Thursday, November 1, 2018

Guest Post Autistics Speaking Day Part 4

I'm a bit late to post these today, but they're important. I did not write them, as they clearly state. My friend Shaun did. They've been dealing with massive shit as a result of activisming while autistic and now you all get to read about it. If you are a person named here who behaved badly, well, if you wanted people to write warmly of you then you should have behaved accordingly. Content notes for sexual abuse, ableism, racism, antisemitism, a whole wide varieties of behaving badly.

Autistics speaking day guest post part 3

I'm a bit late to post these today, but they're important. I did not write them, as they clearly state. My friend Shaun did. They've been dealing with massive shit as a result of activisming while autistic and now you all get to read about it. If you are a person named here who behaved badly, well, if you wanted people to write warmly of you then you should have behaved accordingly. Content notes for sexual abuse, ableism, racism, antisemitism, a whole wide varieties of behaving badly.

I've given an overview of some of the stalking and harassment I've experienced, from one person in particular. The waters go much deeper than that, though.

Steve Lewis is the Board Chair of the Alliance of People with disAbilities, the federally-funded Center for Independent Living (CIL) for King County. Is--he remains in this position despite his public racist and eugenic comments. What is particularly troubling is, during his whole eugenic tirade and removal from the Commission, I actually worked at the Alliance.

Knowing the position of power he had puts him screaming at me, or remarking that if I were a dog I'd be put down, into a whole new light. It certainly created an unsafe work environment, and directly put my job at risk once I denounced him publicly.

Not content to simply create an unsafe work environment, though, after his removal Lewis began circulating a letter, trying to get every current and past Commissioner to sign it calling for my removal, chiefly on the grounds of "cyberbullying" him (in a final act of chauvinism, Lewis is insistent that I, as a white masculine person, must have controlled the women and non-binary POC who signed the letter against him). This included one of my co-workers, who he used his position to corner and pressure, and my direct supervisor--he actually showed up at her home. To their credit, both of these individuals refused to sign his letter.

I'm not going to outline who did sign, because at least one person has refuted it in writing and claims his signature was used without his consent, and another person (who has a cognitive disability) claims to have been manipulated and coerced into signing, and for the most part I think these individuals' later actions speak for themselves.

Lewis' letter wasn't taken too seriously, particularly since he immediately escalated to City Council instead of trying to address his issues with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). In the meantime, the Commission still had an atmosphere and culture of racism, misogyny, and ableism that many, many Commissioners had complained about in some combination. ChrisTiana ObeySumner and I, as the new co-Chairs, tried to address these issues, including having a 2-hour failed mediation with one individual over his remarks and behavior toward women and people of color.

Despite nearly a year of working with the Office of Civil Rights, and escalating some of the safety issues to City Council, nothing happened. Meanwhile, ObeySumner and I did our jobs as advocates--one of the issues that I highlighted in particular was the city's ableist plastic straw ban, instituted without any input from disabled people and over our continued objections (the ableism in the city's implementation could have its own article, but it's outside the scope of this narrative).

Then, in July, I was informed by OCR's liaison to the Commission, Marta Idowu, that the Mayor would not be reappointing me to the Commission. When I asked why, I was told it was because of my criticism of the city's straw ban and because I was "talking about lighting people on fire on the internet" (hilariously, the screenshots I was eventually sent were of someone in California complaining I used the word gaslight, which Idowu misinterpreted as a threat to light someone on fire).

Then, within 15 minutes, I was removed from the Commission's mail list, Facebook page, and website, as was Meg Bartosovsky, the other Commissioner-in-limbo. The connection between us was our posting of the straw ban on the Commission's Facebook page; removing us removed every Commissioner with Facebook access and immediately shut down the Commission's end of the dialogue in the critical first month of the city's ban.

