2 Canes 2 Crips 6 Legs

An editorial essay on Disability art, healing justice, the hustle of the emerging marginalized artist.

by jes sachse

“We begin by listening. We are People of Colour, Indigenous people, disabled people, and survivors of trauma, many genders, ages and classes of people. We centre the genius and leadership of disabled and chronically ill communities, for what we know about surviving and resisting the medical industrial complex and living with fierce beauty in our sick and disabled bodies. We say no to the medical industrial complex’s model of “cure or be useless,” instead working from a place of belief in the wholeness of disability, interdependence and disabled people as inherently good as we are.”

– Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles, US Social Forum Detroit 2010

‘I have great immunities! I think it’s because I was born in a hospital,’ I say as you unlock the door of the apartment where your cat eagerly awaits our return.

‘What??’ you laugh in confusion.

 It was not what I meant. I remember fumbling with my words and eventually discarding them and hopping on your bed in playful distraction, hopelessly smitten in my first SDQ (sick and disabled queer) relationship.

I meant I was raised in a hospital. The mothership. Among others of my kind. Paranoid of cops and public transit officials trying to return me. One time wheeltrans slowly followed me for a whole block down Sorauren Avenue and I was like ‘aw shit! It’s happening!’ Turns out they were just looking for an address.

When I moved to Toronto with them big city dreams, it was from a smaller town nearby. Disability art was a new and burgeoning thing to me then, and to the Canadian scene, and I was eager to explore it. I resolved that in order to do that I needed to be around people that could grow me. I needed to know what was out there and I figured Toronto could tell me, with its rumours of other disabled queers.

This cold shoulder of a city has fulfilled its promise and then some. I’ve learned the art hustle of the emerging marginalized artist. Connection across disciplines, politics, and identities. Negotiations between steep rent and steeper poverty transformed into sweet poetry on the social media surface of me. I have made a home and it only took five years to get here.

Here for me is more literally the city’s southwest neighbourhood of Parkdale. I suppose Parkdale is as good a place as any to think about being disabled. Poverty and gentrification coming in from all sides. A place where scrappy meets yuppie in an elbow of streets just before the lake. Years learning the sidewalk dance of dodging the wheelie cart bubbies of a still very Polish Roncesvalles Village cuz no they don’t see your shared crip identities and they will RUN YOU DOWN.

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons(1.) low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.


1. Spoon Theory

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons2 low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.

We’d gone shopping for art materials. We were both running creative writing workshops around that time and were looking for ways to stretch our modest budgets into the nicest supplies. One hour in a stair filled supply store later and all 2 canes 2 crips 6 legs of us were TIRED. Like, need to sit down somewhere on a ticking clock kind of tired. Initially, I had offered that we go to The Rex after, due to its close crip proximity. I know the area like the back of my claw hand. Filed under: ‘A place to sit and jazz.’

Wheeltrans had messed up and wouldn’t be arriving till 10:30pm. But when we reached the bottom of the ramp Lynx, in their Capricorn rising steadfast charm, stopped and announced ‘Nope.’ Which is how we found ourselves camped in the university’s lobby instead.

‘Do you have a [phone]charger?’ they ask, a chuckling metaphor of our current energy levels.

Surprisingly I did. We find a nearby bench and corner with an outlet.

With hours to go before their ride, we seize the opportunity to hang out. Scatter their new supplies on the well-lit concrete floor for a future social media post to promote #BlackSpoonieSpeak, a workshop by Lynx Sainte-Marie, trying to sculpt the aesthetic jusssst right for Insta.

The hustle.

(It feels like this great secret that when two or more spoonies who centre care with each other come together, access needs don’t actually double but decrease, because bodies inform each other. A deep balance of limits & desired outcomes.) 

At 9:30pm, after twenty different conversations & a relocation to the black pleather couch, Lynx insists that I start home. My body has begun its nightly shut down. I’ve taken to referring to it as ‘kitten hour.’ If I don’t get on transit within kitten hour I will be too sleepy. Falling asleep in public is an unsafe thing in the world.

