For our community, 2012 was a year of amazing milestones. We have witnessed incredible progress, both in terms of legal victories, as well as increased public visibility. Many community organizations, including Transgender Law Center, have recently celebrated or will soon be celebrating their 10th anniversary.
On a more personal basis, this year also marked the 10th anniversary of my own involvement with Transgender Law Center, which I’m very proud to have supported in a variety of ways since 2002.
Working and volunteering for TLC since the very beginning, when it was led by Christopher Daley and Dylan Vade, was an incredible experience for me at a time when I was new to the Bay Area, and the movement for transgender rights was only in its very earliest stages – and few of us would have even dreamed of achieving nationwide legal victories.
At the same time, the recollection of those early years is also a bit bittersweet for me because, in hindsight, I realize that I probably could have done a lot more as an activist had I not been entirely unaware of a disability for which I was not properly diagnosed until 2011.
The silver lining in all of this is that I have started reaching out and getting to know a lot of wonderful and enthusiastic advocates in the disability rights community, and have taken my first few tentative steps towards becoming a better cross-disability advocate.
It goes without saying that, for those of us who have struggled due to both LGBT status and a disability, the combined burden of all the inherent challenges can be particularly overwhelming. And, having been a part of the Bay Area community for the last 12 years, I am also very much aware that there is still a lot of advocacy needed when it comes to disability rights (both within LGBT circles and throughout all of society).
As a member of the LGBT Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, I look forward to working on disability rights issues with other LGBTAC members in the coming year; I am also very hopeful I will be able to convince other community leaders to work with disability advocates, to the extent that is possible, to help advance the rights of LGBT folks with disabilities and/or LGBT parents of disabled children.
In the meantime, I highly encourage everyone in our community to take a moment and consider the challenges faced by those of us with disabilities, and remember that not all disabilities are easily visible. This is especially true of neurological disabilities, which frequently put transgender and gender non-conforming folks at a great disadvantage even within the transgender community.
There are a lot of behaviors that would usually be interpreted in very negative ways when coming from a non-disabled person; sometimes, however, the same behaviors in people with neurological disabilities can simply be a consequence of that disability.
(As a brief aside, it is worth noting that any form of Autistic disability, contrary to recent news reports, is not actually considered a mental illness by the psychiatric community; rather, it is frequently referred to as a developmental disorder or a neurological disability)
To avoid inadvertently acting in ableist ways, it can be very helpful if non-disabled folks take a few minutes to get acquainted with some of the traits of people with neurological disabilities, and be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, to any extent that is humanly possible.
We have made a lot of progress for our community, but we must also be mindful that these advances shouldn’t be enjoyed primarily or exclusively by the non-disabled folks in our community. We have to work together to make sure everyone can enjoy a level playing field, and in so doing, we can contribute to making our community even stronger and more inclusive.