Category Archives: UTLA Human Rights Committee

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee IX

I forgot to include in my response to “Mildred” that I also consulted with a cardiologist, at least two gynecologists and a dermatologist.
But who’s counting?
And, what do they know, anyway?

My response to “Mildred”
To read “Mildred’s” posts: the end of this exchange,
——– Original Message ——–_Subject: Re: [Fwd: [utla-hrc-discussion] the retreat]_Date: Mon, 14 Aug 2006 01:15:15 -0700_From: Emma Rosenthal <>
Your response here is so incredibly hurtful and disappointing. If I understand correctly, what you are saying is that “Clarence’s” behavior, resentment and marginalization of me was not isolated, but part of an ongoing, collective reaction to the ways I have attempted to explain my limitations, ask for help and participate in the Committee. I think it is interesting that more than a few members of this Committee, including “Clarence”, state that the fact that they don’t believe that I am disabled makes it understandable and acceptable that I have been ridiculed and ostracized, apparently, not only overtly by “Clarence”, but for some time now, as you document when you refer to how various “members (of the Committee) have reacted to Emma.” Any “reaction” to a request for disability accommodation that is marginalizing, hostile, punitive or demeaning creates hostile working conditions.
That you offer the assertion that my “active and vibrant (participation) in the Committee” should invalidate my request that such action and vibrancy be supported and empowered, is astounding. Are disabled people supposed to be inactive and listless in order to be believed, before receiving and meriting support ? I never asked for sympathy. This is the ableist response to disability. What individual members think of me is of no consequence. But when those feelings are fueled by prejudices and are the basis for how I have been treated, this is discrimination. I asked for accommodation. And usually also received accommodation from many members of the Committee. Apparently this has offended some members of the group who, were simultaneously “reacting to Emma.”
No disabled person should ever, except in specifically ascribed and confidential protocols, have to be at all open about their condition. One’s health is a very private and intimate matter that should only be shared in situations that are safe and supportive. Nonetheless, having embraced the Act Up slogan of “silence = death” and Audre Lorde’s admonition; “My silence didn’t protect me, your silence won’t protect you,” I have decided to live my life very publicly. As a writer and an artist I believe that it is a gift that I have that I can use in service of greater social transformation to bring illumination to the humiliation and abuse I endure on a daily basis. You state that I should have presented my condition “matter of fact” (the patriarchal preference to the rational over the emotional and experiential aside!) To that I offer the following: I have made two posts directly to this list, explaining my disability. They can be found on the list archive and I will forward them and repost them to the list. At the foot of every email I send, is a link to my blog: ” in bed with frida kahlo” which documents the daily struggles, victories, symptoms and indignities of life with a disability. Which any of you could, and many of the Committee members have visited.
At one point Andy suggested I use the word ignorance instead of bigotry, in responding to “W’s” email. But ignorance can be rectified through open and sincere dialogue. I didn’t change the wording because I feel the actions of those “reacting to Emma,” reflect prejudice and bigotry. That the people who were unclear about my condition, and questioned my need for support, knowing about these “reactions to Emma,” either participated in them or remained silent in the face of their perpetuation, instead, could have approach the issue with an open mind and an open heart. They could have asked questions, requested clarifications, admitted frustration and ignorance. For while the justification for these “reactions to Emma” are this lack of belief, did those harboring and acting on these resentments ever entertain the possibility that I might really be severely disabled, despite my determination and tenacity to be “active and vibrant?” Did they ever worry, when they “reacted to Emma” that if they were they wrong, their behavior was cruel and oppressive?
Not that it is anyone’s business!!!!! But lest there be any doubt! In the spirit of “matter of fact” information, and for the record: I have consulted with two neurologists, several general practitioners, a psychiatrist, a nutritionist (MD) a rheumatologist, an ENT specialist, therapists, two acupuncturists, a chiropractor, a dentist and several massage therapists in attempting to heal and in continuing to manage this condition. I have qualified for STRS disability retirement, handicapped license plates and Access paratransit. There are strict criteria for approval for these programs, often involving difficult, time consuming and humiliating processes. Blue Cross and UBH (and MHN before it) have all reviewed my medical records and have accepted my medical claims. Also, as with all “isms,” it isn’t my job to educate those who don’t understand. I am not responsible for their bigotry. They are, if this is merely ignorance, responsible for their own self-education. The names of my conditions are fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. One of the symptoms is irritable bowel syndrome. I trust you don’t require the details? If you or others really only need more information, google away!!!!!
You admonish me to be more self-reflective. While I believe in personal growth, I am not going to do therapy here. It would be an inappropriate use of Committee resources and time, and would open me up to greater abuse. I assure you that I am in the process of learning how to address the daily indignities and humiliation my condition invites, with grace and dignity. Usually I can do this. Other times I simply cannot. Remember. I made it up the hill and prepared to sit in the heat without any complaint. I listened to several of “Clarence’s” admonitions insults and denials, (what others call “jokes.”) left the room twice and asked for support while he continued to deny my request, and ridiculed it, while everyone else sat shocked or amused.
It is amazing how far we have strayed from simple feminist wisdom and solidarity, even forgetting the admonition that the personal is political. Only those with privilege can afford not to draw political conclusions from their daily objective conditions. Too often those of privilege address issues of global oppression for the purpose of accommodating their guilt. This becomes apparent when their own privilege is on the line and they insist in determining the range of discussion and the legitimacy of the agenda of those more marginalized. Personally, my contradictions with capitalism, hegemony and patriarchy are no longer merely theoretical.

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee VIII

Andy Griggs responds to “Mildred”
Date:     Sun, 13 Aug 2006 23:08:10 EDT_From:
I was hoping that there would be other posts by this time, and that I would be responding to more of this discussion, but “Mildred’s” 2nd response last night (which I did not see until this AM – I am in Colonial Williamsburg, VA at a teacher’s institute until Wed) has made me feel that is necessary to respond sooner. I will do this point by point, starting with her first post, but first let me say that the entire premise of her argument is incorrect: the issue facing this committee is disability and access, not how one responds to discriminatory or abusive behavior.
“Mildred’s” first post:
“I appreciate Andy’s giving us a clear idea of Emma’s disability.  Since she has always been active and vibrant on our committee, it is hard to believe that she really has a severe disability. I have to say that the appeal to sympathy that Emma has shown in various ways has a tendency to cause people to feel uncertain how much is actual disability. A matter of fact explanation by her of her condition would have been better and probably elicited more of our understanding”
Emma has explained her disability several times to the committee, at meetings, in conference committee meetings, and on this discussion list – it is why she often misses meetings, and she has explained the illness when asking for assistance. Why does it take me to explain it before people understand it–this is another of the indignities she (and unfortunately women in general) still suffer – that a man’s opinion or stating of fact is given more weight. Even at the retreat, she gave “Clarence” a “matter of fact explanation” when she said many had weakened immune systems and the ice could compromise that (and “Clarence” continued to refuse to provide ice – until others asked him to, and then only after joking about someone “making a motion.”)
“I myself have always felt warmly admiring of her work, but I admit to being very unhappy about her reactions on that hot afternoon. This is not to deny that “Clarence” is abrupt and pretty fussy about his house and that had a role to play.”
I do not think anyone felt happy about what happened that day, whether it was “Clarence’s” behavior, Emma’s response, or our own response (including my own lack of confronting “Clarence”). I think that no one expected this to happen, and we were like deer caught in a headlight.
“(It is not true that “Clarence” has allowed people to congregate in his house previously.  I have been at the previous retreats and we all know that, except to use the bathroom, we were asked not to use the house).”
I have to strongly disagree here-I never mentioned congregating in my original note. In the past “Clarence” has told people they could go into the house to cool off, escape the sun, and has even sat in there with us-talking to us about the painting and his house. This time, he specifically went and told Emma she could not be in the house (in private), that the retreat was outside-another example of abusive behavior, whether or not she was disabled. If it had been you, “Mildred”, or anyone else who needed to escape the heat, would he have said the same-or if he had, would it be appropriate? This also brings to the issue of whether this was a social function or official union committee event.
“I was willing to accept “Clarence’s” foibles in exchange for his hospitality and the hard work entailed.”
Interesting that we call “Clarence’s” actions “foibles,” and that someone initially who asked for accommodation (May I have some clean ice?) and ignored and ridiculed because of that request, who walked in to avoid the confrontive behavior that was growing, and who finally exploded “uncontrolled anger”_ and “causing an unproductive and disturbing scene.” This is outrageous!
Was it not “Clarence’s” “foibles” that caused the scene? His teasing and taunting and abuse?  Emma did apologize for her blow-up in her letter as well. Lest we forget the past, how many human rights activists (read feminists,  Black Panthers, anti-war activists, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X)  have been told “don’t be angry or militant.”  “Be nice, don’t be so pushy,” ad nauseum.  And how often have they ignored that advice? It might not have come to Emma’s blowup, if a few people had refused to accept “Clarence’s” “foibles!”
“Mildred’s” second post:_“Michael-  I find it singularly inappropriate of you to attempt to analyse what happened at a retreat where you were not present!   Discussing the issue of disability rights is welcome, but don’t base your ideas on an occurance at a meeting that you did not attend.”
As I said before, this issue is bigger than the events of the retreat, and bigger than the individual’s actions. The issue is human rights-in this case legal rights by law-and the rights of accessibility to everyone. As a member of the committee, Michael has every right to respond to that issue – he spent less than two paragraphs talking about the retreat in both of his responses, but rather addressed the real issues facing the HRC at this time. 1) Meetings at inaccessible and/or in hostile environments (remember that a hostile working environment includes humor and teasing-by law and legal precedent) must cease; and 2) How should an individual or our committee respond when there is a act of discrimination or hostility witnessed?
“I  don’t feel this event merits all this deep political attention.”
If this does not merit deep political attention-then maybe we are all on the wrong committee. This committee above all others in UTLA (or should we say it is the purview of the Ably Disabled Committee) should be addressing the issues of ADA and accessibility-not only the shameful and outrageous way LAUSD treats employees with disabilities (a company doctor determining the degree of disability, refusal to provide reasonable (if any) accommodations, etc), but those within our union, and especially within our committee-we must be able to analyze and criticize our own actions as well. For example, if there was so much concern about the way people reacted to Emma and her requests for assistance when working on the conferences, why were they not brought up and discussed in order to more clearly identify the issues at work._I know that if this is not on the agenda for this committee, and it continues to hold inaccessible meetings-it is this committee that should be disbanded by the Board of Directors because it puts the entire union at risk and legally liable.
Finally I have to remind us all of how important Emma’s work has been over the past two years. Without her work, we would not have had two incredibly successful conferences. It was she who recommended trying to expand membership in the committee to be more inclusive, and asked for it to be included on the retreat agenda.
Let it be said that this committee is still the “heart of UTLA” and that when faced with internal conflict, we faced it head on and dealt with it. Let’s work together to address our shortcomings, and moved forward stronger than ever.
Yours in ongoing struggle,_Andy

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee VII

This Post was made by activist Linda Baughn, another Committee member.  The Leadership Conference is an event that draws much of UTLA leadership; in the past, to Palm Springs.  Because the hotel/conference center we have been meeting at for several years, closed down, this year we met at a location in La Quinta.  Many still refer to the event as “Palm Springs.”

——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     [utla-hrc-discussion] ongoing discussion about the retreat_Date:     Sun, 13 Aug 2006 10:15:29 -0700 (PDT)
I have been reading the posts about the retreat, but I haven’t posted because_a) I’m teaching this summer on C track–an activity which I love but which seems to take more energy every year_b) I wasn’t at the retreat_c) much of what I wanted to say has been said more eloquently by Andy, Emma and Michael.
But I think I want to weigh in on this before the Leadership Conference in Palm Springs.
When I got the first posts, I was saddened but not surprised. I could see at last year’s retreat the potential for what happened this year. Emma was obviously uncomfortable; the physical situation was not accessible, and although I and others did our best to help make her comfortable, nobody should have to ask. Physical accommodations should be accessible and take into account everyone’s needs. That’s the bottom line. Hosting an event requires taking that into account first and foremost. I have not always been aware of this–I thought my house was accessible until my comrade shattered her knee, and then I realized that it takes four steps up to get to my door… But it is no surprise to anyone on our committee that one of our valued members requires reasonable accommodation. And hosting an event means putting the comfort of one’s guests primary. It may mean some wear and tear on the property–but I hope this committee would put people first.
I know I was not at the retreat, but I can comment on the e-mails I have read and in interactions I have witnessed in other situations with this committee in particular and with the left in general, and I think that it is a problem when women become the enforcers of the sexist dictum to be “ladylike.” Women and girls are held to a different standard of behavior: we are not supposed to complain (why is the word for complain also the pejorative term for women in general that refers to a female dog?) and if we do complain we are required to do so “nicely.” When your rights have been denied, your sisters should not chastise you if you do not defend yourself nicely–they should have your back. Well behaved women rarely make history.
One last point. We should welcome this discussion as an opportunity for growth, personally and as a committee. The rights of handicapped people as human rights could be the focus of our next conference, perhaps. I would like to see a discussion about euthanasia–I  probably disagreed with most of the committee about the Terri Shiavo case, for example, seeing it less about the right to die vs. the religious right and more about the slippery slope towards withholding of care from those whose limited prospects for recovery make them a financial burden–useless eaters, as the Nazis said. I think that political discussion of these issues is interesting–important–crucial. If the Human Rights Committee doesn’t want to relate personal situations to political ideas, something is wrong.
I look forward to seeing everyone in Palm Springs who can be there and continuing this important discussion.
In unity and in struggle,

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee Part VI

 Michael Novick, a longstanding member of the Human Rights Committee as well as Anti-Racist Action, Posts to the list, “Mildred” and I both respond to his post.  Of note is “Mildred’s” assertion that since Michael was not at the retreat he should not comment on this issue.  Should we apply that standard to all of our work, as human rights activists we would be remiss in speaking out on any issue we weren’t witness to and history as an academic discipline would be a meaningless exercise.    In a later post, I speak to this issue.

——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date:     Sat, 12 Aug 2006 01:43:45 -0700_From:     Michael Novick
I feel compelled to write at greater length in response to the issues _raised by this on-going controversy and the persistent tendency — _self-defined by “Mildred.” in her post, I believe — of “blaming the victim” _(after “victimizing” the person). I feel that aspects of a willful _blindness to disability issues, and to the responsibility of human rights _activists, trade unionists (not to mention colleagues, comrades and people) _to accommodate people with disabilities, have been exacerbated by a _tolerance of male chauvinism and a lack of feminist consciousness or _women’s solidarity within the committee. In this respect, I find a _not-acceptable degree to which the so-called “progressive” movement lags _behind the larger society and the capitalists. Sadly this is all too _common. Elections at KPFK for example produce electoral outcomes with less _diversity, less representation for women and people of color, than for LA _city council.
Attributing hostile remarks by a white male professional homeowner to a _disabled female as ‘humor’, or blaming the recipient of such mistreatment _for getting angry (ignoring her previous attempts to deal with it, and _ignoring her explanations of what went on), and raising questions about _whether someone is “really” disabled — if that took place at one of our _schools, and was directed at a student or a teacher by an administrator, we _would all hopefully be on top of it. But when such internalized _oppressiveness takes place within our own ranks, we fall into denial, _excuses and worse. We need to take ourselves and our work more seriously, _and treat ourselves and each other with more respect, or we cannot expect _anyone to pay the least attention to our pious declarations about human _rights and social responsibility.
I did not attend the retreat because of a schedule conflict, but honestly I _might not have come anyway because I found the location pretty inaccessible _the one time I did come, and I don’t have disability issues on access. The _union has a legal responsibility to make meetings which are not simple _socializing but actual strategic planning accessible to all. The Human _Rights Committee in particular has a responsibility to put its money where _its mouth is.
People who could “hear” Andy’s explanations yet never “heard” Emma’s quite _clear statements over several years about the nature, extent and perversity _of her disability need to ask themselves why. People who could make more _exceptions for “Clarence’s” “humor” than for Emma’s anger need to do the same. _Regardless of people’s (apparently quite negative) attitudes towards Emma _and her “personality,” the HRC has a two-fold responsibility now:
a) an internal education, discussion and struggle process about disability _rights issues, their intersection with other forms of oppression such as _racism, sexism and elitism, and the way they are internalized and manifest _within progressive bodies and institutions such as our committee and union. _We might want to look for additional resources within the union, such as _disabled activists and perhaps LGBT people who have greater sensitivity to _issues of immune-impairedness.
b) In the light of that discussion, to review and re-discuss any decisions _taken at the retreat at the next available opportunity for a well-noticed _general meeting of the HR committee at UTLA early in the school year, a _meeting that is accessible to the disabled and hospitable to the full _participation and honest discussion of everyone who has been or would like _to become involved in the work of the committee.
Consider those motions for the agenda of the first HRC meeting(s), or to _the steering committee. If people are meeting at the leadership conference, _I feel they need to agree to those two proposals, and then adjourn until _the two discussions can be put into effect. I myself did not sign up for _the conference (partly over the hotel issue) and will not be there. I have _conflicting responsibilities now on both the Saturday and the Sunday.
Although I am not a Maoist, I always liked a couple of Mao’s aphorisms — _”where the broom does not reach, the dust does not vanish of itself” is one _of those, meaning we need to engage in criticism and self-criticism to _overcome our own retrograde tendencies such as male chauvinism, privilege, _or the projection of fear and denial onto “others.” Otherwise they _accumulate and fester and eat us up from within. Another good one is “A _revolution is not a dinner party” — meaning that we cannot expect to _impose goodie-goodie middle class niceties of expression on struggle over _oppression and exploitation. It is not the job of people experiencing _oppression, discrimination and mistreatment to learn how to “cope” with it. _It is the job of people seriously interested in getting free of capitalism, _imperialism, and all their attendant social ills to examine our own social _and political practice, and to come up with effective strategies for _building the kind of solidarity and struggle it will take to get the job done.
Michael Novick
PS I wanted to take exception to one thing that Emma said — that men do _not fear becoming women. Her main point (that able-bodied people fear _illness and disability and therefore reject or marginalize disabled people) _is true. But it is also true that men often fear being “unmanned,” and that _both men and women often exceptionalize certain women and stigmatize others _out of fear of women’s solidarity. This is a very corrosive tendency.

<> ——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date:     Sat, 12 Aug 2006 08:34:39 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <>
Thanks Michael. _  I  appreciate your willingness to come forward and take a principled stand on this issue.  I have little choice, It is with me all the time. It’s not an identity that gives me pride.  It isn’t a cause I ever wanted to champion.  I have always understood disability rights as essential to the human rights paradigm, but while it is becoming more and more central in my life, part of my resentment is that I really want to be working on other issues.  It’s just that the discrimination I face makes all other political activity almost impossible.   I decided awhile back to embrace the ACT UP slogan; Silence = Death; the Audre Lorde admonition:  “My silence didn’t protect me.  Your silence won’t protect you.” Though retreating into the small place that apparently even seasoned human rights activists have ascribed for people like me, is tempting.    It is clear that you have put much time into studying this issue and understand it quite thoroughly.  Your point about men fearing being unmanned is well taken.  I stand corrected.  One exception I have to your polemic is where you say “The union has a legal responsibility to make meetings which are not simple socializing but actual strategic planning accessible to all.”   All UTLA official events, including social events, must be accessible.  Social events are organizing tools and if they are sponsored by the Union (even if funds are donated, ) can’t discriminate.  Mardi Gras night at the Leadership Conference,  Area parties, etc. are required to  be fully accessible or UTLA would be practicing discrimination and would be in violation of human rights and liable in a law suit.  This does not extend to private events that members of UTLA might hold.  So that if a group of teachers wants to go to happy hour at an exclusive club (exclusive as in: stairs!)  they can. It is not illegal to discriminate in one’s private life.  If members of this committee want to have a party with strippers and a freak show, and tell racist jokes they can.  They just can’t call it an official UTLA event and they certainly can’t use UTLA funds to pay for the gathering.   If they use UTLA resources to advertise the event, or a school bulletin board, then they would be in violation of civil and human rights.
In solidarity,

<>——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] [Fwd: Re: your email]_Date:     Sat, 12 Aug 2006 21:13:39 -0700 (PDT)
Michael-  I find it singularly inappropriate of you to attempt to analyse what happened at a retreat where you were not present!   Discussing the issue of disability rights is welcome, but don’t base your ideas on an occurance at a meeting that you did not attend. You speak of “hostile remarks” that you did not hear and simply ” getting angry” is not how anyone would describe what occurred. I don’t feel this event merits all this deep political attention.  I doubt that the Human Rights Committee, or any other UTLA committee, would  accept a screaming tantrum directed at the whole group as an excusable way of handling a political or any other type of issue. Realizing that Emma was out of control, I felt sympathy and concern for her welfare, until I read the three page political diatribe, instead of some degree of self awareness which might result in healing for her and the committee.

Ableism in the Human Rights Movement Part V

August 27 2006 (08:59:00) US/Pacific

Simultaneous to my post, “Mildred” posted the following message (emphasis mine)  following this post are previous posts, including one by Mildred a year ago, contradicting her current position:
——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     [utla-hrc-discussion] the retreat_Date:     Fri, 11 Aug 2006 19:27:30 -0700 (PDT)
I appreciate Andy’s giving us a clear idea of Emma’s disability.  Since she has always been active and vibrant on our committee, it is hard to believe that she really has a severe disability. I have to say that the appeal to sympathy that Emma has shown in various ways has a tendency to cause people to feel uncertain how much is actual disability. A matter of fact explanation by her of her condition would have been better and probably elicited more of our   understanding. I am sorry if this sounds like blaming the victim,: it is intended to explain how I have noticed that various members have reacted to Emma. I myself have always felt warmly admiring of her work, but I admit to being very unhappy about her reactions on that hot afternoon.  This is not to deny that “Clarence” is abrupt and pretty fussy about his house and that had a role to play. ( It is not true that “Clarence” has allowed people to congregate in his house oreviously.  I have been at the previous retreats and we all kniw that, except to use the bathroom, we were asked  not to use the house). I was willing to accept “Clarence’s” foibles in exchange for his hospitality and the hard work entailed._It was an extremely hot afternoon and I’m sure it affected Emma’s condition very badly, but the uncontrolled anger was not healthy for her or our group. I hope that you, Andy an Emma, can realize that there is no excuse for that. Raising the issue to a political level may be useful in some contexts, but not to avoid a personal responsibility for causing an unproductive  and disrturbing scene.
Note to blog readers:
Over the last few years, I had made a few posts to the HRC list regarding my disability.  To contest “Mildred’s assertion that I had been less than matter of fact, I reposted two of them during this current dialogue. The first post has been edited for this blog;  I removed a portion of the message that pertained to HRC business regarding the conference as it doesn’t pertain to this discussion.  The portion that does pertain to this issue remains unchanged from the original post of a year and a half ago.  Note that the second message I posted was actually “Mildred’s” response to a post of mine: the introduction to this blog in which, in response to that introduction, she praises me for my ability to explain the same condition she how accuses me of failing to adequately describe.
She has not, to date, apologized for, acknowledged or explained the fact that just a year ago she had praised me on list for my ability to describe my disability, while now, in defense of “Clarence” she accuses me of bringing his abuse upon myself for failing to adequately make the case for that same disability.
****************************************_——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     [utla-hrc-discussion] 1. for the record, matter of fact! [Fwd: IMPORTANT CONFERENCE UPDATE]_Date:     Mon, 14 Aug 2006 01:28:22 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <>
matter of fact and for the record: here is a  one of the posts i placed to the list regarding my disability._for the complete original post, go to:
——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     IMPORTANT CONFERENCE UPDATE_Date:     Mon, 09 May 2005 20:45:06 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <>
Well, the conference is only a few days away and most of the loose ends _are being tied up.,,,
On a personal note, I do want to explain something that if it isn’t _clear could cause misunderstandings the day of the conference.  I have a _physical disability that limits my personal strength.  some days I am _better than others.  Some days I can’t get up at all.  I never know what _kind of day it’s going to be, but pacing myself and getting enough rest _before Friday should help.  I do doubt I’ll be able to hang in for the _whole day on Saturday.  It’s a rare day that I can go that long, and _I’ve been pretty weak the last few weeks.  I plan to be there Friday, _and will be really disappointed if I can’t make it, but that’s the way _things are sometimes.  I’ll try to have everything organized in the _event of my absence  (but no 7 step lesson plans!)  So, if you see me _sitting down while everyone’s working, or don’t see me at all, that’s _why.  It’s not laziness or hautiness, it’s just incapacity.  I trust you _will all be understanding.
Check our web page for updates and see you on Friday!
Peace with Justice,
——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     2. for the record , matter of fact. [Fwd: Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] In Bed With Frida Khalo: On disability and activism]_Date:     Mon, 14 Aug 2006 01:28:58 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <>
here is the second email i sent to the list, with “mildred’s” commentary.  for the original post, go to:
——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] In Bed With Frida Khalo: On disability and activism_Date:     Sat, 1 Oct 2005 16:08:01 -0700 (PDT)
Dear Emma-  Thank you for sharing this with me. Your writing is very good.  This may be your calling.  I think you are on the right track with your desease ( is that a correct term?). On the positive side, I have a cousin who had that desease and, after some time suffereing terrible pain, it suddenly disappeared and she has been free of it since.
Emma Rosenthal <> wrote:
Dear ones,
I want to invite you to visit my blog. It is a daily journal of my_    struggles with a little known illness, fibromyalgia, which has, for the_    most part, especially in recent months, taken me away from activism and_    confined me to my bed. I have shared perhaps pieced of what I am going_    to share here, with some of you, but for the most part, this is a bit of_    a coming out. I should include in this introduction, for those who don’t_    know, that I am a single mother with a child who also has significant_    health issues. We live in the isolation of what I call, quite seriously,_    the single mother ghetto, the way this society isolates women and children.
There is much shame and isolation around illness and disability in our_    society. More difficult than the disability, is the marginalization that_    has come with it. After a relatively minor car accident last April,_    which brought about an especially severe relapse, I had to retreat from_    most of my activity, including my activism, which very much defines for_    me, who I am. Having been reduced to being a sick woman in a bed, I have_    been called forth to make it my activism. So I have started this blog._    Bringing noise to the silence, I am reminded of that quote by Audre_    Lorde: “My silence had not protected me. Your silence will not protect_    you.” Silence seems to protect. It protects me from the cruel statements_    even well meaning people make. It protects me from harsh judgement. It_    protects me, to the extent that I can hide my disability, from the_    discrimination that comes with such a condition. But in silence there is_    complicity to the isolation. In isolation and silence there is no_    transformation.
I have named my blog, “In Bed with Frida Kahlo.” It’s a playful title,_    toying with both Frida’s prolific choice of intimate partners and her_    infirmity. Frida, a complicated woman who was an artist and an_    activists, having endured both polio and a devastating trolley accident,_    was confined to her bed for much of her life. She suffered great_    loneliness and despair which she chronicled in her diary and her_    paintings. My favorite quote of hers is “I must fight with all my_    strength so that the little positive things that my health allows me to_    do might be pointed toward helping the revolution. The only real reason_    for living.” It is often quoted. Less quoted are the words that preceded_    it:_    “I’ve been sick for a year now…. I don’t feel any pain. Only this…bloody_    tiredness, and naturally, quite often despair…I feel uneasy about my_    painting. Above all I want to transform it into something useful. for_    the Communist revolutionary movement, since up to now I have only_    painted the earnest portrayal of myself. But I’m very far from work that_    could serve the Party.”
She doubts the value of her art because it is so personal, and yet, it_    is through her paintings that we get to know her ideas, her values, her_    politics. This quote speaks to the fact that we never really know the_    impact we have on the world, –harder yet to know from the isolation and_    confines of bed. Frida’s story resonates with me, though I live my life_    very differently than she did. I don’t drink, I eat healthy, and for the_    most part, organic foods, Aside from occasional hits of shesha,(flavored_    tobacco, from a hooka pipe) I don’t smoke. I believe I have better taste_    in men, and I am not nearly as sexually prolific as she was. But we_    share art, socialism, and illness, and her story has helped me_    understand my own; to put it in a greater social and political context._    She died when she was only a few months older than I am now, many_    suspect by suicide, certainly by overdose of morphine to kill the pain_    that she lived with most of her life. I am determined to out live her by_    many years.
The writer’s life is an open book. I hope to provide in this blog, an_    honest account of life with illness, hoping, in my outburst to bring_    something to those who similarly suffer and to add, from my sickbed, to_    the body politic. I do, as a writer, have very few secrets, but I am_    very careful with the details I provide of those whose lives touch mine._    Forgive me when I am vague. It is not myself I am protecting, but the_    privacy of others. The decision to tell their story should be theirs._    Not mine.
Fibromyalgia strikes mostly women, seems to be neurological and_    immunological in origin, has no known marker or pathogens, is not_    contagious, and receives little research money. Symptoms include_    fatigue, pain, cognitive and memory difficulties, gastrointestinal_    problems, chemical sensitivity and depression. The severity comes and_    goes. Most of us with the condition are deceptively healthy looking. We_    have periods of greater activity and long periods of relapse. About two_    years ago I managed to hike 6 miles on my favorite trail in the San_    Gabriel mountains. It took me four hours instead of three, I didn’t hike_    alone, as I would have before I had become ill, and it took me days to_    recuperate, but I did it. Today I would have difficulty walking around_    the block. And yet I don’t doubt that I will find myself on a hiking_    trail sometime within the next year, and then back in bed once again_    some time after that.
Before I was ill, I was a full time classroom teacher in Los Angeles in_    a job I had held for 18 years. I also coordinated two educational_    programs and was involved in my union. Since the illness, I have had_    great trouble finding paying work. While some jobs have proven difficult_    for me to maintain because of the condition, more distressing are the_    number of requests that I work in a volunteer capacity to provide skills_    I am capable of meeting, from people who are more than willing to pay_    able bodied people to provide the same work. The constant reminders that_    my work has no monetary value add to my sense of marginalization and_    isolation. It’s not just vanity. I need the money. Due to the diligent_    work of teachers unions, I, like other disabled teachers, receive a full_    pension, half a teacher’s salary. This is much better than social_    security disability benefits, which would put me within the established_    definition of poverty. I also have health care coverage from my previous_    employment, but unfortunately, most of the health care modalities that_    help me with this condition, are not included in the coverage. There is_    very little that traditional Western medicine can do to help with_    fibromyalgia. While I could, in my simplicity, live on my pension, were_    I not sick, the added costs of my care, keep me in constant need of_    resources.
In my efforts to bring meaning and healing to my life, I struggle with_    the isolation that comes not only with the illness, but the_    marginalization that accompanies it, the inability of the social fabric_    to provide support, community, healing: our busy lives, the distance_    between intimates, the pithy values of the capitalist system that blame_    the victim, that sees all problems as individual and not collective, and_    the overall lack of accessible healthcare. One of the most isolating and_    marginalizing factors is what I call spiritual fascism. a bit of_    “survival of the fittest” that has entered into our daily lexicon of_    illness. “What did you do to create this?” “Can’t you just psyche_    yourself up and snap out of it?” “If you were more spiritual…” “When I’m_    sick I just meditate and it goes away.” “It’s god’s punishment.” “What_    did you do in a past life to bring this on yourself?” My favorite one:_    “Why did you choose this illness?” From the Christian right to New Age_    spirituality, the ideology that we somehow create our own suffering,_    that we can determine our own reality, I feel is rooted in American_    individualism and the break down of any understanding of collective_    responsibility and mutual aid, that illness might be a collective_    concern, that we don’t create our own reality, but rather, contribute to_    the collective reality, that racism, sexism, greed, violence and illness_    are real factors, beyond our spiritual imagination, that they are_    material and require a deep and significant response.
There is much indication that this illness is caused by a combination of_    trauma and environmental toxins. To that extent it is very much a_    disease of our times, caused, not by the individual, but by our social_    structure, the daily traumas of the violence of capitalism, the_    bombardment of dangerous toxins, in a society that puts greater value on_    profit, than on human need.
A wise rabbi once said “ The history of all hitherto existing societies_    is the history of class struggle.” (Actually that was Karl Marx, but_    what was he, if not a wise rabbi?) And my history is the struggle not_    only with the limitations of this condition, but the limitations and_    marginalization imposed by a corrupt civilization that has abandoned_    mutual aid for blame and guilt.
Since the accident I have had to pare down my activism. I have found_    myself unable to get out of the house much, often unable even to sit up_    in bed. I have not been able to continue projects I had started, and_    have had to reinvent myself again, as I have had to do repeatedly with_    this condition. Having been reduced to being a sick woman in a bed, I_    have decided to embrace it, to explore it, to bring my activism to it,_    to recognize my personal struggle as part of the universal struggle for_    human rights, dignity, health care, community. I cannot believe my_    isolation and loneliness is unique. I understand it to be part of a_    dialectic that must affect many people, all alone, all struggling for_    access, community, for health care.
I am beginning to come out of the relapse and find it is easier, in_    hindsight to appreciate the depth of the relapse, to forgive myself the_    despair and anxiety it has caused, to timidly look forward to the_    possibility of finding work and hopefully meeting my needs. The more_    severe neurological symptoms have abated. I can walk a bit further and_    use a cane or a walker less and less. I have fewer days where I can’t_    sit up in bed. I can write again. I am very grateful to Dr. Michael_    Hubka, an extraordinary chiropractor, Dr. Amy Swei, my acupuncturist,_    Greta Craddolf, my massage therapist, Dr. Kate Bourne, my therapist, Dr._    Joseph Haraszti, my psychiatrist and pharmachologist and Guadalupe_    Medrano, my cafregive (who is wonderful, and looking for more work). My_    son, Leon and my partner, Andy Griggs, have been enormous supports, as_    have my mother and several close friends (Sonali, Jim, Stephanie, Dima,_    Huda, Ban, John, Hussam, Linda, Darlene, Shraga, Sam, Dorothy, Sari,_    Tannery, Mary, Ariela, Linda, Bob, Alvaro, Mansoor, Steve– I hope I_    didn’t leave anyone out!) I must also acknowledge that my auto insurance_    company has been extraordinary in this whole process. Finally, I want to_    thank the Human Rights Committee of United Teachers Los Angeles for_    their gracious support and accommodation, which has allowed me increased_    activism and participation. That so many activists jump in to do what I_    cannot, allows me to give what I can. Perhaps the hardest part of this_    whole ordeal is that I am not short of vision, but the vehicle to bring_    it to fruition.
Frida has been accused of painting self-portraits to get attention, an_    unfair accusation from those who can find community by leaving their_    homes. We all need attention, communion. I am sure attention is one of_    my motives for this endeavor, but more importantly is the hope that I_    can create connection, hope, clarity, vision to those who suffer, as_    well as those who go about their lives, caught up in the fight for_    survival, the treadmill of life.
You can find my blog at    Currently it includes my bio and a few posts. You can respond to my_    posts and subscribe to the blog. In the future it will include photos_    and drawings, chronicles of the daily indignities of disability,_    insights, wish lists, poetry, despair and hope. Most posts will be brief_    annecdotes and insights, much shorter than this introductory rant.
Thank you for permitting me this indulgence.
Peace with justice, and above all else,
Emma Rosenthal_    Baldwin Park, CA_    10/1/05
©2005 Emma Rosenthal All Rights Reserved. Permission to post or forward_    in entirety including the copyright

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee- Part IV

Prior to posting the series of emails between myself and “Ethel”  and right after Andy posted his account of the events at the retreat, I posted this statement:
(Where names are listed in quotes, they replace the real names of Committee members with fictitious ones.  Other minor changes have been made to the original document to assist with contextualization and protect the identity of members whose permission  to disclose their identity I did not request.)
——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     [utla-hrc-discussion] the rights of the disabled and the events at the retreat_Date:     Fri, 11 Aug 2006 20:58:33 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <>
To the Human Rights Committee:
I am sure that the events at the retreat were distressing for most everyone, and that apparently, even for those who knew everything that was going on, that there  remains confusion regarding the significance of events that transpired.  Steve has posted an apology to both Andy and myself and Andy has posted his account of events that forced us to leave the retreat before the meeting began.  I am grateful to both of these activists for understanding and supporting my work and my rights.  I am further honored to have a comrade and partner with the wisdom, kindness and integrity that Andy has.  I have, this event aside, which seems to have been the perfect storm,  had the honor of serving this committee, which has for the most part been exemplary in accommodating my disability (adding to my shock, the treatment I received at the retreat.)
I was further surprised that no one tried to stop us from leaving and that after the retreat, no one tried to contact either of us.   Andy talked to Steve who a few days later, called me.  I would have thought that the work that both of us have done for this committee would have elicited a greater response.  Since then, I attempted to reach out by email to one member of the Committee who wrote back a rather upside down account of events, essentially blaming and accusing me of being the main cause of the problem.  I will be posting that communication in a later email so as not to have to repeat myself too much here, and to further document the lack of clarity on the part of key members of this Committee  as to the issue of disability rights as an essential human right.  When I do post that communication, I will not be using the person’s name, in order to honor the privacy of what was a personal communication.  I will also be posting these communications to my blog, where I document the indignities and difficulties of this disability.
I am aware that my response to what was repeated abuse, humiliation, ridicule and marginalization is what made people most uncomfortable.  I want to extend a measured apology, because in apologizing I might imply that there is a correct way to react to abuse and discrimination and I don’t think a Miss Manners response, though expected, should be.  While White men are allowed their anger, bravado and transgressions (boys will be boys, he was just joking!), women and other disenfranchised populations are expected to act as social lubricants, tend to their perpetrators, make everyone comfortable, suffer in silence, speak softly.  Nonetheless, I do wish my response had been less fearful, desperate and bitter.
Disability carries with it a specific stigma.  While White folks will never wake up Black, nor men fear becoming women;  everyone, if we live long enough, will become disabled.  We are the mirror of your future.  And for many, this is very scary.  We are bombarded with images of good natured disabled people who rise up against adversity (learn to paint with their toes, ski on one leg) without asking for “special treatment.” Other images are pitiful ones: charity cases, so that the able bodied can feel generous.  Or we are the butt of jokes,  Hollywood movies replacing circus freak shows.   We are warehoused, hidden, separated from you.  We are to be exemplary, accommodating, ridiculous or pitiful. And we are supposed to be either good natured or silent.   We aren’t supposed to be a mixture of competent and demanding.  We are supposed to be grateful and deferential.  Our rights to access is seen as a favor bestowed upon us, a source of resentment (Why do THEY get all the good parking spots? They just want special treatment?  She isn’t really (that) disabled!)  If you convince yourself we are faking it, or that we cause our condition, it makes the denial of your own future all the more easier.  If someone as young (I was 35 when I first became this sick,) strong willed and capable as I, can be this impaired, what does that tell you about your own futures?
I had made an incredible effort to attend this retreat. Climbing stairs and being exposed to excessive heat are very difficult for me, as well as for many disabled people. And while I knew we would need to address the issue of venue at some point, I felt that this wasn’t the time.  I had planned to keep cool by drinking cold water, wearing a wet scarf, and going into the house if I became too warm or if I needed to rest.  Andy drove my car up the steep driveway so that we could park nearer the stairs that lead up to the patio.  We damaged part of my bumper in the attempt.  (even the car had trouble getting up the driveway!) I needed help getting up to the house. When I asked for ice, “Clarence” repeatedly denied me this small accommodation.  Instead,  he continually ridiculed and humiliated me.  When I went inside the house (as I had done the last two retreats, without incident.) I was told I couldn’t do that either. Finally “Clarence” told me what I could say, as if the word “fuck” was  a greater obscenity than the hateful speech and behavior I was reacting to.  And the final insult, indignity and humiliation is that I couldn’t leave on my own when I felt that I needed to.  I had to ask for help both in getting down the steps and in getting my car out of the driveway.  Another Committee member was kind enough to help me down the stairs, but at that point, asking for assistance was one more insult and humiliation to what had been a rather disastrous and devastating series of events. Andy left with me and got my car down the hill.
This is an important case in point that it isn’t enough that people with disabilities be offered help. We must, to the extent possible, have full autonomy and agency.  (Certainly a woman’s right to control her own body, extends to the disabled?)
Had this been a  private party, none of this would be of any legal or binding consequence, but this was a UTLA Committee event.  “Clarence” is a Board of Director, and in that capacity, a spokesperson for the union.  He puts the entire organization at risk of liability when, acting in an official capacity, he behaves this way.  I wasn’t even asking for full accessibility. I only asked for ice!
This was my first return to a Committee gathering since the conference I was instrumental in producing.  To have been treated this way and to have my work so poorly recognized and my autonomy and agency stripped of me by activists who should have a greater understanding of this issue, as well as a better understanding of group process, was devastating.  I have been distraught and have had trouble sleeping and concentrating since the retreat. I was completely broken.  I considered disappearing further into the isolation this illness imposes on me, not merely because of its own limits, but more because of the limited and bigoted behavior that I have to contend with on a daily basis, in attempting to meet the most banal of needs.  I never expected to meet this level of bigotry and humiliation at a Human Rights Committee event.  I was determined never to return to this Committee again, to pare back all activism, not only because of “Clarence’s” actions, but the actions of the group both during and after Andy and I left.  Andy and Steve have convinced me otherwise.
I hope that we all choose to learn from this experience, and not pretend that it didn’t happen, that we refrain from resorting to platitudes, minimizing the severity or attributing it to personalities.  Under both state and federal law, non-profit organizations  (including labor unions,) businesses, placed of employment  etc.  must be handicapped accessible and must provide “reasonable accommodations” to disabled persons. In having the retreat at an inaccessible location, we have been in violation of that law, opening up the union to lawsuits, and who among us would oppose anyone who decided to take such action?  It is only just (and legally binding)  that all events of this committee and UTLA as well, be held in locations that meet ADA accessibility standards as well as address the particular needs of individual disabled people.  I would hope that we would be in the vanguard of advancing these rights beyond current legislation.  I plan to exercise and assert my rights and the rights of all disabled people, to the fullest.  I deeply hope that we can address these issues as allies and not adversaries.
“Clarence” has since apologized to me and while I have accepted his apology on face value, I have reservations as to its genuineness.  Only if this apology is backed up by real amends in behavior in the future and a dedication to the greater issues of accommodation and accessibility, will it prove to have been heartfelt.  He must also recognize that working with him will be very difficult for me and that he must honor distance and time if he is sincere in healing the damage he has caused.
Hopefully he will also recognize that had his actions been as pointedly racist or sexist as they were ableist, there are members of this union who would be demanding that he resign from his position on the board.
Furthermore, while “Clarence” advised me that he is invested in having this event at his house in the future, I am equally determined that no event is ever held in a location that is handicapped inaccessible or where basic human rights have been so brazenly disregarded and violated.  Even if it were possible to modify his house to be ADA compliant (and it isn’t!) he doesn’t deserve a second chance.  We should be at least that committed to assuring that such a series of abuses not occur again.  I am willing to assist in finding an alternative, more appropriate, more neutral, less discriminatory venue for the event next year.  If none is available, we can always meet at the union hall.
The retreat, though social in atmosphere, sets the tone and the direction of The Committee for the upcoming year.  Through the discriminatory actions of our host and the inaccessibility of the venue, I was totally disenfranchised from this process. I am not asking for special treatment.  This is not the same as if I  simply hadn’t attempted to attend the event.  I made every effort to participate but was prevented from doing so.   I hope that The Committee won’t mind backtracking a bit to include both Andy’s input as well as mine.  I have gone over the minutes of the retreat and will be providing my own feedback as well as adding  proposals, specifically as they pertain to projects I have been involved in (the conference)  or have proposed focusing on (recruitment.)  I trust my input will be more welcome than the unfortunate events at the retreat might indicate and that we can, by focusing on justice and human rights, (not by brushing this under the rug or blaming the victim) become even stronger advocates for human rights.
Peace with Justice,

Letter to UTLA leadership regarding the situation within the Human Rights Committee

disability rights within UTLA and the Human Rights Committee
Emma Rosenthal <>
Thu, 24 Aug 2006 08:25:40 -0700
Joshua Pechthalt <>,,, Andy Griggs <>
CC:,,,,,,, Steve Seal <>, Andy Griggs <>,,,
Dear activists,
As many of you know, there is a rather troubling conflict going on within the Human Rights Committee of UTLA, around the rights of disabled people to be allowed full accessibility and participation without being subjected to ridicule, humiliation, hostility and unhealthy working conditions.  Secondary to this is the sexist premises of decorum and the specific issues  of self advocacy and sexual harassment.   In order to obscure the larger political issue, the opponents of these rights are personalizing the issue around  my personality and my presentation of my disability, going so far as to accuse me of not really being disabled.  But to many members of the Committee, the issue is much bigger than personality issues.  Often deep and significant issues are brushed under the carpet by ascribing the larger politic to mere issues of personality, and yet even personalities can’t be divorced from the greater political and social constructs in which they operate.
It would appear that most of the Committee does not agree with this small but cohesive group of activists, but their behavior is impacting the overall work of the Committee and the ability of other activists, including myself,  to continue to contribute to the struggle for universal human rights and social justice.
After years of frustration with the impediments of disability, not only of the disability itself, but the constant  bigoted attitudes and humiliations I encounter daily, I started a blog titled “in bed with frida kahlo,” in homage to a wonderful artist, activist and fellow gimp woman.  On that blog I will be chronicling the more significant posts and communications in the dialogue occurring within the Human Rights Committee.  Regardless of where one falls on this issue, what will follow on the pages of my blog, in documenting the discussion from all of its facets, is a significant contribution to a greater understanding of the marginalization of people with disabilities, the underlying expectations of people with disabilities, especially women,  and the manifestation of disability discrimination.
I will be changing the names of many of the committee members.  a reflection of my belief that writers must be careful when telling anyone else’s story.  Michael Novick, Andy Griggs, Steve Seal and Linda Baughn have all been wonderfully supportive and with their permission,  I will be publishing their contributions to this dialogue with full attribution.
On the issue of governance, the UTLA constitution has not been updated in some time, so that along with other protective classes, the rights of the disabled are not guaranteed within the UTLA constitution.  This must be changed and updated.  It must also be explicit UTLA policy that no UTLA event ever be held in locations that are not accessible and that ridiculing the meager attempts of disabled activists for minor accommodations should be resoundingly condemned.
It is my belief that the emails alone document a campaign of disability and sexual discrimination and harassment and that a hostile working environment exists in which it is becoming increasingly more and more impossible for me to participate fully.   Also I hope that this issue can be addressed in house, and that governmental agencies that protect the rights of the disabled, along with all other classes, will not need to be involved in this process, but I am resolved to assert my rights, and the rights of all disabled people for full inclusion in this organization, free from ridicule and harassment.
I Will be posting a little bit each day, so as not to overwhelm my regular readers.  The entire dialogue, up to this point should be posted within a week.
To visit my blog, go to:
To see the articles and posts specific to this issue, including the introduction which i posted yesterday morning,  and andy griggs’ description of events at the retreat, go to:
Thank you,
Peace with justice,

Subject: disability rights within UTLA and the Human Rights Committee

From: Emma Rosenthal <>

Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2006 08:25:40 -0700

To: UTLA-AFT Vice President, Joshua Pechthalt,  UTLA Treasurer, David Goldberg  UTLA Vice President, Julie Washington, UTLA President. AJ Duffy

CC: Chairs of various committees, including the Human Rights Committee, The Capably Disabled Committee, The African American Education Committee, The Chicano Latino Education Committee, as well as three members of the ISO who are also within the leadership of UTLA

Dear activists,

As many of you know, there is a rather troubling conflict going on within the Human Rights Committee of UTLA, around the rights of disabled people to be allowed full accessibility and participation without being subjected to ridicule, humiliation, hostility and unhealthy working conditions.  Secondary to this is the sexist premises of decorum and the specific issues  of self advocacy and sexual harassment.   In order to obscure the larger political issue, the opponents of these rights are personalizing the issue around  my personality and my presentation of my disability, going so far as to accuse me of not really being disabled.  But to many members of the Committee, the issue is much bigger than personality issues.  Often deep and significant issues are brushed under the carpet by ascribing the larger politic to mere issues of personality, and yet even personalities can’t be divorced from the greater political and social constructs in which they operate.

It would appear that most of the Committee does not agree with this small but cohesive group of activists, but their behavior is impacting the overall work of the Committee and the ability of other activists, including myself,  to continue to contribute to the struggle for universal human rights and social justice.

After years of frustration with the impediments of disability, not only of the disability itself, but the constant  bigoted attitudes and humiliations I encounter daily, I started a blog titled “in bed with frida kahlo,” in homage to a wonderful artist, activist and fellow gimp woman.  On that blog I will be chronicling the more significant posts and communications in the dialogue occurring within the Human Rights Committee.  Regardless of where one falls on this issue, what will follow on the pages of my blog, in documenting the discussion from all of its facets, is a significant contribution to a greater understanding of the marginalization of people with disabilities, the underlying expectations of people with disabilities, especially women,  and the manifestation of disability discrimination.

I will be changing the names of many of the committee members.  a reflection of my belief that writers must be careful when telling anyone else’s story.  Michael Novick, Andy Griggs, Steve Seal and Linda Baughn have all been wonderfully supportive and with their permission,  I will be publishing their contributions to this dialogue with full attribution.

On the issue of governance, the UTLA constitution has not been updated in some time, so that along with other protective classes, the rights of the disabled are not guaranteed within the UTLA constitution.  This must be changed and updated.  It must also be explicit UTLA policy that no UTLA event ever be held in locations that are not accessible and that ridiculing the meager attempts of disabled activists for minor accommodations should be resoundingly condemned.

It is my belief that the emails alone document a campaign of disability and sexual discrimination and harassment and that a hostile working environment exists in which it is becoming increasingly more and more impossible for me to participate fully.   Also I hope that this issue can be addressed in house, and that governmental agencies that protect the rights of the disabled, along with all other classes, will not need to be involved in this process, but I am resolved to assert my rights, and the rights of all disabled people for full inclusion in this organization, free from ridicule and harassment.

I Will be posting a little bit each day, so as not to overwhelm my regular readers.  The entire dialogue, up to this point should be posted within a week.

To visit my blog, go to:

To see the articles and posts specific to this issue, including the introduction which i posted yesterday morning,  and andy griggs’ description of events at the retreat, go to:

Thank you,

Peace with justice,

Emma Rosenthal


NOTE:  No one in UTLA leadership responded to this letter.

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee- Part III

The retreat was held on a Saturday, and Andy and I left before the meeting began.  Later that day “Gilroy,” a comittee member, emailed a suggested recruiting poster to the listserve, The proposed  poster featured “Clarence”, waving a peace sign, in a tie dyed Bob Marley t-shirt, with the text “I want you to join the UTLA Human Rights Committee.”
Andy responds that perhaps there are other recruiting messages, than an older while male, since we need to recruit younger teachers from diverse backgrounds.
“Gilroy” responds:
“I was just trying to have some fun from the great retreat yesterday.  _I captured a moment and turned it into something that I thought was  _fun and hip and enticing.
Everybody being so serious and glum about it is kind of strange imho.
And how many people of color even attend our  _meetings…one…two…maybe three…sometimes?!
Maybe we should try to figure that one out rather than make any  _recruitment attempt into a discussion loaded with PC accusations.
I think I have already proven my motivations by the work I have done  _in the past…sorry I will be more uncreative in the future._G”
–without any recognition that Andy, the former Chair of the Committee, (not to mention, I)  felt compelled to leave early due specifically due to “Clarence’s” bigoted behavior, or that any problems existed at the retreat or within the Committee.
Then, Gilroy reminds “Bob Marley btw is a person of color, and is the most noticeable image in the color pic!” .
(We don’t have people of color on our committee but we do have pictures of them!!?! –amazing!)
Committee members weigh in on either side of the discussion of the proposed poster, some agreeing with Andy, others accusing him of “political correctness.” A term I really don’t understand, except as an attempt to marginalize debate about language and policies of inclusion.
Ethel posts”
“Gilroy”  took the initiative to take the picture right then and there and if I don’t say so myself it’s a great photo.  I see nothing wrong with using it as one of the outreach tools.  But as I said as the meeting- the best pitch is the work we do,  and that demonstrating value.  If we focus on the 3 themes we discussed (privatization of education, militarism in the schools and environmental global warming and justice) and lead the union in them, I am sure younger and all age teachers will be drawn to HRC.”
What follows are three emails between Ethel and me that I eventually post to the list but identify “Ethel” as “W,” since her email was sent to me personally.   At this point I am just assuming that people just didn’t know what happened or didn’t understand the significance of “Clarence’s” behavior and the impact on me, such a poster will provoke.  The animosity and ill will that follows had no precedent.  There was no indication that this level of bitterness or disdain for my work existed among Committee members.  At no point during the school year, did anyone ever enter a motion or raise a concern about my methodology in planning the last two conferences, or in the presentation of my disability.  There was one person on the Committee who seemed outwardly uncomfortable with me, expressing her discontent in passive aggressive behaviors such as refusing to provide workshop descriptions or bios to proposals she had made for the conference, making it difficult to implement her ideas without holding up the process of conference planning.  Nonetheless, we did incorporate her ideas and she lead plenaries at one conference and workshops at both.  So either the animosities and “reactions to Emma” that “Ethel” refers to are reactions to my blow up at” Clarence.” Or they are part of a deep seated  resentments that have gone unaddressed for quite some time, behind smiles and air kisses.

<>——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     Re: [utla-hrc-discussion] recruitment poster_Date:     Sun, 16 Jul 2006 21:06:08 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Reply-To:     emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Organization:     earthlink
“ethel,”_i’m preparing a letter to the group, but between you and me, i am shocked by the dialogue on line that came out of this retreat.  from the moment i arrived “Clarence” relentlessly made disparaging, bigoted and provocative comments to me regarding, among other things, my disability and what i could say or do at the retreat. the fact that this was his house does not give him that right, if it does, we have no business meeting there. (the lack of handicapped accessibility should also have precluded meeting at this location.)  that i got so little support from the other members of the committee and that i had to leave (or sit silently) while my rights were violated to have THIS photo come out of the retreat casts disparagement to all that i have done for and on behalf of this committee.  That “Clarence” was so profoundly received, while andy and i felt it necessary to leave early is an outrage.  i am so deeply hurt that the rest of you didn’t intervene or even question what it was that would have distressed me so thoroughly that i would have needed to get that upset and felt that the only dignified response was to leave.
what is even more outrageous is that you sat next to me for most (though not all) of  “clarence’s” insults (there are a few choice comments of his that you weren’t privy too) that no one supported me or followed me the two times i left the room or tried to make it possible for me to stay makes this a profound betrayal. that no one has tried to reach either andy or myself to try to resolve this situation, it is as if our absence was meaningless to the group and “clarence’s” annual burger flip, worthy of poster recognition.

In her reply below, note that 1. “Clarence’s” behavior is understandable because of the way I have presented my disability.  2.  The problem with my personality is related to how I present my disability.
——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     (no subject)_Date:     Mon, 17 Jul 2006 00:48:14 EDT
Emma,_I appreciate your sharing your feelings about the situation yesterday with me.  When you said I didn’t say anything to support you, it was because I felt “Clarence” was just joking with you.  I could see you didn’t take it that way, and it so quickly escalated.  I was more in shock than anything, and was quite speechless.  But let’s look at it again.
First of all, what “Clarence” said was not funny in my opinion, but he stated that he was joking and he set aside the ice.  What’s funny to him, may not be funny to you, or me.  But you did get very angry and didn’t share your feelings (such as what we teach the kids- take a breath and state what bothers you).  You attacked him, and he teased you.  Emma, in my opinion this interaction wasn’t about your disability- but a real communication breakdown.  And you didn’t stay, so it couldn’t be resolved._   It made me think that you weren’t feeling well when you came there, and therefore “Clarence’s” comment was what you focused on with all your anger. In my opinion it was out of proportion Emma.  You could have told him that you took his comment as insensitive and that it hurt- which if he then said something negative, that would have been totally uncaring and insensitive on his part.
For your information I did speak with “Clarence” after you left about his being aware and sensitive towards others.  He said that he’s seen you fly up the stairs before and I told him that a disability such as yours is day to day, and that he doesn’t know what you are feeling or capable of that day. I don’t think he is very open to hearing how your disability affects how you are, which is what Andy was talking with him about.  In my humble opinion, I think there are two things going on and you may hate me for saying so- but it’s your disability and personality.  Most of us do not know your pain and discomfort and you are commended for how you continue on in a positive way._At other times, such as with the HRC conference, you come across as a victim when you say that no one is helping you, etc.  It comes across as complaining and chases persons away.  I never knew you before, so I don’t know if you are different, but this part seems more like a personality issue.  It’s different to share your feelings about what you are able to do and how you need support, and to come across as complaining about the situation.  So I believe that persons such as “Clarence” react to you as being self centered (what he said) without understanding the nature of your illness.  I can say that I don’t know or understand, but feel comfortable with not knowing. I just need to be open.
It is quite tragic that the incident couldn’t be talked out and you felt that you had to leave.

Almost a month later, about the same time that Andy posts “Why I Left the Retreat” message, I write back to “Ethel.”

Subject:     Re: your email_Date:     Fri, 11 Aug 2006 20:57:03 -0700_From:     Emma Rosenthal <emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Reply-To:     emmarosenthal@earthlink.net_Organization:     earthlink_To:     “Ethel” Inouye <Aginouye@aol.com_References:     <
It has been several weeks since you wrote me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what happened at the retreat and what you said in your email to me.  And Andy and I have discussed the whole issue quite thoroughly.  I have also spoken with Steve and he has posted his position on this situation,  to the  list.
I do wish you had taken more time to reflect on your position before writing what I feel quite clearly was a sad expose of your intolerance of people with disabilities in general (apparently justified by your  long standing dislike of me — I had no idea!)  as well as a real lack of understanding of the issues of access as an essential human right.  You state that you are comfortable not understanding.  The only reason you can be comfortable not understanding disability is because of the comfort afforded you by privilege.
I wish, before writing to me that you had reflected on what you already know about human rights and affirmative action.  For what is disability access, if not essentially an affirmative action program?  Where affirmative action attempts to break down social barriers imposed upon people on the basis or race or sex or class, for disabled people we must also disassemble and rebuild real structural barriers as well.  Every time you see stairs, understand, the institution or home you are entering either intentionally or unintentionally is barring access to disabled people.  When that same institution has a handicapped entrance around the back, special seating, special facilities, it is practicing a policy of se”Gilroy”ation.  Separate but  (in) equal seems to be the the most we can hope for.  For, with the exception of parking spaces (often in places inaccessible to many autos, or blocked by service vehicles!) few accommodations for us are equal or allow us full access to the social function we attempt to attend.
After the retreat, I took the time to write to you personally because I mistakenly assumed that  you would be concerned with the underlying issues to the event that occurred and the rights of the disabled to fully participate in what was a public, not a private event.  I thought you might be an ally in pursuit of full inclusion. It was the high esteem I had for you as a human rights activist, and now I am shocked that you could respond to my concerns in the way that you have.  In reading your response to my email it is hard to believe that you even read what I wrote to you, disregarding real events  to fit your own rationalization for what transpired.  It is as if you don’t understand the issue of disability access to be a human rights issue that this committee is obligated to address along with all other human rights issues.  Women, ethnic groups are frequently accused of playing victim, of not having a sense of humor, of poor communication, of misplaced anger, of bringing discrimination on themselves, of being uppity, too demanding, rude and of having difficult personalities.  (What effective human rights activist isn’t difficult when the situation calls for it?)
What you have totally disregarded is that there were several comments (not just one, as you state)  made by “Clarence” to me (including his response to  previous requests for ice to be set aside) in which he made abusive, offensive statements in reference to my body, weight and health.   Imagine, please if a Muslim or Jewish member of the group had requested to have pork separated from the other foods and someone repeatedly made disparaging comments that he insisted were jokes, as she became increasingly upset he began to wave pork sausages in her face and finding the whole situation deliciously amusing, laughed, and felt it was his place to determine the veracity of the need or the legitimacy of the request.
From your comments it is apparent that you have harbored ill feelings towards me and my expression of my disability and rights, for some time.  While we all would like to be liked all the time by everyone, there are more important considerations than popularity and personality.  Even if I am a difficult person, and even if “Clarence” expressed a resentment growing in the group towards me,  I have the right to request, even demand, accommodation.  It isn’t a favor the group provides to me individually, but actually a legally binding obligation, not just of this committee, but of the union as a whole.  The handicapped accommodations mandated by hard won civil rights activists, such as accessible rest rooms, elevators, parking spaces as they pertain to the UTLA building, extend by law, and  by right, to all activities of the union.  Had this been a private gathering at “Clarence”’s house he would be free to discriminate to his delight and if he could find disabled people willing to volunteer (or be paid) for the humiliation we get all too accustomed to, that would also be their decision.  But I should never have to decide between participation and humiliation and inaccessibility.  It should never be a personal issue.
We are all at fault for having this event at a venue that does not allow access to the disabled.  You are right.  I wasn’t feeling well.  I had just climbed up a flight of stairs and was anticipating a day in the sun in 100 degree heat.   Just getting to the event was very difficult. and many disabled people simply would not have been able to attend.  (I  do know of one other disabled person who did not attend for these reasons.)  Though it was difficult, unlike many, I was able to climb the stairs.   I carefully planned ways to deal with the heat and the stairs. I brought a scarf that I could soak with water and wear to keep cool, planned to drink cold water and to go inside if the weather became too hot or if I needed to lie down.  I tried to address my needs in advance,  without subjecting the group to my situation, and planned, when necessary to ask for help. But “Clarence’s” constant ridicule, which began before I even said “hello” and continued until I left, along with his mis-use of power as host to disallow me to use the strategies I had planned to use,  was absolutely unacceptable, and had  his statements been based directly on gender or race, rather than disability, (I hope) would have never been tolerated,  and my reaction would have been much more understandable.  (Fat jokes and comments about a woman’s body and the bullying nature of his behavior were in my opinion, also sexist, as well as ableist. though less blatantly so.)
To make this about personality gets you, “Clarence” and the committee off the hook.  I knew when I disturbed “the peace.”  It was just before I asked for help in securing ice.  “Clarence” had made it quite clear multiple times that I was not getting ice.  I thought to myself; “This is his house, his rules.”  But then I realized that this was not his event, it was an official event of the Human Rights Committee and UTLA.  He was not paying for the food, the union was. He didn’t have the right to marginalize me, that at the very least, this was an abuse of power.   It was at that point that I decided not to sit silently while my rights were violated, and to speak up. I was scared when I asked for support, but what were my options; sit quietly, leave, or defend myself while risking more ridicule and condemnation.   His continued ridicule and the lack of real support was devastating and isolating.  Your assertion that he was merely insensitive but that  I needed to be more accommodating and tolerant of his unusual sense of humor,  turns all civil and human rights logic on its end.
Yes, I wasn’t feeling well when I arrived. I  am disabled and have chronic pain and fatigue. Should I stay home?  Is that my “place?”  I find it hard to conduct the most banal of activities without running into daily humiliating and degrading situations.  DAILY!  and right now my fuse is very short.  It isn’t the illness that is so overwhelming, it’s the marginalization, ridicule and humiliation that I have to address constantly.  I have had store clerks put carts in my way, block aisles, talk to me as if I were three years old (check the tone of your email,) refuse me service, laugh at me.  I try to calmly present my concerns and needs, but the number of indignities wears me down.  I didn’t blow up on “Clarence’s” first offense, but well after his fifth or sixth comment and denial of accommodation and the refusal of the group to adequately defend my rights even after I asked for help.    It is hard to be a diplomat every day, every second, bombarded with obstacles and ridicule constantly.  — and to be sick at the same time it is often impossible.  Perhaps it is your position, it certainly can be implied by your statements, that I should simply not impose this on the group, that I should have stayed home if I wasn’t up to the climb up the hill, that I shouldn’t have “taken my anger out on “Clarence”,” that it was misplaced.  I wish I had had the ability to express my outrage more peacefully, but I also wish that “Clarence” had understood that this was not his event, but an official Committee meeting,  compelling him to act on behalf of the Union at all times so that everyone entitled to attend, could, and that  the rest  of you hadn’t been so unwilling to intervene on my behalf and the greater good,  before the situation escalated to the point where it was unredeemable.  As for your patronizing suggestion: I did try to decompress, and left the patio (twice!).  Andy came in to talk to me, and he did (as you suggest in your email), on my behalf, tell “Clarence” that his comments were insensitive and inappropriate. Aside from Andy, the only one to follow me into the house was “Clarence”,  making more incendiary comments and taking the opportunity to further limit my ability to take care of myself, by telling me that  the retreat was outside not inside, essentially coming after me to escalate the situation and essentially NOT allowing me to “take a breath.”  and get some distance.
I thought I was safe with this group, and most of the time I get a lot of help and I have expressed my gratitude for that repeatedly.  (It’s even on my blog.)  You condemn me for not staying to work this out, but I did ask for help, and beyond people insisting that “Clarence” set aside ice, none was provided.  (It should be noted that he had clearly refused to set ice aside up until this point.)   Without the structure for process, the willingness of the group to discuss difficult issues and address uncomfortable situations, I would have been, I was, on my own.  This was obvious when no one except Andy tried to diffuse the situation, confront “Clarence” in his abuse or ask me what was wrong on either of the two occasions when I left the patio and went inside to sit.
It is my right to be a member of this committee, and the obligation of the Committee to accommodate, not ridicule me or allow the ridicule of my condition or my request.  If “Clarence” was merely joking, then he would have stopped when he got no humored response, well before my outburst.  Sarcasm, ridicule, teasing and humiliation are not acceptable forms of humor.  When directed at protected classes (race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability) they are hate speech.  When they block access, they are discriminatory.  But humor was only a later defense, as you point out, and as Andy explains as well; “Clarence’s”  first defense was quite direct; he didn’t believe that I was really disabled and he resented how “self centered” I am.  This to him, and perhaps to you as well, are acceptable explanations for his behavior.  In essence he was merely putting me in his place.
If it wasn’t about disability then he wouldn’t have defended himself  by essentially accusing me of “faking it”  –as if I have some strange desire to accumulate expensive ambulatory devices.  Nor would you have confronted him on this insensitivity to disability if you felt that it wasn’t a key factor in the conflict.  I shouldn’t have to convince anyone of my condition anymore than women or people of color should need “Clarence’s” approval or recognition.  His arrogant assertion that I’m not really disabled is a very bigoted statement.  That neither of you feel that I act the way a disabled person is supposed to act is a sadder reflection on your own intolerance than on my presentation of my condition or my personality.  I am not responsible to the able bodied to fit their prescribed notion of a person with a disability. In the presence of a profound injustice, the correction of that injustice is a social and communal requisite and can’t be brushed aside because you don’t like my manners!
That you see him as the victim is more commentary on your desire for comfort than justice.  He tried repeatedly to limit my participation and to provoke me and made repeated disparaging remarks about my physical condition.  Then he told me where I could sit, and later, what I could say; what words I could use. This is not mere insensitivity, but a violation of my rights as a disabled person.  It is hate speech no less than if he had waved a confederate flag or handed out pornography as a joke, and offending a member of the community, continued to wave it and make disparaging remarks.  Had one of the women or an African American participant responded (when more measured responses failed)  with the same rage  I did, I hope you would not be so quick to blame the victim (while condemning her for being one, at the same time!) and I would hope that you would have been quicker to have offered more assertive support.
Strange, all I asked for was ice!  And it wasn’t for me alone.  We don’t know that there weren’t other people with compromised immune systems also in attendance who, fearing the treatment I received, or more deferential to formalities and niceties than I, might have chosen to remain silent.  Or perhaps they had a health condition that carries more stigma than my noncontagious condition, (the only stigma being;” funny, you don’t look disabled!”)  Instead, I was humiliated for my disability, which for you apparently isn’t even on the radar screen of the human rights agenda: the right of people with compromised immune systems not to be ridiculed for wanting food not contaminated by the hands of those with healthy systems.
I don’t hate you for what you have said, but do see it as a poor reflection on your own privilege and your inability, at least at this time, to see your perception in the context of the greater human rights framework.  You say you are comfortable “not understanding” but this is not enough.  Are you comfortable “not understanding” racism? sexism? To be a human rights activist (and a teacher!) you must understand the larger issues of access, accommodation and equality.   My own self determination entitles me, in the context of human rights, to decide which barriers I can surmount on any given day.  It is your obligation as a privileged, able bodied person to advocate for my full inclusion, personalities aside, for the greater good of human rights. That you don’t like the way I ask for help could be alleviated by assuring universal access regardless of personality so that the need to ask is removed from the disabled person.
“Clarence” has since provided me with a rather strange apology but then quickly established that he would continue to have the event at his home, that he and others were invested in this.  Why?  Why have the event at a place where the host was so insensitive to key human rights issues, to the extent that his actions barred access?  Why force anyone to decide to return to a venue that was inaccessible, humiliating and traumatic or to have to decide not to participate in an important function of the Committee?  Why decide between “the way we have always done things” (like a group of good ole boys,)  and the greater good, a greater understanding of social justice and a policy that would allow greater inclusion?  What use is an apology if it isn’t followed by real change  and amendment (amends) in behavior?  If it only serves the greater agenda (in this case, the continued privilege of hosting this event) of the person making the apology?
I won’t relent on this issue, as I wouldn’t back down on any human rights issue.  The side of the issue you choose to take is up to you.  I hope you reconsider your position on this matter, deeply reexamining the underlying assumptions that contributed to your reply and your interpretation of events.
Peace with Justice,

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee – Part II


<>Why I left the Retreat  -Andy Griggs


<>Emma’s notes:
Steve Seal: Chair Human Rights Committee_Andy Griggs: Former Chair, Human Rights Committee, UTLA Board of Directors_“Clarence”- Host of the retreat, UTLA Board of Directors_“Ethel”- Committee Member. _Emma Rosenthal- This blogger, member of the Human Rights Commttee, Chair- Conference Sub-committee 2004-2006
Every year the HRC has a retreat to set the agenda for the upcoming year.  For the past three years it has been held at the home of now Board of Directors, “Clarence.”  The retreat takes place on the patio, which is up a flight of stairs and, for the most part, in the direct sun.  __This is Andy’s original email to the other members of the Human Rights Committee (HRC) with minor changes made for the purpose of clarity and to obscure the identity of those who have not given permission to have their role in this discussion, revealed.  Names in parenthesis are fictitious and bear no resemblance to the real name of the person they refer to.  Names not in quotes are those activists who I ask and who gave me permission to be include in this blog.

——– Original Message ——–_Subject:     [utla-hrc-discussion] Why I left the HRC retreat_Date:     Thu, 10 Aug 2006 19:19:27 EDT_From:     AndyCA6@aol.com_Reply-To:,AndyCA6@aol.com_To:
Why I left the Human Rights Committee retreat
First of all, I am sorry that I have not posted earlier, but I was getting ready for the AFT Convention in Boston, and felt what happened that day needed a well thought-out response.
I will first recount the sequence of events from my perspective, and then explain why I felt it necessary to leave.
“Clarence”, from the moment we arrived at the meeting, was rude, insulting, and insensitive to Emma. His first words to us on our arrival were “I hope you will be careful and not break anything this year, Emma. I fixed the broken bench.” This was referring to an incident last year when she was sitting on one of his benches and another activist sat next to her. It broke.
We both thought he was making a bad joke and shrugged that one off. A bit later she asked about whether there was any ice to use for drinks that people weren’t putting their hands in separate from the ice used to keep bottled drinks cold and he made a comment about “I don’t have any cooties! You can use this ice.” He could easily have just said–“no, but we have more ice coming, and we can set some aside.”
When the new ice arrived, I was engaged in conversation with Steve about budget issues. Emma again asked if some ice could be set aside, explaining that some people have weak immune systems. “Clarence” said no, none of us have dirty hands. Emma asked for support, (once again raising the issue of health needs of people with weak immune systems), and “Clarence” made his snide joke about “Let’s have a motion.” By this time, Emma was visibly getting upset, and walked in the house so she could cool off. “Ethel” told “Clarence” to set asides some ice and he did, but he did not tell Emma that it was set aside at that time.
I went inside to talk to Emma, and then went back out to continue talking with Steve and “Ethel”. A bit later Emma told me that “Clarence” came in after I left and said to her in private that “…the retreat is outside on the deck, not in the house…” where she had gone to avoid losing her temper and to cool off from the heat. I went out to confront “Clarence” about this, which I did-I told him that in the three years the retreat had been at his house, he had never restricted the event to the patio. I also explained to him about her illness, and he said to me that he did not believe she had any disability! At that point she came out and he said very condescendingly “There’s the ice, you can go run your hands through it” and she lost it–yes she was angry, yes she said fuck quite a bit–and he said he was trying to calm her–while at the same time saying that “people’s hands are not dirty” and wiggling his fingers in her face. At that point, we decided to leave.
I left the retreat because the woman I love was not treated with the respect she deserved as an integral member of the committee and as a person with certain needs (clean ice)! I left because she was angry and “Clarence” was mocking her still. I left because I did not think it possible at that point to resolve the very deep issues this confrontation brought up with could be dealt with there. Perhaps it would have been better to stay and discuss the issues then, but that would have also affected the rest of the retreat.
I want to say that although the above has mostly to due with the interaction between “Clarence” and Emma (because they were the two main participants), it obviously affects all of us as individuals and as a committee. We have to look carefully at our policies and how we handle issues like this in the future. I include myself in this as well. I did not speak up when we decided to have the retreat at “Clarence”’s house this year, forgetting about the accessibility issue._Emma and I have been together for two years now, and I have become aware of her illness, and its effects. Her health from day to day, often hour to hour, can change markedly. One moment she can feel very good and have incredible energy, and the next, she needs assistance moving to a chair. A cane, a walker, and now a scooter all have to be used from time to time in order to assist her mobility. She is very susceptible to colds, flu and other common illnesses due to her weakened immune system.
I have also become more aware, through her and other disabled activists, at the daily indignities that disabled activists have to face. It is something we mostly do not deal with until we are confronted with it ourselves or see someone else confronted with it. Whether it is a store with inaccessible aisles, or people purposely blocking the way (yes, incredibly, I have seen this!), or telling a person in a wheel chair that someone can carry them up or down stairs, the issue is thrown into the faces of folks all the time.
So what do we do from here?
I do believe that for the committee to function better in the future we must address the issue of disability. These are human rights issues! We need to look at the law, we need to look at UTLA policy, and we need to look at our own policies. And if there are problems that exist within our committee, within our union, and within the district, we should be leading the struggle to rectify them.
One thing we need to do is to agree to not have official meetings of any kind that are inaccessible. “Clarence” has said that he is committed to having the retreat at his house and would make his home accessible. The costs to do that are prohibitive, and carrying someone upstairs is not accessibility._Any meeting where business is to be done must be accessible and held in a non-threatening or abusive environment (for example, we would not hold a meeting in a Hooters or a Minuteman owned building). Actually, I think if we don’t – or any other group of UTLA doesn’t – take into account accessibility, we might be opening ourselves up to legal action.
I hope that this letter, along with Steve’s earlier post, and the actual events of the retreat will serve to serve as a start for our discussions on how we can continue to be a leading advocate for human rights in our union, our district and the community at large.
Yours in struggle,’_Andy

Ableism in the Human Rights Committee- Part I

 Three Stories

Prelude to an Exposition

(a study in group intolerance and identification with power and dominance.)
I wasn’t an easy child to have in a classroom. I had a creative mind and was easily bored with the tedium which most of the other students seemed to find comfortable.  Much of the curriculum seemed obvious to me.  My divergent mind and active spirit always wanted to take the teacher’s ideas and, instead of following them exactly, change them, just a litte, take  inspiration, create something a bit different than what she had in mind.  It was the 1960’s and resistance and rebellion were reestablishing themselves as part of the social fabric, but in the elementary schools, girls still had to wear dresses and female teachers were identified by marital status.  “No” still meant “maybe” and it was generally accepted that “boys will be boys” and girls must be ladies.  The women’s movement was still several years away.  All this, coupled with unaddressed emotional issues, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, the stresses of the U.S. educational system, and the difficult working conditions imposed on teachers, along with the prevailing hegemony and dominant paradigm put me at odds with the social structures of the classroom.
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher sat me at a cluster of desks with five other girls who tormented me constantly. The leaders of this clique were “Carley Silverstein” and “Audry Hellman”.   On the playground they played coutie tag, and I was their appointed coutie. One girl would hit me, then touch her friend and scream, “you have couties!”  That girl would touch another friend, screaming the same insult, and so on, and so on, until they had played that out, and then they would start all over again.  I suppose the main difference between these girls and me, was economic class and the education levels of our parents. Their homes had money.  My home had brains.   They had better clothes, larger homes, their parents drove showier cars, their moms all stayed at home. Their dads were businessmen.  My parents were educated workers;  my mother,  a bio-chemist, research scientist, my father,  a computer engineer.  My parents were older than these girls’ parents.  While other women my mother’s age were making babies, my mom was getting her M.S. from Bryn Mawr and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.  My father got his PhD later, when I was twelve.   Everyday I would be teased for my Sears catalog wardrobe, while my classmates paraded around in clothes from Lord and Taylor.  But when the book orders came in, while most students bought one or two books, I had purchased every book on the form.  My mom didn’t see any reason to spend money on showy cars, vacations in Florida or expensive clothes, but there was always money for books, and while we had a strict bedtime, we were allowed (in what was one of the most brilliant of my mother’s insights) to read as late as we wanted.  So, while I suffered the tedium of Sally, Dick and Jane and never did understand what a schwa was, I learned to read by flashlight under a tent of sheets, while floating on a bunk bed boat on a carpet sea.
But school was hell.  “Carley” , “Audrey” and their friends would steal my things, destroy my work, get me in trouble and set me up.  One day, while a group of us were at the teacher’s desk waiting to get help on our work, “Audrey” began to kick me subversively, hidden by the desk, in front of but out of sight of the teacher.  After one very painful kick in the shins, I screamed in pain, raised my knee, and bringing down my foot, slammed her instep.  “Audrey” grabbed her foot and hopping with exaggeration like a cartoon character on Saturday mornings, screamed.  The teacher called a parent conference and explained the situation as she understood it.  As my mother relayed the story to me, “Miss Plotkins” exclaimed; “You should have seen the look on that girl’s face.  Emma seems very unhappy and is very disruptive and I don’t understand why.  I put her with the nicest girls in the class.”
Two years later, in sixth grade, “Stanley Hoffman”, one of the few boys who was actually bigger than the girls his same age, began the day  by punching me in the arm.  He continued this behavior all day, until finally, at the end of the day, from the back of a silent classroom,  I screamed “Stanley, stop it!”
The teacher, “Miss Smyth” began to admonish me my protestation, but I insisted! “No!”  I said to her, and then, screaming from the back row,  told her that he had been hitting me all day.
Unlike “Miss Plotkins,” “Miss Smyth” heard me and “Stanley” was busted.  He stayed after school and I was able to walk home safely.
Four years later I was at summer camp.  We were swimming in a murky lake, that only the year before had taken the life of a young boy.  While I didn’t know the boy, the impact of his death was very heavy upon me.  This year while we were swimming, someone grabbed my leg under water.  I  couldn’t see who it was, but as I was being pulled under, I kicked, apparently hitting my attacker in the groin.  Out of the water emerged a wounded boy nicknamed “Bear, ”  because of his height and girth.  He told the counselor I had kicked him, who beached me for defending myself, adding the admonition, “”No matter what, you never kick a guy there.”  No matter what!!??  This trite answer always seems to be accompanied with such brilliant insights as “He only does that because he likes you.” “What did you do to bring this down upon yourself?”  “What did you expect?” or “You over reacted.”
It’s been a repeated theme in my life, unusual is the “Stanley Hoffman” story, where the perpetrator is held accountable for his or her actions.  I still get in trouble for standing up for my rights and defending myself, or for defending the rights of others.  I think the initial attention is brought on by my outspokenness and my ability to articulate ideas well, which seems to be threatening to people, unaccustomed, even in the 21st century, to women who speak their mind.   And truth be told, sometimes I can be abrupt, distracted and dismissive, which puts people off, though hardly raises an eyebrow when similar behavior is exhibited by men.  I think situations escalate because I stay longer than most.  While many people might just leave quietly after the first affront, I tend to hold my ground, leaving me open to accusations of being divisive or self-centered.  But I do believe that process is an important product of any group and that the internal politics are as important as the external impositions.  If we can’t be the change we wish to create, then who are we to raise these issues of justice in the first place?
Often the response is summed up in the expression and the expectation that “boys will be boy,” where men assert their authority and hegemony and women act as the enforcers of the status quo, insisting on ladylike behavior under the most adverse situations. I don’t know what it is, the breaking of the illusion of peace, the fear of a new paradigm, the identification with power that encourages otherwise reasonable people to observe and ignore the violent behavior of the perpetrator and blame the victim for bringing the attack upon herself, but it seems much work must be done to deconstruct the dominant paradigm that allows for this identification of the perpetrator to go on, subconsciously and to such dangerous detriment.
This year at the UTLA Human Rights Committee’s annual retreat, one of the members of the Committee, who is also a member of the UTLA Board of Directors, took it upon himself to marginalize, ridicule and humiliate me and my disability.
I had tried to appeal to his good will, attempted to gain support from the Committee members present,  left the room twice to cool down, only to have him follow me out of the room, taunting me and ridiculing me, and I lost it and before storming away, yelled vulgarities that would have offended a truck driver.
Andy left the retreat with me, but no one, except Andy,  tried to intervene at any point in the conflict, nor did anyone contact either of us in the days after the retreat.  As a final blow, to add insult to injury, one member of the committee submitted to the Committee list serve, a proposed recruiting poster, featuring, as the poster boy for Human Rights, the man who had so offensively attacked me and my rights.
I can accept that we were all caught by surprise, that no one knew what to do, but why continue the campaign after that? Why support the perpetrator in his abuse while ostracizing me for my protest.  Clearly none of us handled the moment well, but in attempting to address the issues since then, the response has been disastrously illuminating.
It isn’t just me.  This is typical of groups in which a lone woman takes on a group patriarch, and her response to him is seen as an attack while he gets cast as the victim,  after she, in an outburst of emotion, after weathering silently a litany of abuse, explodes.  Her behavior is seen as the problem.  The illusion of peace, shattered by her exposure of the underlying patterns, abuses and assumptions of privilege.
Even among seasoned activists, the decision to take pity on the perpetrator and to ostracize the victim for her avenues of self defense, came as second nature to a small but cohesive group of activists within the Committee, who have continued to carry out this campaign against me even to the detriment of the human rights work I know they are dedicated to.
This matter may in fact tear this Committee apart and has deep repercussions throughout the Union.  I don’t know how it will play out, but I offer it up as one more example of the outrageous fear and widespread tolerance of bigotry directed at disabled people as well as women.
I offer these exchanges as documentation of the widespread animosity towards disabled people, that I started this blog, among other reasons, to document.  Like the situation in Target, demonstrated in an earlier post, prior to becoming disabled, I have never been subjected to the daily indignities that apparently come with disability.  That people, seeing the wheelchair, or in response to my request for accommodations, feel justified in ridiculing and marginalizing me, hasn’t yet become normal to me, though these indignities happen faster than I can write about them.
I am on personal retreat right now, at a resort, to write, study and meditate.  As I was checking into the resort, seeing a long cue, I went to the front desk and let the clerk know that I couldn’t stand in line, but that I would be waiting my turn in a seat in the lobby.  A woman, who I assumed was another guest checking in,  glared disapprovingly at me.  When my turn came up and I was called to the desk by one of the clerks, this same woman signaled to me to come to the desk, by bending her index finger towards herself.  Ignoring her, I suggested to the clerk that someone come and help me where I was seated, that I had trouble standing.  The same woman told me that they couldn’t come to me, that I had to come up to the counter. She seemed surprised and offended that I didn’t adhere to her authority.   I asked her, “do you work here?”  She said she did not but that she did work with the handicapped.  Amazing!
The hotel took care of me appropriately, and I am now comfortably writing at 4 am in my room. But I wonder; What gave her the sense of authority to tell me what to do?  Why did she feel that it was appropriate for her to intervene in this situation?  Where did she get off treating me like an insolent child? And that’s the rub, the assumption that the disabled are children, and need to be treated as such.  That we aren’t to speak up or speak out, that we need to learn to paint with our toes, ski on one leg, rise up from adversity and never impose our needs on society no matter how much we contribute, because the prevailing assumption is that we don’t contribute at all, and even in the light of massive evidence to the contrary, our work will be dismissed and disparaged, much as mine has by a few members of my beloved Committee.
While I have, except when indicated, changed the names of those involved, I want to stress that some of the people quoted here are among some of the most well respected activists in Los Angeles.    It is important to add that no one I am close to within this Committee saw this coming.  There was no overt indication that anyone had any problem with my work or contributions to this Committee, which included chairing the conference subcommittee for the last two years, establishing and maintaining the list serve and setting up our webpage.  One member of the Committee, close to those members whose messages I will be posting, but who has remained silent on this entire discussion has been clearly uncomfortable with me, moving the agenda in the middle of a presentation, refusing to provide vital information so that we could implement the portion of the Conference she herself had proposed, waiting until any one other than I requested the information from her.  Aside from that, there was no indication that there was any undercurrent of hostility or dissatisfaction, leading me to believe that ether gossip and character assassination has been going on for some time, silently, or that my outburst at the retreat was so offensive as to eradicate anything I had done for or with the Committee, that members of the Committee would turn against me so cohesively in their outrage, referred to by one member when she said, in reference to my blow up that there was “no excuse for that.”
“No excuse for that” resonates with the camp counselor’s admonition that I never was to kick a boy in the groin “No matter what!”
no matter what, we should fight for people’s rights, all rights, all the time.
If we don’t, well, then, there’s ‘no excuse for that”.
Special thanks to committee members, Andy Griggs, Chair, Steve Seal, Michael Novick and Linda Baughn for their support and clarity, and for their permission to post their emails to this blog with full attribution.