At the stop, it starts to rain. Streetcars crawl toward me in the great damp distance of Queen Street, their green-lit antennae making a Gatsby out of me. It aches of unfulfilled promise. As access wages, the same ancient stress on my bones so begins again the calculation of steps to home. The wince of what happens when home was other people. The funerals step onto the streetcar with you, sidle into front seat to rest; blue, sideways, a marker of loss incomplete. Pain, but also Love.


jes sachse
jes sachse is a Toronto-based poet, artist & curator obsessed with disability culture. Living across the blurred lines of whiteness, poverty, lifelong disability, genderfluidity and madness, they are currently working on their first illustrated novel, Gutter, which will portray these dilemmas through a multi-modal narrative form, reflecting at once on both a crip navigation of contemporary culture, and the permeation of traumas in spaces of invisibilized violence.

Geographic Location of Birth as Reconciliatory Reproductive Justice

by Alyssa Gagnon & Sara Mai Chitty

As Indigenous people in Canada, the act of simply existing makes our bodies inherently political. Subjected to many injustices and traumas since First Contact, autonomy over our identities and bodies has been stripped away in an effort to control resources on Turtle Island, at the expense of our health and wellbeing. Traditional practices that once defined our communities have been overlooked or forgotten, replaced by government policies that reinforce stereotypes and misrepresentation, and assert cognitive imperialism over traditional healthcare practices, privileging Western healthcare models over wholistic care. These systems perpetuate cycles of under-education, under-employment, and poverty, instead of looking at ways to incorporate traditional knowledge and practice into healthcare programs for Indigenous peoples.

Illustration: The Supervolcano by Mia Ohki

In order to obtain reproductive justice for Indigenous childbearers living in Canada, it is crucial that people have access to services in their communities grounded in accurate culturally and trauma informed information, to make the best decision for their bodies and babies’ health and wellbeing. Let us also mention that the birth of our Indigenous babies and apprehensions are not mutually exclusive events; the latter of which happens far too often. It is an unfortunate truth and one that cannot be tackled in a single article

Midwifery is one such example of care that restores land-based birth practices that were eroded by Health Canada’s evacuation policy, introduced in the 1960s. Many childbearing people who were sent out of their communities to give birth at that time, under the assurance that they would be safer, lost their babies to the Sixties Scoop; were coerced into sterilization procedures in the 1970s 1.; and are to this day subjected to alienating and condescending treatment by uninformed healthcare providers, resulting in a perpetuation of mistrust and trauma surrounding Western medicinal practices 2.

Due to the inherently political nature of Indigenous bodies existing – colonial approaches to Indigenous healthcare have negatively affected the health and wellbeing of our People as well as the viability of communities to be able to provide culturally appropriate healthcare programs on site. The act of giving birth in remote fly-in First Nations is rare, despite the fact that Indigenous midwifery is a crucial component of healthcare in Canada where childbearing people should have the right to participate in and have access in their communities.

According to Indigenous midwife Stephanie MacDonald, there are numerous reserves in Canada, but the number of Indigenous midwives still not match that number. However, they [midwives] are working diligently to be recognized for their unique role in Canadian society 3.Through midwifery, Indigenous communities are reclaiming bodily autonomy, the right to give birth in their respective communities (rural and remote), and practice something that has happened since time immemorial – the ceremony of birth.

In Northern Ontario, many must travel away from their communities to give birth to their babies – often well before their due dates. The importance of geographic location and reclaiming birth has been addressed by several studies based in different parts of northern Canada. According to one study, successful birth in remote communities such as Nunavik, Quebec can be attributed to the knowledge and skill of Inuit midwives 4. A large number of people (91%) were evacuated outside of their communities to give birth before midwifery services were available. (4:235) Another study by Rachel Olson and Carol Couchie based out of northern Manitoba provides findings consistent with the importance of birth and its geographic location. The authors contend that place of birth is central to health care received by Indigenous communities in Canada5.

Karen Lawford and Audrey R. Giles’ literature review suggests that while the location of birth may seem trivial from a Euro-Canadian perspective, location of birth is a “component of identity for First Nations and invokes a responsibility and relationship to that land 6“. It is crucial that a community’s childbearing people have familial support in the perinatal period, which reflect qualities of culture and wellbeing, which is undoubtedly understood differently in the mainstream, biomedical model. Findings suggest that there is value in bringing birth back to northern Indigenous communities and should be supported by government policy.


