Thursday, November 1, 2018

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...

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