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Disablism in GBTIQ+ Spaces

With many thanks to pseudodeviant for sharing this with us, first published on Crip the Planet.

Queer Theory has provided a really useful lens for examining the marginalising effects of existing in ways that deviate from societal norms. As a Queer Crip I found that it not only helped me find new ways to understand my sexuality and gender, but that it helped me think differently about how disablement impacted my life, both personally and systemically. I started noticing that the boundaries between my experience as a queer person and a disabled person were blurry to say the least; sure homophobia feels different to disablism, but the root cause, that deviation from what our society expects a person to be (non-disabled, straight, cisgendered, often white & male too), was the same.

It’s one of the reasons I feel so hurt by the amount of casual and systemic disablism I experience from the LGBTIQ+ community. One of the ways that this community has learned to validate itself is to set itself in opposition to disability; “I’m not crazy, it’s who I am!”, “I’m not deluded, this is my gender”, “I don’t have a mental health condition” said with a sneer, “I’m normal, not broken like them”, “My needs require radical social solutions. Disabled people just need fixing”. The often visceral rejection of disability, of other people with bodies and minds, feelings & desires that either function or are structured in a way that doesn’t meet societal norms, seems strange at best, and cruel at worst. It’s especially hard when you are a disabled queer, expected to denigrate part of your being (being a disabled person) to validate another (being queer).

Before we dive in, I should say that yes, I am well aware that these issues are just expressions of disablism in the wider world, none are completely exclusive to the LGBTIQ+ community (heck, I could write the same about some neurodivergent activists that wish to no longer be seen as disabled because they aren’t broken us crips). LGBTIQ+ spaces are one of the few places I feel like I can be my queer self, and therefore I have a massively vested interest in wanting to do my bit to challenge the way casual and systemic disablism is an accepted part of the way we fight for LGBTIQ+ liberation.

A Quick History

Why is it like this? Well a lot of it has to do with the history of campaigning around queer issues. I’m going to have to do this in a nutshell, because queer history is as vast a topic as the history of humanity. Historically homosexuality was seen as being intrinsically linked with sin; the church condemned such “sodomites” as immoral and unnatural. You see similar in the history of disablism with the notion that we were cursed, possessed, or otherwise deviant beings, suffering in some way for moral failings. Then came the move to understand and naturalise homosexuality, by suggesting it is a biological reality. We were “born this way”, we can’t help who we are, God made us this way. No longer is it the dominant narrative that sin is responsible, it’s now an “individual tragedy” of genetics. Of course, this led to LGBTIQ+ people being increasingly seen in a very similar way to how most see disabled people; as objects of pity that it is morally right for a compassionate society to “fix”. Like it or not, it’s for their own good. Homosexuality & being transgender became psychological & physiological impairments, and intersex bodies became “choices” for parents. Medical attempts at conversion and treatment began, rather than allowing for queer liberation. This had very real, very harmful implications. A friend reminded me that an example of this was clearly seen during the AIDS crisis, when a lot of funding was seen going to organisations that wanted to “cure” homosexuality instead of the disease. From the start of the process of medicalisation, demands grew for society to be the thing that changed, accepting the community, rather than converting the individual. Some groups under the umbrella achieved “official” demedicalisation faster than others; homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973, while the World Medical Organisation (WHO) waited until 1990 to remove it from the ICD. The WHO only removed “Transexualism” from the ICD in 2018, and gender dysphoria is still a DSM classification while writing this in 2020.

Because these fights for demedicalisation are very recent (and in the case of things like the gender dysphoria in DSM, and the forced assignment of binary genders to intersex children are still ongoing), the language of those campaigns is still firmly embedded in the community. Given how many still see queer bodies as inherently immoral, it should come as no surprise, given the history, that there remain people who think queer folks have a “treatable” disease no matter what the WHO might say. The issue is not that we LGBTIQ+ people want social support and acceptance and an end to unnecessary and harmful medical interventions, it is that a lot of the language used to argue for this is disablist, and reinforces disablist narratives.

I’m going to look at two of those narratives in a bit more detail now.

Image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay

Medical Conditions are insults

“Being gay isn’t like being mad, being gay is normal because it doesn’t hurt anyone”

This feels very obvious to me, but I feel I should start with the most basic point: There will never be liberation for the LGBTIQ+ community while its disabled members are still oppressed. Its disabled members will continue to be oppressed while anyone in society, including LGBTIQ+ people, denigrate disabled people because they are still pathologised and medicalised. As a mad crippled queer, the knowledge that many of my queer sibs see the idea of being compared to me as some dire insult is at once infuriating and deeply upsetting. Especially coming from a community that was once seen as being like me until society changed its mind. Instead of showing solidarity with those of us still left behind, contempt is shown instead.

To reinforce the idea that there are “acceptable” bodies and minds is not helpful to either community. It is crucial to challenge the norms which say some bodies/minds aren’t acceptable. The LGBTIQ+ community is still actively trying to challenge this with regards to LGBTIQ+ people, but will keep being held back while it still reinforces this norm by affirming that there are people (some of whom are queer themselves) that should still be deemed unworthy of acceptance. As long as there are socially acceptable ways of calling the functioning of some bodies and minds “wrong”, the LGBTIQ+ community will always be skating on thin ice with regards to their own liberation.

Reinforcing these ideas is a harmful thing.

Social models for us, not you

“We’re not crazy or sick, LGBTIQ+ need social support & acceptance, not to be medically labeled”

Here we look at the notion that LGBTIQ+ marginalisation comes from society not accepting them and making it hard to get things like the appropriate medical support they need, while disabled people’s marginalisation stems from their inherent wrongness.