I had a lot of questions about this. What were the reasons I was being removed, really (I would never be told)? Why did Steve Lewis get a month after spouting a racial slur in public, get a meeting and an opportunity to walk his comments back, and then get the courtesy of being told by the Mayor's office directly, while I wasn't even personally addressed or talked with. Could the Mayor's office hate mild criticism more than racism?

What made this retaliation even shittier was the fact that I've done a lot more than a typical Commissioner. I advocated for the first city ban of subminimum wage in the country, for which (and for my general commitment to addressing bias on the Commission) I was awarded as 2018 Advocate of the Year by Disability Rights Washington. The Mayor's office loves to take credit for this work--even though the Mayor didn't bother mentioning me or the Commission when she held a press conference on it--but not enough to keep around the disabled people who actually did the work.

I also Chair several committees and the Commission itself, successfully advocated against the expansion of involuntary sterilization, and organized an event amplifying disabled women of color. So given all that, why remove me? Why so fast? Why was Meg also removed?

The answer I got was that I wasn't removed, the Mayor merely declined to reappoint me. The Mayor's Boards and Commissions liaison, Evan Philip, claimed not to know why I wasn't being reappointed (and if he ever found out, he never bothered to tell me). But this raised its own questions:

If I was simply not being reappointed, why the fastest removal from everything in Commission history? Why not let me finish out my month and transition new leadership? Why not give the Commission a chance to put me in one of the Commission-appointed seats? In fact, the Commission had voted if the Mayor didn't want Meg Bartosovsky we would put her in a Commission-appointed seat; this action by OCR countermanded that (to my knowledge to date, Ms. Bartosovsky has never even been contacted to inform her she was removed from the Commission and why).

Fortunately, leadership of the Commission organized to keep me and Meg Bartosovsky involved. The leadership of the Commission was already writing a letter to Council about the lack of support from OCR; our sudden, undemocratic removal was folded into the issues we wanted to address with Councilmember Herbold, issues which were numerous and included concerns for our safety.

Autistics speaking day guest post part 2

I'm a bit late to post these today, but they're important. I did not write them, as they clearly state. My friend Shaun did. They've been dealing with massive shit as a result of activisming while autistic and now you all get to read about it. If you are a person named here who behaved badly, well, if you wanted people to write warmly of you then you should have behaved accordingly. Content notes for sexual abuse, ableism, racism, antisemitism, a whole wide varieties of behaving badly.

I think a lot of my friends wonder why I continue to bother with the Seattle Disability Commission considering what a hellish experience it's been. I bother because it's allowed me and others a platform to make some truly incredible change (and because I don't get to opt out of ableism anywhere). One of those changes was leading Seattle to become the first city government in the country to ban the payment of subminimum wages to disabled workers.

But this landmark came at a price.

To give a timeline, I presented to the Disability Commission from February-June 2017 about the issue. In June, we voted unanimously to advise the City to end the practice--based also on the unanimous community comment in support, and the lack of opposition from the individuals, families, and companies using legal subminimum wage programs in Seattle (one additional organization, the Northwest Center, declined to comment. They had several employees paid subminimum wage without authorization from the city, believing themselves to be exempt from city labor laws. It didn't go so well for them).

The city's Office of Labor Standards opened the rule up for public comment, ultimately issuing a rule change prohibiting new certificates in September 2017 (the two existing certificates expired December 31, 2017; CM Teresa Mosqueda would push through a law enshrining equal pay regardless of ability in April 2018).

My first unfortunate interaction with Cheryl Felak occurred in August of 2017. Felak is an abled parent of a developmentally disabled adult child; she is pro-institution (specifically affiliated with the Friends of Fircrest, one of Washington's 4 state-run large scale institutions), pro-segregation, pro-subminimum wage, and just about every other comically evil disability villain stereotype you can think of.

At the time, I was unaware of her history of harassment of staff of disability organizations, or her lack of appropriate boundaries with others, so I made the mistake of engaging her like a person and trying to answer her obvious confusion about the advocacy process or human rights in general. When she became abusive, I blocked her and moved on.

