Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April, Autism, and Allies (Guest post by Nick Walker)

Editor's note: You can find more of Nick Walker's writing on his Neurocosmopolitanism blog. It's well worth the trip over there. Nick has been immensely influential on my growth as both a writer and an activist over the last year. I look forward to meeting him later this month, when we will both be speaking (with Ibby Grace of Tiny Grace Notes and Neuroqueer) at UIC in Chicago. Thank you, Nick, for writing this.

Every April, fear-mongering organizations like Autism $peaks - organizations that profit from stigmatizing, harming, and exploiting Autistic people - do a big publicity thing that they call "Autism Awareness Month." And every April, the Autistic community and their real allies counter by declaring "Autism Acceptance Month," calling for an end to the stigmatization, pathologizing, and fear-mongering, and, most of all, calling for people to stop supporting Autism $peaks.

And every time we post something asking people to stop supporting Autism $peaks, people argue with us about it. Some of them attack us, some try to engage us in debate, and even the most well-meaning ask the same question we've all heard so many times before: "What's wrong with Autism $peaks?"

Well, here's the thing. I'm a heterosexual man, and I do my best to be an ally to LGBTQIA people. Now, let's say I'm doing something that helps to promote or support an organization. Maybe I'm sharing that organization's stuff on Facebook, or participating in some mass publicity event of theirs. If I start hearing from gay people that the organization in question is harmful to gay people and that they'd rather I not give it my support... I'll withdraw my support from that organization IMMEDIATELY, and without question. I'll take down any links I've posted online that support that organization. If necessary, I'll post a public notice that I've withdrawn my support, in order to undo any damage I may have done by helping to publicize the organization.

Again, I will do this without question. I will not argue. I will not demand "proof" that the organization is doing harm to LGBTQIA people. FIRST I will withdraw my support from the organization. THEN, I will do a bit of research on my own, to find out what's wrong with the organization.

If I can't find a satisfactory answer on my own, and if I think that having answers would help me to be a better ally, then I'll very respectfully start asking friends within the LGBTQIA communities. And listening to their answers without arguing. But I won't even do that, until I've already completely withdrawn my support from the offending organization (including "unliking" their Facebook page, unfollowing them on Twitter, etc.). Until I've done that, I haven't even earned the right to burden my LGBTQIA friends with my questions, because I haven't yet started acting like a real ally.

So. Autistic people have spoken. If you're interested in being an ally to Autistic people, withdraw all support for Autism $peaks. Don't promote them in any way. Don't defend them. Don't try to silence their critics. Turn off your blue lights until May. Unlike their Facebook page. And don't ask us why. We've explained enough. Do it, or don't pretend you're our ally.