There is a pervasive notion that, while LGBTIQ+ people won’t be truly liberated until there is wholesale social change so people can accept and affirm the nigh infinite ways an individual’s gender, attraction, and sexuality present (or don’t), disabled people just need “fixing”. This simplistic approach does no one any favours. Of course there are disabled people out there that would like relief from undesirable impairment symptoms (pain, fatigue, frightening visions, high stress etc…), but even if you magically got rid of those, the majority of us would still be seen as impaired. People would still develop impairments and become disabled. We would still require aids and adaptations and access to medical care (which is a social issue in and of itself). The negative stereotypes about disability would still exist. We would still be marginalised, we’d just be in less pain while it happened. Much like LGBTIQ+ people, us crips also need widespread social change to be liberated. I get very frustrated listening to LGBTIQ+ people try to argue that their marginalisation comes from society not accepting them and making it hard to get things like the medical support they need, while disabled people’s marginalisation stems from their inherent wrongness. Disabled people that need medical interventions to help manage impairments are apparent proof of this, while LGBTIQ+ folks that need them to help live their lives are somehow different. I’ve tried to pick into the reasons that one should be considered impaired and the other not; that one should be considered disabled and the other not; and I draw a blank. I struggle to see how the LGBTIQ+ community can suggest that there is a need for a social model of difference/queerness/impairment for a dysphoric trans person undergoing a medical transition to manage a body that causes a degree of emotional/physical suffering & additional marginalisation, but not for a disabled person taking medication, or having prosthesis fit to manage a body that causes a degree of emotional/physical suffering & additional marginalisation. Where is the difference? What answers are there that don’t drip with disablist tropes where we are broken, subhuman, suffering, wrong, unnatural, dull & ugly? If you have one I’d like to know because this genuinely gets to me as a queer (and genderqueer) crip.

In saying all this I want to stress that I do not seek to undo the progress of the Trans community by pointing out the similarities in aspects of our struggles. More I seek to point out that there isn’t a distinct line that can be drawn between our struggles. I’m not trying to deny transphobia and homophobia existing, or argue that they should be re-medicalised. I am suggesting that LGBTIQ+ and disabled peoples’ transgression of societal norms around mental & bodily structure/function/feelings/desire are very similar, and both require those norms to be thoroughly challenged. That disabled people also require social interventions, especially when they have had any medical interventions they personally want to have to help manage/alleviate any symptoms they might find undesirable, and are now simply trying to live their lives as disabled people.

Reproduced Disablism

I want to leave this piece by talking a bit about some of the core disablism that is reproduced by talking about disabled people and queer liberation like this.

  • That disabled LGBTIQ+ people aren’t a part/ aren’t an important part of the LGBTIQ+ community.
  • That to exist with an impairment, as a disabled person, is so widely understood to be a negative thing that to suggest it to someone is to insult them.
  • Disabled People’s bodies/minds are in some way unnatural and abnormal, even though impairments are extremely common, often part of evolution, something that generally develops in us all as we age and so on.
  • To be disabled is to be an aberration that needs either correcting through doctors or spiritual interventions, or if that fails, some sort of tragedy that dooms the individual to the lowest class of existence. Immediately othering and marginalising disabled people.
  • To no longer be seen as a disabled person, to no longer be seen as impaired, to be seen as “normal” is a goal that should be held by all people that are classified as having impairments.
  • That disabled people can be liberated by medicine making them “normal” (where normal is the current capitalist construction of how an ideal worker/commodity’s body should be structured, think and function) or as close to “normal” as possible. Something queer theory explicitly argues against.
    • That this should go beyond helping those who wish to alleviate pain or other individually undesirable symptoms of their impairment, and that medical interventions to make them “normal” should be imposed on all.
    • This never mentions how the people that can’t be medically “normalised” enough to fit within society’s norms then can’t be liberated, leaving them as a perpetual underclass.

I’ve not dedicated any space to talking about disablism in the form of frequently inaccessible spaces, and the additional pressures in many parts of the community to conform to specific bodily standards that are unattainable for many disabled people. This is in part because I think they are a symptom of underlying disablism and living in a neoliberal society. It’s also in part because this post has gotten long and I think it’s time to stop

😉

To try and summarise all of this, I believe that disablism is still rife in LGBTIQ+ spaces & communities. I think one of the ways we can help combat this is to challenge the idea that there is a clear and distinct boundary between disablist oppression and homophobia & transphobia. There is at least a partial overlap because of a common root; both groups are seen to deviate from societal norms around bodily form and function, and expression of thoughts and feelings. As a result both groups experience moral & spiritual judgement for their difference, both experience a conflict between wanting access to any chosen medical interventions and not wanting to have medical interventions forced upon them, both want social change and to challenge norms, both have to deal with difficult stereotypes about their sexuality and attraction. Another way is to ensure that compassion, respect and solidarity arealso built where differences lie. We are stronger together, compassion is punk AF and smashing social norms is revolutionary

🙂

pseudodeviant
West Midlands, UK
A queer crip navigating the wor
ld

Wrong Girl: childhood and gender conditioning

Many thanks for sharing this piece with us, friend who wishes to remain anonymous. First published on Letter to Gender Critical Activists

There’s something I have been pondering, since reading this blog, on Letters:
https://letter.wiki/conversation/896

Mainly I’m pondering the question, how cleverly it wasn’t directly answered, and why.

It’s occurred to me that many people may not realise that many transgender children are not socialised in the exact same way as our non transgender peers. Therefore to assume we were raised the same way as people assigned the same sex as us, is a mistake. As the above article says, beautifully, we *fail* the gendered socialisation.

I cannot speak for anyone else, especially not transgender women. I can say that, anecdotally, my experience seems not that dissimilar to others in terms of the fact that our childhood socialisation is often different to that of our non transgender peers and siblings.

I am not an academic, so this will not be a peer reviewed piece linking evidence. This is a personal anecdote about my experience. No doubt there are proper evidential things within the plethora of gender studies work.

I do not usually discuss my personal life, hence choosing a faceless blog.