In the time since, she has made literally hundreds of blog posts and emails specifically slandering my name. She's contacted my employer multiple times and asked for my removal. She's contacted every city email she could find, and asked for my removal. She's contacted many others, advocates and friends, including my partner, to warn them what a terrible person I am. She has shown up in person at my job to demand my dismissal, as well as at meetings I attend (including the Commission). She's also taped me in private conversation without my knowledge or consent (illegal in WA state) and tried to physically prevent me from exiting the Commission room, probably hoping to entrap me into shoving past her to escape so she could claim to be attacked by the big bad autistic.

Her claims are really vague and move around a lot. The community (meaning paaarents) wasn't informed, she personally wasn't informed. That there is not a single Commissioner with an intellectual or developmental disability, that the Commission hasn't had a quorum since 2017 (both patently easy to disprove). That I've lied, that I've harassed and censored her (by blocking her from contacting me). There's a certain narcissism in seeing literally hundreds of disabled people oppose a practice but being certain you know more than all of them, but Felak's behavior goes well past narcissism and into something frightening. I consider the statistics around people like her who kill their disabled children and I realize people like her are a threat. At least one other disabled person, that I know of, has filed a police report when she threatened their well-being, and she has been banned from multiple online parenting spaces because of her inappropriate disregard for boundaries.

In June of 2018, I sent her a cease and desist letter. Her response was immediate, almost joyous: take legal action.

I did everything I was supposed to. I filed an anti-harassment suit wanting her to stop contacting me, approaching me, and coming to my place of work. Unfortunately, my case ended up before Judge Anne Harper.

In the middle of the proceedings, Felak produced her own bizarre anti-harassment order against me, demanding I keep away from her work and home (which I have never been to) and to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Unfortunately, Judge Harper denied me my due process rights and decided to hear both cases at once, without me even having a chance to read the accusations against me, yet alone have the required 2 weeks to process them.

The hearing turned into a 3-hour ordeal (5 hours total) where I had to explain and re-explain subminimum wage and employment policy, all while my community lawyer racked up fees. Felak also brought discredited white supremacist and eugenicist Steve Lewis, the Commission's former Co-Chair, to testify against me. Felak was actually allowed to read evidence off her phone, over my attorney's objections, without ever producing a paper record of her claims--Judge Harper claimed she wouldn't take into account anything that wasn't a paper record. Lewis was allowed to wax narcissistic about me engaging in "cyberbullying" to get him off the Commission by weaponizing his use of the n-word; Judge Harper allowed it as it "went to my character."

Ultimately, Judge Harper dismissed both cases by claiming that there was equal wrong on both sides--me, for censoring Felak on the Commission's Facebook page (I am neither that page's Admin nor do I work for the city; this is one of many in/actions by the Commission or City Felak attributes solely to me) and for failing to show Lewis respect by addressing him as "Dr. Lewis" (he didn't call me Commissioner Bickley or even Mr. Bickley; respecting Lewis' authority also has nothing to do with Felak's prolonged stalking).

Unfortunately, Judge Harper is unopposed for election next week. Run for public office if you have that privilege.

Harper did refer us to mediation over my disinterest, something Felak jumped on. I declined--there is no middle ground between "don't contact me" and "I want to contact you as much as I want," and I don't want to encourage her that disabled people's boundaries are negotiable anymore than she's been encouraged.

Felak continues to post about me regularly, encouraging others to contact my employer as she has. She's posted my personal phone number (something she acquired through a public records request I was not informed of; the city has not yet told me if they have given her my home address). Recently Felak learned I identify as non-binary (something I have never bothered communicating to her or correcting) and has made a series of bizarre posts calling me dogmatic and delusional for it.

I have some concerns about feeding the troll. Felak obviously loves the attention, and loves the sense of power harassment and stalking gives her over disabled people. But... Felak is a nurse at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She is going to continue to interact with disabled people, including queer and non-binary people she finds "delusional." She is a guardian of a vulnerable adult. And she is going to continue to stalk and harass disabled people, including me. I know she will find this posting titillating, but I hope it can serve as a beacon to others in the future.

