talking about the Deaf community as a legitimate cultural group because they are a linguistic minority but in the same breath assumed that speech is the most legitimate or highest form of language/communication. Somehow, I was not surprised when you in as many words began to talk down to me about "people who are profoundly autistic" as though I can't possibly be truly autistic and as though those who are labeled "profoundly autistic" don't have agency, don't have voices, don't participate in activism. Somehow, I was not surprised when you eventually turned to interrogate my friend who was with me, to ask if they were also autistic, as though autistics only ever socialize with other autistics (or are only capable of being around other autistics). Somehow, I was not surprised when you insisted on visually observing this friend toe-walk and then made them do it again, like, what, a well-trained dog? Somehow, I was not surprised when you asked me am I good at math -- because all Asians are good at math and all autistics are math savants, so I must be a total genius at math, right?

And you know, it's people like you who say that autistics can't understand nonverbal cues, that autistics can't control their impulses or feelings, that autistics can't communicate with other people, that autistics can't respect other people's boundaries. How ironic is that.

The next time you meet a stranger who makes an offhand comment to you, please respond with another offhand comment and then walk away. (Hint: It's a social skill.)

And I hope that if you ever speak to another autistic person again, you remember that actually, individual people are the experts on their own experiences. Do we know everything about everything? No, we don't. But you need to stop assuming that you somehow know us better than we do ourselves, because where I come from, that's called arrogance, condescension, and general assholery.

I sincerely hope you have a good evening.

17 August 2014

Submission Guidelines for Anthology on Autism & Race



A collection of things written by autistic people of color talking about their lives, experiences, ideas, work, or other stories. The project will become a book available in different formats. Lydia Brown is the lead editor for the anthology, which will be published through the Autism Women’s Network.


Anyone who self-identifies as 

1. Autistic 
(with or without a formal diagnosis, includes PDD-NOS and Asperger's)

2. Person of color, racialized, or non-white

Specifically, you might consider yourself one or more of the following:
  • Transethnic, transracial, or transnational adoptee
  • Mixed race, biracial, or multi-racial
  • Migrant
  • Indigenous, Native, Aboriginal, or First Peoples
  • Black, Caribbean, or African 
  • East Asian, Southeast Asian, or Pacific Islander
  • South Asian, Desi, Central Asian, or Middle Eastern
  • Brown
  • Latin@, Hispanic, or Latin American

Anything that you write or have already written. Your submission can be short or long, prose or poetry, formal or informal, academic or personal. Some possible formats include personal essays, creative non-fiction, poetry, blog posts, speeches, and academic writing. You may also submit more than one thing. 

Some suggested topics (but you don't have to choose from this list):
  • Living at the intersection of disability and race
  • Cultural and community spaces for disabled people of color
  • Passing as white or neurotypical
  • Conceptualizing disability in non-white communities
  • Intersectional social justice for disabled people of color
  • Police brutality and profiling of disabled people of color, and state violence
  • Intimacy, kinship, chosen family, romance, and sexuality
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Disability services
  • Healthcare
  • Activism and advocacy
  • Further marginalized experiences (i.e., also being queer, migrant, trans*, poor, multiple-disabled, etc.)
  • Representation and visibility
  • Voice, silencing, erasure
  • Socialization, communication
  • Interdependence, healing, trauma
  • Violence and abuse
  • Resilience, power, reclamation, and solidarity

If you want more specific guidelines or concrete rules about submissions, contact Lydia Brown at lydia@autistichoya.com

* Note: If it was published somewhere else, you need to have the legal right to submit it here. 


If we choose your submission, we will use whatever name you want to appear. 


Email your writing to Lydia Brown at lydia@autistichoya.com. Submissions can be attachments or in the email. 


15 November 2014.


You will find out by December 1. If we choose one or more of your submissions, we will begin communicating with you about the editing process at that time.


We need to raise $10,000 to cover publishing and printing costs for the anthology. If you or someone you know can donate any amount of money, everything helps. Check out our fundraising video and donate online!


My name is Lydia Brown (though you might know me better as Autistic Hoya). I'm an activist and writer focusing on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, including hate crimes, policy brutality, and prisoner abuse. At present, I am serving on the board of the Autism Women's Network. I am also president and co-founder of the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective. I have worked with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's national office, and am a past Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership. In 2013, I was honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for disability rights. 

The mission of the Autism Women’s Network (AWN) is to provide effective supports to Autistic women and girls of all ages through a sense of community, advocacy and resources. AWN is committed to recognizing and celebrating diversity and the many intersectional experiences of Autistic women.  AWN welcomes all women, supporters of women, those who have at one time identified as women and non binary gender variant individuals.  AWN recognizes and affirms the gender identity of each individual.  AWN also welcomes the support and community of those who do not and have not identified as women as allies to support us in our work.


You can contact Lydia Brown, the editor, by email at lydia@autistichoya.com or by phone or text message at (202) 618-0187