Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Like gender, ability is more fluid than we think

By Louise Kinross

I was at a fabulous workshop at Holland Bloorview yesterday on how to create places that include and respect people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer (LGBTQ).

The most important thing is “to give people space to self-identify,” said Ashley McGhee, a specialist in education and training from 
The 519 community centre in Toronto. That’s done by asking a person what pronouns (he/she/they) they use to describe themselves. Then, Ashley said, affirm and honour the person’s response. 

We did some great exercises to better understand the difference between your sex (male or female, based on the anatomy you were born with); the gender you identify with internally; the gender you choose to express in the world; and your sexual orientation. Instead of being rigid, many of these things are fluid and change over a person’s lifetime.

We can talk to our kids about this and check in with them on how they identify.

The 519 offers a wide variety of programs for queer and trans families and parents of gender non-conforming kids.

“We need to challenge the dominant narratives about the way people are supposed to look, feel and move,” Ashley said.

I thought there were parallels between how we create an LGBTQ-friendly place and how we create a disability-friendly place.

We could ask youth how they describe themselves: do they take pride in the word disabled, or use person-first language, or use a reclaimed word, like “crip,” or have a unique way of describing their disability experience, or not use the word disability at all? Just like gender and sexual orientation, abilities are on a spectrum. It’s not a simple binary of “abled” or “disabled.”

But the most important thing I got from Ashley's presentation was that however a person describes themselves, we affirm and value them. We don’t value one gender identity or sexual orientation over another. We don’t value one ability or disability over another. 

“Labels are meant to help people better understand themselves, not to be used by others to categorize or stigmatize or 'other' the person, says Daniel Scott, Ronald McDonald Playroom coordinator and member of the hospital's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee. “It's about how people self-identify, and it's about those of us who don't identify [that way] making it our responsibility to try to educate ourselves.

Ashley suggested we might want to look, as an organization, at the personal information we collect, for example in research. “Is it really necessary to ask a person’s sex, which is asking them what anatomy they were born with?” What does it tell us if we record an F for female because of what we see, but the youth in front of us identifies as a boy?

The bottom line I got from Ashley’s talk was that identity can shift, but human value is a constant. A great message for our community.