Content note for short references to sexualisation and to parental bullying and violence.

As soon as I realised sex existed and gendered ways of doing things, it was clear to me I was a wrong girl.

It was clear because my mother made it very clear that I kept doing it wrong.

Toys are not gender, but pay attention to the behaviour.

The first Christmas I remember, I wanted a football. I was nearly 4. We didn’t own one.

Instead I got a kitchen unit and a tea set. I think a lot of parents aren’t so gendered about toys now, and that’s great. Girls can play with anything.

My mum explained that Santa brought it, because I’m a little girl, my brother is a little boy. So, it was obvious to me that Santa didn’t realise I’m a wrong girl… That secretly I’m a boy and nobody has noticed.

It’s the first time I remember thinking it, as I don’t remember it starting. I remember because I thought Santa knew, as he even knows things our parents don’t. I felt surprised, and a bit sad.

I tried so hard that day to be a good girl, I made so much water tea until they made me stop and told me off. I got the message that I still wasnt getting it right. I felt so anxious and guilty, as I dont want them to know I’m not a girl.

After this, I start trying to pretend to be a girl. When I can remember.

I get told off, and sometimes hit, for a number of gendered misbehaviours not excluding sitting wrong, standing wrong, being to brash, being too loud, talking too much, being too intelligent, not having enough common sense, asking too many questions, being too opinionated, walking wrong, falling over too much, getting too dirty, playing with nature, playing marbles, climbing trees, damaging my clothes, not playing with girls, the list is endless and many of you can list it yourselves.

Did you think, gosh being a girl is pants? Did you think, is a boy being better? Did you think, this is just how it is for girls? Did you ever wonder what being a boy is like? What did you think, as I’m sure I don’t know. Please reply if you like :-).

I just kept thinking, “I’m not a girl and I’m in deep shit when they realise”. I feared being thrown away, as they were clearly angry enough at me, just for being a ‘wrong girl’.

I started to fear puberty. I was convinced that one day I would begin to grow a beard that wouldn’t stop and I didn’t know how to get a razor because I was only 6. Then they would all know.

😊

Maybe some girls do think this, I’d love to know.

Then I had a little sister and she was perfect. A “real girl”. Soon she was a great comparison for our mum.

When you keep getting your gendered behaviour wrong, the training gets more often and tougher. They try to hyper gender you, or give up, or a bit of both.

My little sister got it right from the beginning somehow, and I wondered about it. How did she know?

Any butches (butch women and trans butches) reading will no doubt be familiar with “having to wear a dress” for family / special event / function / school / etc, and I share that horrible experience.

At the same time, sometimes I wanted beautiful sparkly clothes and things, but I would be told I can’t have them, because I would just spoil them. I climbed a tree once in my favourite dress, I got in a lot of trouble. I secretly kept it, and still own it.  Can’t win for losing.

Proper girls like my sister have those nice things, but not me.

😊

My interest in all kinds of clothes remains

As you get older, if you are still getting your gendered behaviour wrong, it can get worse.

I have a much hated photograph of myself at 12 years old, still actually trying to “be a girl” so hard that I look ridiculous. I still feel humiliated, just seeing it.

Some of us trans folk may be pushed towards early sexualisation, with whoever people think our ‘correct’ sex, or gender is. I won’t discuss that here, as the consequences are well known to feminism, and extend to most transgender people too (of all backgrounds). In our case just add in a little “It’s to straighten you out”. Like other LGBTQ+ people.

By the time I realised I wasn’t going to grow into a man, I was just in time to dread my actual puberty – and hate that with all the passion of many other transgender people (also well well documented, not going into that here). I seem to have similar dysmorphic view of my body as many other trans folk, although I don’t want to change it. I have a whole different body in my head, so I don’t care.

Around then, puberty, I remember just wanting to tell people to call me “A person”. Wanting all of sex and gender just to leave me the hell alone.

And there I stay.

All of the common ground above we have, but one thing is very different, surely.

I did not experience sex and gender socialisation as a girl. As soon as I was given it, I knew it wasn’t mine. I experienced it knowing I wasn’t a girl. Right from go. Or rather – believing I was other, wrong, and very confused about it all.

I didn’t experience my childhood gender training as a girl. I experienced it as other. Instead of thinking why are girls treated this way, I thought, “I shouldn’t be treated this way because I’m not a girl.”

This means our experiences will differ in important ways. Especially around my ability to understand women’s issues.

I cannot tell you all the differences, only you can tell me, in a way, but maybe if we talk together kindly in a space without judgement, we can find out.

And while we’re doing so, we could consider whether it’s at all fair to assume that any transgender people are raised like other same-sex children, or gender socialised like other children, and especially whether we experience it the same way non transgender people do.

I think this is the basis of many wrong assumptions, which make it hard to even ask the right questions about what is going wrong between us.

In solidarity: Black Disabled Lives Matter

image of a black fist with a loop in a figure 8 joining fist with an orange background.  Text on wrist 'Black Disabled Lives Matter' with @jtknoxroxs in the right hand bottom corner
Black Disabled Lives Matter with thanks to @jtknoxroxs for the imag

Sisters of Frida stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement globally and in the UK. We cannot do that without including Disabled Black Lives.

Racism and ableism are intertwined.

From deaths in custody to the hostile environment, from the school
exclusions to austerity policies, Black lives and, in particular, Black Disabled lives are devalued by systemic and structural racism and ableism. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare health inequalities in the UK: Black people are four times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white people
and deaths of people learning difficulties have gone up by 134% during the pandemic.

We fight for a world where Black Disabled women are valued, cherished and can thrive in our communities.

Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us

The UN Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) published its concluding observations following its first review of the UK government’s compliance with the Convention. We contributed to the report and went to Geneva, as volunteers, to ensure that violations of disabled women’s rights were given attention. The Committee highlighted many areas of concerns which explicitly or indirectly affect disabled women, but we’ve highlighted three key themes below.

 

1) Involvement of Disabled Women: Nothing about us without us

 

We share the Committee’s concern that disabled women and girls’ rights “have not been systematically mainstreamed into both the gender equality and disability agenda” and support its specific recommendation to “adopt inclusive and targeted measures, including disaggregated data” to prevent the multiple and intersectional discrimination we face.

 

Mainstreaming our rights, requires our involvement. We therefore also welcome the Committee’s recommendation to allocate “financial resources to support organisations representing [disabled women]” and develop mechanisms to ensure our involvement in planning and implementing law which affects our lives. For example, we were not consulted on the drafting of the coercive abuse offence in the Serious Crime Act. If we had, we would have been able to show how the ‘best interests’ defence for carers dangerously undermines the rights and safety of disabled women and people with learning disabilities.

 

Strategies need to be measured, financed and monitored. We therefore welcome the Committee’s recommendation for mechanisms to support our involvement in the design of strategies to implement the Convention through “measurable, financed and monitored strategic plans of action”. Measurability requires the collection of disaggregated data and this has been repeatedly called for by UN rapporteurs. Gaps in data mask the multiple discrimination faced by disabled women.

 

2) Multiple and Intersectional Discrimination

 

Disabled women experience sexism and dis/ableism in our everyday lives, along with many other forms of oppression (eg. based on age, sexual orientation, economic status and migrant status). Here’s an example to illustrate. A visually impaired woman cannot access information on an NHS website due to inaccessibility. This is disability discrimination, but is gender-neutral. However, lack of access to family planning services is clearly gender and disability discrimination. If she is actually a teenage girl living in a remote indigenous community, clearly intersections of multiple aspects of her identity operate to exacerbate the disadvantages she faces.

 

This is why the Convention specifically addresses the rights of disabled women in Article 6. It requires the Government to recognize that disabled women and girls face multiple discrimination. It’s therefore crucial that the Government implement the Committee’s recommendation to explicitly incorporate protection from “multiple and intersectional discrimination” in national legislation. Whether it’s routine GP appointments, cervical testing or maternity care, disabled women constantly struggle to access medical services, so we strongly support the Committee’s recommendation to develop “targeted measurable and financed” strategies to eliminate barriers in access to health care and services and to measure their progress.”

 

3) Access to Justice

Our rights are worthless if they are unenforceable or ignored. The barriers with the justice system are procedural, financial and accessibility-related and stop us from bringing claims to enforce our civil rights, count against us in proceedings (eg divorce and family matters) and prevent us from reporting criminal abuse against us.

 

We therefore strongly support the Committee’s recommendations:

  • to develop training for the judiciary and law enforcement personnel. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has already noted concerns about “women being deemed unfit mothers for having ‘failed to protect’ their children from an abusive parent”. Ignorant, counterproductive and damaging comments and actions by judges and police must end.
  • to provide “free or affordable legal aid” for disabled people in all areas of law. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women has specifically noted concern about the evidential requirements to apply for legal aid and the consequences for family law problems.

 

The many other areas of concern noted by the Committee can be read here

 

Next Steps

 

We were disappointed by the lack of media attention given to the 17-page catalogue of shame but the disabled community, including the DPOs, continue to valiantly highlight the UN’s findings.

 

Whilst we welcome the Committee’s recommendation for the UK Government to produce annual reports on its progress, we fear it will be another exercise of denial and lack data, evidence or understanding of intersectional discrimination.

 

We, Sisters of Frida, are preparing for CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) and working with other women’s organisations on this. In the meantime, we are joining the ENIL Freedom March in Brussels and will raise it with our MEPs as to how they will be responding to protecting disabled women on VAWG as the Istanbul Convention is being ratified by the UK government.

 

Vivienne Hayes MBE, CEO of the Women Resource Centre says:

“The last time Sisters of Frida went with the UK CEDAW Working Group to Geneva, we noted in our oral statement that women of all ages and backgrounds in the UK are facing threats to their rights but this does not have to be the case if government policies are created in partnership with women’s NGOs and include a gendered perspective. This will ensure that there is not a long-term legacy of discrimination against women, and will also impact on the future economy.

 

In 2017, Sisters of Frida note that disabled women are acknowledged as still facing the same level of discrimination in the UNCRPD Concluding Observations. We call upon the UK government to honour its commitment to women’s rights and work with us to establish a clear and inclusive mechanism in order to bring women’s voices into the heart of government.”

 

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Co-Director of the Women’s Budget Group said:

 

‘We know that disabled women have been hit particularly badly by austerity policies over the last seven years. Disabled women have lost income through cuts to both specific disability benefits but also to housing benefit, tax credits and benefits for children. Cuts to public services including social care, health, education and transport budgets have all disproportionately affected disabled women.

The Public Sector Equality Duty, contained in the 2010 Equality Act, places a positive obligation on all public authorities to have due regard to the impact of their policies and practices on equality. Despite this the government have failed to publish meaningful assessments of the cumulative impact of austerity on equality.

We call on the government to meet both their obligations under both domestic and international law to ensure that their policies meet the needs of disabled women’

 

Sarah Green, Co-Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition said:

 

“It is known that disabled women are disproportionately subjected to sexual and domestic violence by perpetrators of these crimes, and that disabled women face additional barriers to escaping and staying safe, and even in being believed.

 

“International human rights treaties require our Government to ensure that disabled women’s needs are specifically considered and addressed when implementing policy on policing and preventing violence. Following the UN CRDP inquiry into the UK’s performance in this area, we need to hear assurances from the UK Government that disabled women’s needs are known and are made part of policy and practice in relation to ending and preventing abuse.”

 

Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters said:

 

‘Leave no woman behind’ is an important development and human rights goal that is central to achieving gender equality and one to which the UK government claims to be committed. But in the UK this goal remains largely rhetorical as the most vulnerable women – those with disabilities and multiple needs – are rendered marginalised and invisible by increasingly harsh economic and social welfare measures. Disabled women’s needs and rights are being gravely and systematically violated by the UK government. Why else do we see such an appalling lack of access to emergency shelters, secure housing and welfare rights, education, work, health and counselling facilities for disabled women who are also fleeing domestic violence? If the UK wants to be recognised as a leader in disability and human rights, it must develop laws, policies and strategies that enhance the rights of all women. This means understanding and addressing the overlapping and intersecting forms of discrimination such as race, gender and disability that create additional vulnerabilities and barriers for women. Sadly this government is unlikely to turn its rhetoric on achieving a ‘fairer’ society into reality but we are ready to stand with our disabled sisters to shame the government into action.

 

Lee Eggleston on behalf of Rape Crisis England and Wales said:

 

‘Disabled women who have experienced sexual violence make up a quarter of Rape Crisis service users – which is an indication of how disproportionately disabled women are impacted by sexual violence, often by their own carers. The voice and engagement of specialist organisations run by and for disabled women, like Sisters of Frida and Stay Safe East, is essential to the CEDAW process in raising awareness of sexual violence to the Committee.’

 

Zarin Hainsworth OBE, Chair,  National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

 

Disabled women  face multiple disadvantage in being able to participate as fully as they wish in all aspects of their lives – social, as well as political and economic .  The CEDAW Committee made recommendations in their concluding observations to their last report that would improve the capacity of women in the UK to access health care and justice but little has been achieved and austerity policies combined with a lack of specific attention to the issues faced by disabled women, make these more not less distant goals.  Indeed, disabled women – especially those with learning disabilities who are also likely to experience mental ill-health – continue to face the loss of their babies at birth.

We strongly support NAWO members, Sisters of Frida, in their campaign for focused attention by the UK Government on the needs and concerns of disabled women and girls.’

 

 

We would be happy to hear from others, individuals and/or organisations, who would like to join us in our campaign for disabled women’s rights in issues mentioned here. Please comment below or write to [email protected], tweet @sisofrida

 

Note: Stay Safe East is a unique user-led organisation run by disabled people, providing specialist and holistic advocacy and support services to disabled people from diverse communities in East London (currently Waltham Forest and Newham) who are victims/survivors of domestic or sexual violence, hate crime, harassment and other forms of abuse.

 

Disabled Women: Facts and Stats

We often get asked why we campaign for the rights of disabled women. Here are a few reasons.

 

Employment and Pay

  • 35% of disabled women (and 30% of disabled men) are paid below the National Living Wage in the UK.[1]
  • Disabled men face a pay gap of 11%, while disabled women faced a gap twice as large at 22%.[2]
  • Despite qualifications, disabled women have lower participation rates in higher skilled jobs and work fewer hours than both non-disabled women and disabled men.[3]
  • 27% of disabled women are economically inactive compared with 16% disabled men.[4]
  • Lone parenthood reduces female employment generally by 15%. However, disabled female lone parents are more than half as likely to work than non-disabled female lone parents.[5]

 

Violence and Abuse

  • Disabled people experience more domestic abuse than non-disabled people. Disabled women are significantly more likely to experience domestic abuse than disabled men.[6] In fact, one in ten experienced domestic abuse in 2012-13.[7]
  • Abuse is also more severe, more frequent and more enduring.[8][9][10]
  • Deaf women are twice as likely as hearing women to suffer domestic abuse.[11]
  • The Serious Crime Act 2015 made ‘coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’ a criminal offence (s.76). The Act provides that it is a defence for a perpetrator to show that they believed themselves to be acting in the victim’s ‘best interests’. This was intended to cover carers. We believe this defence risks preventing disabled women and people with learning disabilities from seeing their abusers brought to justice.

 

Health and Medical Care

  • UK maternity care does not meet the needs of disabled women. A 2016 study revealed that only “19% of disabled women said reasonable adjustments had been made for them.”[12]
  • The CEDAW Committee is concerned that “Disabled, older, asylum seeking and Traveller women face obstacles in accessing medical health care and that Disabled women have limited access to pre-natal care and reproductive health services”.[13]
  • Disabled women, particularly with learning difficulties, are at risk of forced sterilisation in the UK or are encouraged to consent to sterilisation as a form of ‘menstruation management’ rather than be presented with a range of options available to other women.

 

Mental Health

  • Disabled women with a mental health problem die on average 13 years earlier than the general UK population.[14]
  • Nearly half of female prisoners in the UK have been identified as having anxiety and depression. This is double the rate of male prisoners. What’s more, nearly half female prisoners (more than double the rate for men) report attempting suicide.[15]

 

Public Life

  • The CEDAW Committee is concerned that ethnic minority and disabled women are particularly poorly represented in Parliament, the legal system and on public sector.[16]

 

You download this as a factsheet here: Disabled women – Facts and Stats 2017

[1] Equality and Human Rights Commission. 2017. Being Disabled in Britain. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf

[2] Papworth Trust. 2016. Disability in UK 2016 Facts and Figures. http://www.papworthtrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/Disability%20Facts%20and%20Figures%202016.pdf

[3] All Party Parliamentary Group for Women and Work. 2016. Women Returns Annual Report 2016. https://connectpa.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Women-and-work-Annual-report-low-res.pdf

[4] TUC. 2015. Disability and employment. https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/DisabilityandEmploymentReport.pdf

[5] The Poverty Site, 2011 http://www.poverty.org.uk/45/index.shtml

[6] Adding insult to injury: intimate partner violence among women and men reporting activity limitations. Cohen, M. et al. 8, 2006, Annals of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, pp. 644-651

[7] Public Health England. 2015. Disability and domestic abuse: Risk, impacts and response. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480942/Disability_and_domestic_abuse_topic_overview_FINAL.pdf

[8] Adding insult to injury: intimate partner violence among women and men reporting activity limitations. Cohen, M. et al. 8, 2006, Annals of Epidemiology, Vol. 16, pp. 644-651

[9] Prevalence of abuse of women with physical disabilities. Young, M. et al. 1997, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vol. 78, pp. 34-38.

[10] Partner violence against women with disabilities: prevalence, risk and explanations. Brownridge, D. 2006, Violence against women, Vol. 12, pp. 805-822.

[11] Women’s Aid. 2015. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/16-days-deaf-survivors-and-domestic-abuse/

[12] Hall J, Collins B, Ireland J, and Hundley V. (2016) Interim report: The Human Rights & Dignity Experience of Disabled Women during Pregnancy, Childbirth and Early Parenting. Centre for Midwifery Maternal and Perinatal Health, Bournemouth University: Bournemouth. http://www.birthrights.org.uk/2016/09/maternity-care-failing-some-disabled-women/

[13] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : Great Britain, November 2014, available at: https://nawo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CEDAW-concluding-observations-EHRC-and-NAWO.pdf

[14] Equality and Human Rights Commission. 2017. Being Disabled in Britain. https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-disabled-in-britain.pdf

[15] Light, M., Grant, E. and Hopkins, K. (2013), ‘Gender differences in substance misuse and mental health amongst prisoners: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) longitudinal cohort study of prisoners’. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/surveying-prisoner-crime-reduction-spcr

[16] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : Great Britain, November 2014, available at: https://nawo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/CEDAW-concluding-observations-EHRC-and-NAWO.pdf

Solidarity message from grassroots Disabled People’s Organisations in the UK for people in #charlottesville

Intersectionality is a core consideration in everything we do at Sisters of Frida. In this case, we are very glad that other DPOs agreed to join us in this statement of solidarity to the people involved at #Charlottesville and in the light of what we see happening in the streets of the USA right now.

A statement of solidarity agreed by grassroots Disabled People’s Organisations in the UK for the people of #charlottesville

We, as grassroots disabled people’s organisations in the UK, are horrified by the violence we see in your cities and the racism and fascism that motivated it, and we are extremely concerned by the failure of the authorities to protect the people on your streets.

We have racism and fascism here in the UK too and we send you our absolute solidarity.

As disabled people, we see people of colour, people of ethnic minorities and immigrantsmany of whom are also disabled- being systematically abused and oppressed in our country by our own government, and its associated corporations and media.

In solidarity with the victims, their families and the city of Charlottesville (and other cities affected), we declare that racism and fascism, like misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, disableism and religious bigotry, should not be tolerated anywhere in the world.

signed by

Sisters of Frida

Disabled People against cuts (National DPAC)

Inclusion London

DPAC WM

Dudley CIL

Merton CIL

Black Triangle Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights(Scotland)

Manchester DPAC

Recovery In The Bin.

Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE)

Disabled International Residents (Disire)

 

If you want to add your (organisation) signature, please email [email protected]

Other resources

Sexuality and Dis/ability

 

READING LIST: intersectional disability & disabled women

 

More articles/blogs/podcasts

 

Daley, Michelle

Intersectionality and its relevance in social care for Disabled Women

Rise Up Against The Harm And Killing Of Disabled Women Through Myths (Huffington Post)

Parker, Lani

Sideways Times is a UK-based platform for conversations which in different ways link together struggles against ableism, white supremacy, capitalism and heteropatriarchy.

SOF CRPD Shadow Report : UK Initial Report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have come together to tell a UN committee the different ways in which the UK government has been breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). See Disability News Service ‘s article DPOs join forces to brief UN on how UK has breached disability convention 

Sisters of Frida wrote a short shadow report on 3 Articles with List of Issues. We also contributed to the ROFA shadow report.

See also ROFA Newsletter March 2017, UN Disability Committee Special

4 people in front of the UN building, 3 white women with white man at the back. They are crouching.

ROFA team at the UN in Geneva

ROFA (Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance) Shadow Report (WORD doc(PDF ) and List of Issues (WORD doc) (PDF)  Sisters of Frida is a member of ROFA.

 

Intersectionality and disability at WOW Festival 2017

Main talks programme panel “Intersectionality for Beginners” at Women of the World Festival 2017, in London South Bank. This panel featurered a keynote from Lydia X. Z. Brown and panel of Guppi Bola, Kuchenga Shenje, Emma Dabiri, and Eleanor Lisney (from Sisters of Frida) chaired by Hannah Azieb Poole. Transcripts kindly provided by Lydia)

This was the prepared speech by Eleanor Lisney  for the panel (but not read out)

When I came back to the UK to take up the position of relationship manager at a university, people told me I ticked many brownie points. I learn to realise they meant I had many disadvantages , because I was a woman, of an ethnic minority, and disabled. Some said it must be an advantage in applying for jobs but believe me, it isn’t . This is before I even heard of the term ‘ intersectionality’, the multiple oppression that arise out of having multiple identities,  and understand the impact it had on my life and that of others.

In January, I was invited to speak as a Sister of Frida at a hearing at the European Parliament on domestic violence and disabled people, and I used a personal example when mentioning intersectionality. When I was living in France I went through a divorce process, the court saw me as a non white, disabled woman with a bad grasp of the French language. My ex, a white British man, is an international  civil servant, had many human rights’ lawyers as his friends. I did not even know French divorce laws were different from those in the UK.

I think it was partly from that experience I co founded Sisters of Frida – understanding the complexity of having multiple identities- and also it’s in  Article 6 of the Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities.

States Parties recognize that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination, and in this regard shall take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by them of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The UK has ratified the CRPD and In fact, quite a few of disabled activists are heading for Geneva because of the examination of the uk govt for its implementation. I wanted to go but it conflicted with the international women’s day events and me here at WOW.  Disability and feminism. Women organisations do not know much about disability and disabled people’s organisations are gender neutral, we hope to build bridges there and make a change. Just insisting on our rights to be heard and to make spaces more inclusive and accessible are challenges. I hope we have made some difference. If I make a mention here, one Sister of Frida, is Rebecca Bunce who is a co founder of IChange has campaigned tirelessly for the Istanbul Convention and spoken on the need for access at public spaces for disabled women.

The disability movement is very white here and we would like to promote and make black and ethnic minority women more visible. It’s a natural reaction that you don’t join when you can’t identify with the people in it. And to show that they are not just engaged in being there as recipients but also in leadership roles.  We have had discussions on disability and the  cultural differences on the impact of disability. Many BME women come and share with me about their disabilities but they do not self identify (unless it’s a physical visible impairment ) as disabled people  because of the negative perspectives, stigma and non representation. But I know this goes for other communities not just  for Black and women of colour .

And in the UK austerity measures by this government have meant that the intersections of being BME and disabled and women mean that many of us are reeling from the compounding cuts in benefits and services. In all areas of our lives.

My friend and fellow Co founder of SoF, Michelle Daley, has spoken on the importance of intersectionality and the social services on Wednesday, she speaks as a black disabled woman

I quote her:

“I am a woman, a black woman and a disabled woman. In most areas of my life I’m forced to compartmentalised my different intersections…. I relate this point from one of my assessments of need. So when I explained that I needed help with skin care, which is not related to my impairment, it was dismissed. The assessor had no knowledge about skin sensitive and dryness often experienced by Black People and the need for daily skin care to prevent discomfort. In this example it demonstrated how my different intersections as a Black Disabled Woman were not considered and how they interact with each other. ”

She is chairing the SoF panel at 1.15 this afternoon. I recommend you go listen to her and my other Sisters at that panel.  Thank you.

 

row of people at the front. Photo taken from the back, with many rows of headss

Sisters of Frida Panel at the WoW Festival 2017

Why does much of the women’s rights movement marginalise disabled women?

During the last weekend in London at the Women of the World Festival (WOW) a panel of speakers discussed why disability is so often left out of conversations about intersectionality, and surveyed the key battlegrounds that disabled women are fighting on.

The panel was organized by Sisters of Frida.
Speakers included Lydia X. Z. Brown, disability rights activist; Magdalena Szarota, Polish disability rights activist and HIA Polska Board Member; Sarifa Patel of Newham’s Disability Forum; and Simone Aspis, Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) campaigner. Chaired by Michelle Daley of the Sisters of Frida disabled women’s collective.”

Other photos from the Women of the World Festival with SoF and disabled women at Flickr   

3 wheelchair users, oneyoung black, one middle aged East Asian and another white young woman. They are smiling at the camera.e

Becky, Eleanor and Emma

Sarah Rennie on the WEP panel

We collaborated on ‘Disabled women missing from history’ these were exhibited at the cafe of the Royal Festival Hall

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Kirsty Liddiard: Dis/Cinema: An Unshamed Claim To Beauty?

Reposted from Kirsty Liddiard’s blog with kind permission.

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to introduce Sins Invalid’s film, An Unshamed Claim To Beauty? The film was screened as part of Dis/Cinema, University of Sheffield, which facilitates film screenings with themes of dis/ability, mental health, difference, and otherness. Check out its work here and follow Dis/Cinema on Twitter at @DisCinema. Below I share my introduction and slides. Not surprisingly the film instigated some powerful discussion which followed themes of privilege/power and race, class, gender and nation; the beauty industry and the economics of (bodily) shame; how we culturally come to be repulsed by otherness through fear; and our own experiences of being/enacting the spectacle of disability. A big thanks to Dis/Cinema and everyone who came along to contribute to such a stimulating night.

Sins Invalid poster

Introduction

When I got invited to facilitate this session, my immediate thought was, how on earth does one introduce Sins Invalid? What can I possibly say that can prepare you for the transgressive beauty that you’re about to witness in its Kickstarter-funded film, An Unshamed Claim To Beauty?

So I thought I’d begin with a story of the first time I saw Sins Invalid. It was live, at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). I had just graduated my PhD, in which I’d spent three years working with disabled people to tell sexual stories, and moved to Toronto in order to undertake my first postdoctoral position at the wonderful School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University.

This was a massive move for me, particularly culturally, as I’m from Milton Keynes, which, as much as I love it, really is where culture goes to die*. Everything I saw that first week of living in a new country, far from home, was new, rich, and vivid. But seeing Sins Invalid, and sitting with its audience, opened me up to the possibilities of politicising pleasure, (or disabled people’s lack of intimate justice to pleasure, sexuality and love), through art for the first time; that art, politics and power enable silenced stories to be ‘loosed into the world’. These threads have persisted through my own research since that very night.

So what does it mean to “politicise pleasure”, and why is it important to advocate for disability justice, the politic centred in the work of Sins Invalid? Activist Mia Mingus describes disability justice as a truly collaborative and intersectional movement that brings the body back in; as that which proudly centres accessibility; and which shatters the inherent Western, ableist and neo-colonial myth of independence. Patty Bearne, Co-Founder and Director of Sins Invalid, defines disability justice like this:

‘A Disability Justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential; that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We know that we are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them. We understand that all bodies are caught in these bindings of ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state and imperialism, and that we cannot separate them. These are the positions from where we struggle. We are in a global system that is incompatible with life. There is no way stop a single gear in motion — we must dismantle this machine. Disability Justice holds a vision born out of collective struggle, drawing upon the legacies of cultural and spiritual resistance within a thousand underground paths, igniting small persistent fires of rebellion in everyday life. Disabled people of the global majority — black and brown people — share common ground confronting and subverting colonial powers in their struggle for life and justice. There has always been resistance to all forms of oppression, as we know through our bones that there have simultaneously been disabled people visioning a world where we flourish, that values and celebrates us in all our myriad beauty’.

(Bearne, 2015)

http://sinsinvalid.org/blog/disability-justice-a-working-draft-by-patty-berne

For me, Sins Invalid offers us a new lens through which to come to know, see, and feel bodies in ways counter to the dominant culture. It makes space to think about bodies, self and desire in affirmative ways – that bodies with what disabled feminist Susan Wendell (1996:45) calls ‘hard physical realities’ – bodies that droop, sag, spit, dribble, spasm, ache and leak in ways deemed inappropriate (Liddiard and Slater, fc; Morris 1989; Leibowitz 2005) and minds that confuse, forget, hallucinate, or take longer to learn are not non-human or subhuman, but can open up new ontologies of pleasure and alternative economies of desire.

Disabled people have long had their intimate citizenship and justice deprioritised – dominant discourse renders our sexual lives, selves and bodies at best as unimportant, secondary to things like housing, care, education, and legislation; as if civil life is detached from intimate life; like the personal isn’t political. We might think, in the current age of austerity, where in the UK and beyond, successive governments have served to denigrate disabled people, our communities and our families, that access to sexuality and intimacy is of lesser importance. That in a new world order controlled by Trump, May, LePenn and others, sexuality becomes, once again, the very least of our worries.

But austerity, neoliberal-ableism and global instability inevitably proffer new forms of precarity that drive us, at best, back into the normative body and self: meaning now is the time to politicise the impacts of such forces in our intimate lives; to claim, as the wonderful Tobin Seibers affirms, a sexual culture of our own.

Asserting, celebrating and living our own pleasures at this time in our history offers radical counter narratives. We can affirm the vibrancy of disability life through pleasure and desire in the face of social and literal death that austerity brings to our communities, and at the same time chip away at the normative boundaries of human pleasure which deem it unnecessary and grotesque for a range of marginalised bodies: disabled, fat, queer, Crip, black and POC, and genderqueer and Trans bodies. It is important, in times of such existential precariousness, that pleasure and sensuality (regardless of their form) are not relegated to luxury, but are means of survival and thus necessary for creativity, vitality and disability future.

I want to end with the words of the wonderful Eli Clare (2002: no pagination). Words which speak to the very bringing together of pleasure, politics and power that Sins Invalid demands: ‘I want to read about wheelchairs and limps, hands that bend at odd angles and bodies that negotiate unchosen pain, about orgasms that aren’t necessarily about our genitals, about sex and pleasure stolen in nursing homes and back rooms where we’ve been abandoned, about bodily—and I mean to include the mind as part of the body—differences so plentiful they can’t be counted, about fucking that embraces all those differences. It’s time.’

Thank you: here is Sins Invalid. See the trailer and buy the film here.

* Sorry to those who live in/love MK – I do – but it ain’t no Toronto for culture…

 

 

Text - Sins Invalid Unahamed Claims to Beauthy

“Aesthetic Experience ” Allison Estergard (acrylic on canvas0. Showing this month at International Gallery of Art, Alaska, US (Photo courtesy IGCA)   Text – Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claims to Beauty, Dr Kirsty Liddiard Research Fellow, The School of Education
Email: [email protected] Twitter: @kirstyliddiard1    https//kirstyliddiard.wordpress.com
: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/education/staff/academic/kliddiard

Disability Justice

Disability Justice – A Disability Justice framework understands that all bodies are unique and essential, that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met. We know that we are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them. We understand that all bodies are caught in these bindings of ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state and imperialism, and that we cannot separate them. These are the positions from where we struggle. We are in a global system that is incompatible with life. There is no way stop a single gear in motion — we must dismantle this machine. Disability Justice holds a vision born out of collective struggle, drawing upon the legacies of cultural and spiritual resistance within a thousand underground paths, igniting small persistent fires of rebellion in everyday life. Disabled people of the global majority — black and brown people — share common ground confronting and subverting colonial powers in our struggle for life and justice. There has always been resistance to all forms of oppression, as we know through our bones that there have simultaneously been disabled people visioning a world where we flourish, that values and celebrates us in all our myriad beauty.” (Bearne 2015) http://sinsinvalid.org/blog/disability-justice-a-working-draft-by-patty-berne

 

 

‘I want to read about wheelchairs and limps. hands that bend at odd angles and bodies that negotiate unchosen pain, about orgasms that arent necessarily about our genitals, and sex and pleasure stolen in nursing homes and back rooms where we’ve been abandoned, about bodily – and I mean to include the mind as part of the body – differences so lentiful they cant be counted, about fucking that embraces all those differences. Its time.’ (clare, 2002:no pagination)

Discussion... In what ways did the film surprise you or touch you? what was your favourite part/scene in the film? Why? Was there anything about the film you didnt like or agree with? In what ways did the film make you think about disability, sexuality and/or activism in a different way to before? In what ways in current society are we made to feel shame about our bodies, disabled or not? How can we make (more) space for the arts, performance, activism, solidarity and justice in the Academy? In what ways might we enact disability justice – an appreciation that ‘all bodies are unique and essential and that all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met (Bearne 2015) – in the Academy/Higher Education?

—–

 

Kirsty Liddiard is a white woman with short hair, she has short hair and a black top on.

 Dr. Kirsty Liddiard is currently a Research Associate within the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth, in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. Prior to this post, Kirsty became the inaugural Ethel Louise Armstrong Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Kirsty’s research explores the intimate lives of disabled people.  As a public sociologist (see Burowoy 2013) and activist scholar, Kirsty centres co-production in her research, and views the effective, ethical and accessible communication of knowledge as a form of social, political, and economic justice. She lives happily in a little village with The Boy and The Kid. Kirsty is a Steering Group member.