17 December 2016

I don't trust allies and I'm not sorry.

Content/TW: Graphic descriptions of severe workplace bullying and abuse of an autistic person for being autistic.

In February 2013, New York City Councilman Vincent J. Gentile released a public letter and press release demanding the return of the 120 New York residents who were locked up in the Judge Rotenberg Center torture hellhole at the time. At the time, Gentile described JRC varying (and accurately) as a “barbaric facility,” “an institution which subjects its students to these cruel and unusual forms of ‘behavior modification,’” and “[an institution] in gross violation of the most fundamental standards of humane treatment of people with disabilities.”

One year later, Michael Bistreich began work as Gentile's Legislative and Budget Director. Michael is autistic, like many of the people formerly and currently in the JRC. He was forced to resign in June 2016 after being demoted and losing a raise for fabricated reasons, two and a half years after beginning work, after his co-workers, supervisor, and Gentile himself spent almost the entire time abusing him.

Photo: Michael Bistreich (who seems white or white passing), sitting on a couch with his hand on his emotional support bunny. 

Among other things reported in various news sources reporting on the lawsuit he's just filed, the chief of staff once locked Michael in a basement; the councilman repeatedly asked him if he could look into “upping your medications” to stop “twitching” because “you annoy me” and “when you twitch like that, it's annoying to people;” Gentile laughed openly at another employee's joke that they should “test the doors” in case Michael would “elope;” and staff coordinated a mass decapitation of his stuffed animals (teddy bears) that he kept on his desk for comfort (the ones he told his fellow co-workers he “identified with and emotionally valued”), even impaling one's head on a flagpole and “a stuffed animal dog that was gutted and impaled and had red coloring around its slit stomach, mouth and eyes to resemble blood” -- which left Michael in the conference room for an hour in shock and horror.

(Because, you know, stimming is such an inconvenience and source of discomfort for non-disabled people. So abusing someone to force them to stop stimming is totally okay. Not like you're expressing open opposition to an autistic person's right to exist as autistic or anything.)

Bullying and abuse don't stop with middle school’s merciful end. And they are absolutely not limited to the people who publicly express hateful opinions about disabled people (or autistic people specifically), but in fact, are at least, if not more, common and pervasive among people who are supposedly “allies” to autistic people. What Gentile did, allowed, and approved of is horrific and fucked up beyond all reason, but what stands out to me is the juxtaposition of his apparent advocacy on behalf of disabled New Yorkers trapped and tortured in the JRC with his abuse of his own employee. The people put out there as “allies” are so, so, so often the first and most likely people to be the most abusive and violent toward autistic people. whether that's the parents and other relatives who murder their autistic (and other disabled) family members, or the well-documented abuse/assaults targeting prominent autistic activist Kassiane Sibley, or the special education teachers or therapists responsible for violent restraints and seclusion behind closed classroom or institution doors.

I don't trust nondisabled, non-autistic people who claim to be allies, because Vincent Gentile is an elected official who spoke publicly and of his own volition against the evil that is JRC because of its inhumane treatment of disabled people, while simultaneously being an extremely abusive boss who preyed on his openly autistic employee just because he could, and did so with malice and deliberate knowledge about his victim's neurology, using autism as a means to target him.

(Another aspect to the bullying and abuse is undoubtedly the fact that Michael is not only autistic, but also seems fat based on the pictures posted online of him, and anyone who is perceived as fat is so incredibly likely to end up on the receiving end of abuse and brazen mockery. I noticed this trend in multiple school settings where the kids who were both disabled and fat got hit with a special kind of bullying that the thin disabled kids, like me, didn't.)

Vincent Gentile is clearly a hypocrite, but he is absolutely not some extraordinary exception or a standout example of a workplace abuser or disability advocate/ally hypocrite. Almost every autistic person I know who has ever had jobs has stories and stories of workplace bullying, harassment, abuse, and ostracism. Almost every disabled activist, advocate, or organizer I know has heaps of stories of nondisabled “advocates/allies” who routinely talk over, dismiss, and attack actually disabled people (and yes, I most definitely also mean physically, or with threats of physical attack). I have plenty of these stories too. And what's the worst about reading shit like this is the reminder that some absurd number of people I know right now are dealing with similar ableist, fucked-up bullshit in their own workplaces when they're lucky/privileged enough to get a job, and that no amount of fancy degrees or professional clothes or affected intellectual speech or, whatever, can disguise someone's otherness (from any marginalized identity/experience) to a professional predator.

If you're one of those nondisabled advocate/ally people, and you wonder why autistic and other disabled folks are so angry or bitter or resentful, or so quick to judge, just take a gander at Vincent Gentile. He's a perfect example of very well-placed distrust, because we've witnessed it over and over again, that the people most likely to twist the rusty, serrated knife in the back are the ones who profess most publicly to be our allies. I don't trust allies and I'm not sorry.