Thursday, November 1, 2018

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.

No comments: