ASAN says: Don’t Light It Up Blue

I am struck by how often the conventional wisdom of the disability rights movement does not extend into broader cultural areas, including quite progressive ones. Take yesterday, when  Chris Hayes, shared by Jon Lovett, admitted surprise that Trump would tweet about Lighting up the White House Blue, because it seemed like a decent thing to do.

But it’s not. Autism Speaks is not a right-wing organization, but it an organization that has long linked “awareness” to the eugenic pursuit of “cures.” Bob Wright, its millionaire founder, was an early Trump backer, who presumably used his influence to get the blue lights at the White House. Trump is an anti-vaxxer. Autism Speaks had a long history of anti-vax fearmongering before they finally rejected the myth (causing bitter division within the org, by report). Lighting the White House blue is a symptom of Trump’s destructive presidency, not a counter-indicator.

Insiders know things. Outsiders don’t. Figuring out how to change that is a major part of why I became a journalist, trying to shift inside voices to new audiences. Sometimes it works.

A couple of years ago I wrote in the New York Times about how I told my daughter she couldn’t go to an ice cream fundraiser for Autism Speaks, then discovered that the person behind it didn’t know about the problems with AS. I wrote it as a gentle introduction to new audiences about the problems of the organization, and share it again here, in case it’s useful.

The self-advocate community is winning the autism culture wars, but progress is never linear. Autism Speaks now has autistic board members and is slowly shifting some of its rhetoric. I worry that in this regard, as in so many, the Trump presidency will push us the wrong way.

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