Saturday, 23 May 2015

Follow the Rainbow

Neurodiversity - Follow the Rainbow

Yesterday, 22 May 2015, the electorate of Ireland came out in huge numbers to vote on whether to change our constitution to enable same-sex couples marry. The votes are not yet fully counted but it looks like about 62% in favour of the change. What the LGBT community in Ireland have achieved here is admirable and I congratulate them and all their supporters on the occasion of their historic achievement, especially the great team in Clonmel! None of this was easy I know, and you were magnificent!

More than that, I must thank Ireland's LGBT community for showing us all a path to follow. So, thank you, all of you, for your maturity, dignity, patience, honesty, and bravery.

Some things struck me about this campaign.

Foremost was the passion and conviction of so many straight Irish people who went out of their way to proclaim their support of equality for others. They knew it was right, good and fair and they were prepared to put themselves out so say so. Why is that important? Because it shows that coming out puts a face to an idea, humanises the theory. It also shows dignity and expects respect. No excuses, no apologies, no “passing”.

That dignity and integrity has not only gained the community as a whole the respect of most of the population, it has enabled communication, trust and faith in each other. When this referendum was announced last year, I heard many people say they were in support because it was “the right thing to do”, but many also said “this is what LGBT people want, and that’s why I support it”. That last point is hugely significant. It says “I trust you know what is best for you.”

There is a huge lesson in there for the autistic community. Several lessons.

Also striking was the way the campaign was approached by the Yes side. Unlike previous referenda where campaigning has been focused on TV debates and leaflets pushed into peoples’ letterboxes, the Yes campaign here did two things. They came to peoples’ doors and introduced themselves, not the theory or principles they supported. They also held public meetings, not to make speeches from the podium but open sessions with the theme “I am voting Yes; ask me why.”There was no aggression, no negativity. The campaign was based on love, equality, fairness.

Again, there are strong lessons for the autistic community in here.

It was also remarkable just how many people got involved, both in campaigning and in voting. Politicians have reflected on how the electorate became energised – on both sides. They have mused about what lessons there are for them in their own political campaigns. In doing so they have utterly missed the whole point. This was never a political issue, it was about social justice. This was an issue the the population by and large had clear views on. They simply had not had an outlet to easily express those views. When they did, they did in numbers and with enthusiasm. People flew home from North America, from across Europe, from Asia and Australia just to have their say.

More lessons for autistic campaigners.

So, what are those lessons?

If you want to build popular support for your rights and break down negative stereotypes – be visible.
Come out as autistic on Facebook or at work. Talk to friends about autistic issues as “we have…” and “our community…” as this not only informs people, it links their regard for you to those views. This also means more evident ‘self-labelling’ such as adopting the Âû family name / suffix. Ultimately, that makes autistics real and present in peoples’ lives and breaks down generalised, negative, fear-based ideas about autism.

Act with dignity and respect if you wish to be treated with dignity and respect.
That means not throwing around generalised disparaging remarks about NTs on social media. It means being polite in response to ill-informed opinion. It means being patient in response to peoples’ anxieties and fears. Most of all it means reaching out to invite discussion: I am autistic – ask me about it.

To change society for the better you must get out and engage with that society.
This means not just complaining about your woes on a Facebook group, but seeking out campaigns and being involved. It means speaking to groups outside your comfort zone – parent groups, researchers, school boards, your colleagues at work or college, and even negativity-based organisations and their supporters and sponsors. Invite them to get to know you as a person, not as a demon.

Finally, to make real change requires the broad support of the wider community.
Attempting to enforce change from isolation will not work, even if you hold great political power – which we do not! Three things are necessary: Ability, Inclination and Opportunity. Give society these three things and they will rise up by your side.

Ability: Without the right knowledge, people do not even know they can act, that there is a need for them to act, nor how they can act to effect change. Provide them with that. This is the removal of intellectual barriers.

Inclination: People are motivated to act when something ceases to be arguable but becomes accepted as self-evidently right and good. This becomes something that they want to do. This is the removal of emotional and ethical barriers.

Opportunity:  People become motivated to act because they are presented with an opportunity to act. Create that opportunity. This is the removal of physical, social and political barriers.

We know this approach works, and not just in this referendum campaign. It is time to think more strategically, to empower ourselves with smart tactics. We are not in a hopeless situation where all we can do is throw stones at the tanks of those who have come to destroy us. Far from it.

We have many, many attributes in our favour. Its time to start thinking like we deserve better, then acting like we deserve better.

Pax, ~MAQQI Âû

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