Thursday, November 1, 2018

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.

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