Creating Change Award Acceptance Speech, February 2008
Can also be found on the S.O.N.G. website.
Thank you to NGLTF for honoring me with one of the Creating Change awards.
I think it is important to say that I’m here today as a young, queer, disabled, API woman of color transracial and transnational adoptee, living and organizing in the Southeast–none of which are more or less important than each other. I use the term “disabled,” not just as a descriptive term, but as a political identity, experience and way of understanding the world. And I don’t know if many of you know this, but I’ve just learned that I am the second disabled person and the first disabled person of color to be honored with this award.
I want to honor all of the queer disabled folks who are here and honor the disabled folks who are not here with us, but who are resisting and surviving the devastating affects of ableism everyday, especially those who are LGBT/queer, people of color, institutionalized, living in rural areas, and who couldn’t afford to attend this conference. Those of us who know that we cannot separate heterosexism from ableism and allow disability issues to be seen as secondary issues. Those of us who push disability into the conversation, even when it is hard and unpopular. Those of us who are not part of the non-profit industrial complex and who don’t work for an organization, but who’s activism and work is no less valuable. Those of us who are living at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and disability and know that multi issue politics are not just a winning strategy, but indeed, they are the only way that we will survive.
We all need to bring disability into our work and confront ableism as a major system of oppression that works, hand in hand with heterosexism to oppress queer people. We can not talk about bodies with out talking about disability. It means something to be queer and disabled
Now, I want you all to know, that access at this conference has been hard for a lot of my fellow LGBT/Queer people with disabilities. From accessibility of conference rooms, to the layout and structure of this building, flash photography, to the lack of closed captioning on the large screens. And I say this, not to shame or blame anyone, but I say this because we should all know what is going on in OUR community; in this space that we ALL participate in creating. And when members of our community are not able to bring their full selves to the table that is a problem, especially when this should be a space for them to do so. I share this with you because it can not only be the Disability Oppression and Access Committee and the Accessibility Subcommittee of the Creating Change Host Committee who has these conversations. These are critical conversations for us all to be having. We all need to acknowledge the small and big ways we participate in making it harder for someone else to exist.
And it goes beyond access, beyond just making things accessible–just bringing people in. Like moving from progressive LBGT politics to a politic of queer liberation. We have to talk about the culture of ableism that exists within our movements, the way our parties and leisure time are structured, the way we think about people’s capacity and how we perpetuate this idea that we must push ourselves and our bodies to the point of exhaustion. Mingling at a reception is very difficult when you are trying to balance a drink and food and conversation and music and lighting and space among other things.
Ableism must be included in our analysis of oppression and in our conversations about heterosexism, transphobia, and homophobia. Ableism cuts across all of our movements because ableism dictates how bodies should function against a mythical able-bodied standard of white supremacy, heterosexism, sexism, economic exploitation, moral/religious beliefs, age and ability. Ableism set the stage for queer and trans people to be institutionalized as mentally disabled; for intersexed babies to be routinely operated on at birth; for communities of color to be understood as less capable, smart and intelligent, therefore “naturally” fit for slave labor; for women’s bodies to be used to produce children, when, where and how men needed them; for PWD to be seen as “disposable” in a capitalistic and exploitative culture because we are not seen as “productive;” for immigrants to be thought of as a “disease” that we must “cure” because it is “weakening” our country; for violence, cycles of poverty, lack of resources and war to be used as systematic tools to construct disability in communities and entire countries.
And you know, there are still many people who have disabilities who don’t “come out” as disabled, who don’t recognize (or are afraid to voice that recognition) the power of their experience as being valuable, political and fierce! And we cannot be part of that kind of ableist oppression. We must work to be radical allies–to commit to learning, asking and doing more. We must not allow ourselves to use ableist language or to reinforce the idea that somehow having a disability makes you less than, boring, unimportant, ugly, or “other”– when in fact, being disabled makes you awesome, the life of the party, hot, beautiful and sexy!
And I don’t believe this everyday, and actually, I struggle a lot (a lot) to get there–when I keep forgetting that I am worth something and have to keep searching and asking and finding my way back. But the truth is, this is the work: to hold the vision and dream of what is possible and to incorporate it into our lives. To love ourselves and each other enough to risk helping each other back to that place of hope, to keep returning, returning to what we know is important: that we can not do this work alone and that the process is just as important as the outcome and informs who we are and the work we do. There’s a quote I love and it says: “in doing, one becomes the do-er.” And this is my work, our work: to DO–to practice community, justice and liberation which IS community, justice and liberation.
So I would like to accept this award on behalf of all the queer disabled women of color out there who are searching for services, books, movements, caucuses, communities that can hold all of who we are; on behalf of the radical transracial adoptee movement that is building a body of work, rooted in people’s lived experiences to critique and challenge transracial and transnational adoption; on behalf of all of us on the front lines of gender, sexuality and building relationships and ways of loving that are not rooted in ownership and entitlement of our bodies; on behalf of all the folks in the south and south east who are organizing and resisting and loving and healing and building each day; and for everyone, who struggles for and DOES liberation.