And besides, she has made every effort to violate my privacy, publish my contact details, and encourage others to harass me. Someone like that is due to have the mirror of truth shone in her direction.

Guest post for Autistics Speaking Day-Part 1

I'm a bit late to post these today, but they're important. I did not write them, as they clearly state. My friend Shaun did. They've been dealing with massive shit as a result of activisming while autistic and now you all get to read about it. If you are a person named here who behaved badly, well, if you wanted people to write warmly of you then you should have behaved accordingly. Content notes for sexual abuse, ableism, racism, antisemitism, a whole wide varieties of behaving badly.

My name is Shaun Bickley, I'm an Autistic disability justice activist in Seattle. One of the vehicles I've used to do my work here is the Seattle Disability Commission, a body of volunteers appointed largely by the Mayor and City Council to advise the city on disability issues. In my time on the Commission but especially the last 14 months I've been subjected to ableist harassment, retaliation, and stalking because of my advocacy.

Unfortunately we live in a society where the law protects some people without restricting them, and restricts others without protecting them. By and large I fall into the second group, at least where these people are concerned. It's unlikely that my situation will change, not unless I concede and retreat from public life entirely (and I hope that doesn't happen).

But I can tell my story. And that will have to be enough.

Over a year of incidents has given me new insight into how people are worn down and simply quit after sustained systematic bullying. I will try and summarize, but I will have to tell my story out of sequence.

I'll start by explaining how ChrisTiana ObeySumner and I became the Commission Co-Chairs. Our predecessors were Steve Lewis and Cindi Laws. Laws was a wildly unpopular anti-Semite who bullied Commissioners into giving her her way. One of the things I remember most was her smug opposition to joining the LGBTQ Commission's call for Mayor Ed Murray to resign last year (Oregon CPS found that he had sexually abused his foster son and should never be allowed to foster again, something Murray didn't contest).

Steve Lewis was a different matter. In December of 2017, Washington courts were considered making it easier for a guardian to sterilize a person under guardianship without their consent, something currently only allowed by court order. Disability organizations rallied against it, unsurprisingly.

What did surprise me was Co-Chair Steve Lewis' vehement support for the procedure. So much so he went to the Seattle Women's Commission to lecture them about reproductive rights, in an illuminating 6-page screed that included comments like, "women with intellectual disabilities react inappropriately (sic) aggressively pursuing men." When members of the Disability Commission objected, he doubled down, refusing to even allow us a vote on opposition. Making his support for eugenics clear, he told Commissioner Dorian Taylor that "if people with developmental disabilities were dogs, (we) would be put down." Taylor, like ObeySumner and myself, are developmentally disabled.

In response, members of the Commission's two active committees at the time, Public Safety and Housing penned a letter to the Mayor's office and the Seattle Office of Civil Rights requesting the Co-Chairs' immediate removal.
In the end it probably wasn't any of that that was the final nail in the coffin: Lewis used the n-word at a professional dinner, which was reported to the city by none other than Kassiane Asasumasu (it's also worth noting in private conversation with me Lewis mentioned visiting the white supremacist website Stormfront).

The city gave him every opportunity to reverse himself: he met with the Mayor's office and corroborated his use of the slur, attempting to justify himself. Finally, a month after the call for his removal, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office removed him from his (Mayor-appointed) position in February of 2018. Cindi Laws (also Mayor-appointed) quit a few days before Lewis' impending removal. The following meeting, ChrisTiana ObeySumner and I were voted Co-Chair. ObeySumner is the first person of color ever to Co-Chair the Disability Commission; I was the first openly autistic person (though ChrisTiana has since come out as autistic).

So now, without white supremacists and eugenicists leading the Commission, everything would be fine, right?

Well, not quite...