1. Arsenault, Chris. Coerced sterilization of Canadian indigenous women in 70s widespread: researcher. Reuters [Internet]. 1 Sept 2015 [cited 19 Jan 2018].   Available from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-canada-women-health/coerced-sterilization-of-canadian-indigenous-women-in-70s-widespread-researcher-idUSKCN0R12QM20150901

2. Leyland, Andrew et al. Health and Health Care Implications of Systemic Racism on Indigenous Peoples in Canada.   Indigenous Health Working Group of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada: 2016.

3. MacDonald S. A historical and cultural view of Aboriginal midwifery in Canada. Essentially MIDIRS 2015;6(4):24-28.

4. Van Wagner V, Osepchook C, Harney E, Crosbie C, Tulugak M. Remote midwifery in Nunavik, Quebec, Canada: Outcomes of perinatal care for the Inuulitsivik Health Centre, 2000-2007. Birth 2012;39(3):230-237

5. Olson R, Couchie C. Returning birth: The politics of midwifery implementation on First Nations reserves in Canada. Midwifery 2013;29(8):981-987 

Lawford and Giles highlight that the relationship between health and land has not been taken into account by Euro-Canadian biomedical models of health 6. Janet Smylie and Billie Allan provide evidence that Indigenous people greatly benefit from community-based health initiatives, which help mitigate racism and improve health 7. It can be said that the implementation of midwifery services cannot be seen as a separate entity in the context of broader political processes and governmental relations, and that land-based care is a path to health and well-being in our communities.

For example, birth and the act of breastfeeding/chestfeeding are vital teachings in Anishinaabe culture. Leanne Simpson writes in Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back that breastfeeding is the very first treaty 8. Simpson writes: “Nursing is ultimately about a relationship. Treaties are ultimately a relationship. One is a relationship based on sharing between a [parent] and child and the other based on sharing between two sovereign nations. Breastfeeding benefits both the [parent] and the child in terms of health and in terms of their relationship to each other. And treaties must benefit both sovereign and independent nations to be successful 8.


6. Lawford K, Giles A. An analysis of the evacuation policy for pregnant First Nations women in Canada. AlterNative: An Int J of Indigenous Peoples 2012;8(3):329-342.

7. Allan B, Smylie J. First Peoples, second-class treatment: The role of racism in the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Toronto, ON: The Wellesley Institute. 2015.

8. Simpson L. Dancing on our turtle’s back. ARP Books: 2011;106-108.

The correlation between the disappearance of birth from the land and the failed treaties and relationships between First Nations and the Canadian government cannot be overlooked in this context. By removing life givers from the land and disrupting cultural practices, the Canadian government effectively disconnected generations of Indigenous people from their ties with the land and their understanding of treaties, relationships to each other, animals, the government and resource-sharing.

Simpson explains that treaties are about commitment and compassion. “It’s about the love of the land and a love for the people. And it requires support of your family and your community. Treaties cannot be maintained without the support of your family, your community, and ultimately, your nation 8.”

Childbearers in Indigenous communities, rural or urban, that do not have culturally-appropriate and trauma-informed prenatal, birth and postpartum care, risk the health and wellbeing of themselves and their baby. The government of Canada denies reproductive justice to Indigenous childbearers through “good intentions,” but erodes the very relationships and treaties it claims to support in this act.

Obstacles that midwives and healthcare providers face in offering this kind of care are financial, continuity of care, ongoing education and transience of healthcare providers. Midwifery care is available in very few remote First Nations in Ontario. For example, Neepeeshowan Midwives was founded by Christine Roy in Attawapiskat in 2012 to provide midwifery care to the community, a grassroots organization committed to bringing birth back to the land 9. In addition to continuity of care, informed choice and choice of birthplace are two of the core tenets of midwifery care in Ontario where, “midwives support the… [client’s] right to choose where… [they] give birth [and] … recognize the client as the primary decision-maker and facilitate the collaborative process of informed choice by: [m]aking a best effort to ensure the client fully understands all relevant information prior to making a decision 10.

Midwives are trained in obstetrical emergencies. However, physicians in remote communities may still have a valid concern in the event of the need to perform surgery (emergency cesarean sections) or blood transfusions in the case of severe postpartum hemorrhage. In the event of such emergencies, clients are medevaced to more southern centres (weather permitting). Due to these, and other concerns, many people still deliver in hospitals hundreds of kilometers from home. The Non-Insured Health Benefits Program (NIHB), First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada and Ininew Patient Services (IPS) fund the flights for patients/midwifery clients for their confinement at around 36-38 weeks gestation 11.


9.National Aboriginal Council of Midwives. Aboriginal Midwifery Practices in Canada [Internet]. 2012 [cited 19 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://aboriginalmidwives.ca/aboriginal-midwifery/practices-in-Canada

10. The Ontario midwifery model of care. The College of Midwives of Ontario [Internet]. 25 Sept 2013 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://www.cmo.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/The-Ontario-Midwifery-Model-of-Care.pdf

11. National Aboriginal Health Organization. (2008) Celebrating Birth – Aboriginal Midwifery in Canada. Ottawa: National Aboriginal Health Organization.

12. Payne, E. The residential schools of medicine. The Ottawa Citizen [Internet]. 26 Nov 2010 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/residential+schools+medicine/3889424/story.html

13. Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. Ontario Improving Access to Aboriginal Midwifery Care. Ontario Newsroom [Internet]. 2017 [cited 19 Jan 2018]. Available from:

https://news.ontario.ca/mohltc/en/2017/02/ontario-improving-access-to-aboriginal-midwifery-care.html

14. Indigenous midwifery. Association of Ontario Midwives [Internet]. 2018 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: https://www.on

Through this funding, clients are only allowed to bring one escort to attend the birth, and all others who want to attend must pay out of pocket, which is next to impossible considering how expensive it is. Despite any concern of risk factors, this policy removes choice of birthplace from clients, forces them to leave other family members, makes them have to strategically choose who will care for other children, if any, while they are gone, and it costs the federal government millions of dollars according to Elizabeth Payne’s The Residential Schools of Medicine 12. Let us not forget that these current government agencies responsible for the care of Indigenous peoples’ health on reserves still operates under the regulation of the Indian Act; a blatant piece of legislation that still erodes our existence.

Due to the hard work of Indigenous midwives, stakeholders, community members, and an increase in awareness, the Ontario government committed in 2017 to “improving access to culturally appropriate child and maternity care for more Indigenous people across the province 13.” Recently, centres able to provide culturally appropriate care in Ontario have been funded: Dilico Family Health Team Clinic in Fort William First Nation, K’Tigaaning Midwives on Nipissing First Nation Territory, Kenh:ke Midwives in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Onkwehon:we Midwives in Akwesasne, Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre in Sudbury, and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre in London, Ontario 14.  In addition to health centres and midwifery practices providing culturally appropriate care, perhaps funding could also be allocated to develop more community-based Indigenous midwifery education programs as well as train more second attendants and doulas.

As there are more than 200 reserves and settlements in Ontario alone, many still do not have access to information about delivering babies with midwives, let alone the option. As well, educational and financial obstacles within remote communities prevent many Indigenous people from pursuing careers in these fields, strengthening and build capacity in their communities. Improving health outcomes of Indigenous communities is complex in the way that the systemic deficiencies in many programs and services offered by the Canadian government perpetuate these issues.

If a governing body such as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) put out a policy statement in October 2017 that supports the return of birth to rural and remote Indigenous communities 15, then physicians and other stakeholders should support it so long as the client is considered low-risk and that proper risk assessment is followed through as on-going basis. In urban centres, research toward improving Indigenous maternal and infant is under way.  For example, researchers received


15. No-251-Returning birth to aboriginal, rural, and remote communities. J of Obstet & Gynec Can Oct 2017;(251):e395-e397

16. Whalen J. ‘We can’t do it alone’: Indigenous maternal health program aims to address inequality of health care. CBC News [Internet]. 25 May 2017 [cited 4 Feb 2018]. Available from: www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/toronto/indigenous-maternal-health-program-1.4130303

$2.6M grant to improve Indigenous maternal and infant is under way. For example, researchers received $2.6M grant to improve Indigenous maternal and infant health. Funded through Merck Canada’s Merck for Mothers program and based out of Toronto, “Kind Faces Sharing Places: An Action Research Project for Indigenous Families During and After Pregnancy and Birth” aims to improve the health care outcomes for Indigenous populations, for which the mortality rate is up to 4 times greater than the national average. (16) Places like the University of Toronto’s Waakibiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto, and Nishnawbe Homes have created a support network that is accessible to Indigenous families due to the program’s initiatives 16. A study by Angela Bowen titled ‘Bringing Birth Back: Improving Access to Culturally Safe Birth in Saskatchewan.

Indigenous people’s bodily health relies on the health of the land and positive relationships between folks responsible for their care. By fostering and maintaining relationships with the land through birth and breastfeeding/chestfeeding practices and teachings, Indigenous communities can improve health outcomes and treaty relationships with the government. This is where true reconciliation lies. The birth of our people is an overt opposition to all genocidal tactics historically and presently imposed upon us. With the support of our allies, interprofessional colleagues in urban centres, government funding, and our community members, we are slowly seeing a shift across the land. From coast to coast, reserves and off-reserve communities have slowly started receiving the care that they deserve. If Canada should want to uphold our treaty rights, let it begin with a fundamental piece of the puzzle – the birth of our People.


Alyssa Gagon
Alyssa’s spirit name is nipi (water). Her family is from the James Bay and she grew up on Taykwa Tagamou (New Post) territory. She is a First Nation Studies graduate from Western University, a third year student in the Midwifery Education Program here at Ryerson, an artist, and a mother to two young children.

Sara Mai Chitty
Sara Mai Chitty is an Anishinaabe journalist and a member of Alderville First Nation. She graduated with her master’s of journalism in 2015 and has worked for non-profit organizations training Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members in journalism practices in London, Webequie and Kasabonika Lake First Nation, Ontario. She is now freelancing out of London, ON.

Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.

How Organizers Can, and Do, Make Conferences Accessible for Parents and Caregivers

by Vikki Law

Originally Published by www.Rewire.News

 

I still remember the first Allied Media Conference (AMC) that my daughter and I attended. It was June 2008; I was in the final editing stages of my first book and wanted to start talking about resistance and organizing among women behind bars. My daughter, who was 7 years old and already experienced in children’s programming at various political events, was eager to check out the conference’s newly established “Kids’ Track” that offered a handful of age-appropriate workshops about different types of media.

So I pulled her out of school and we headed for Detroit to spend three days among media makers from across the country. While I attended a training for women of colour, she and the other kids learned about the basics of block printing. While I participated in a panel discussion about incarcerated women’s voices, she learned how to design and cut out stencils, then spray paint them safely wearing a respirator and latex gloves. In between these workshops, she and the other kids (and adults) had a chance to play and have unstructured fun. She cried when it was time to leave; she had made new friends, learned new skills, and had an amazing time.

We returned the next year and were amazed to see that the Kids’ Track had ballooned from three children (and an occasional baby) to nearly two dozen. Since then, the Kids’ Track has grown even more into the “Kids’ Practice Space,” with several workshops specifically for children.

The AMC isn’t the only conference working to ensure that people with children can attend. Though conference policies—and the conversations around them—continue to evolve, many recognize the importance of ensuring accessibility for parents, caregivers, and children, especially when organizing for social change. When this happens, it not only enables caregivers and kids to attend a conference, but sends the message that they are valued members of and contributors to larger movements.

The annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, entitled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” is in its 31st year and has always provided child care.

“It’s not any harder than any other aspect of event planning,” Lucy Trainor, CLPP’s associate director, told Rewire. “It takes time and money to plan catering, it takes time and money to plan events, and it takes time and money to plan child care.” CLPP views accessibility as integral to its mission to fight for reproductive justice; thus, the conference not only offers child care, but also pays for speakers to travel with their children and, if necessary, pay for another adult to attend and help care for those children. “For us, it’s part of a larger commitment to access,” said Trainor, noting that the conference also provides financial support for speakers with disabilities to travel with their personal care attendants and language interpretation.

CLPP’s conference costs $285,000 to plan and produce. It takes place each year at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, which provides in-kind support, such as classrooms and lecture halls for the conference, as well as year-round office space. The college also allows conference organizers to draw on students for child care, which limits those expenses to only a few hundred dollars for supplies. But, said Trainor, “even if you do have to pay for child care, you budget for it.”

Facing Race, a three-day biannual conference dedicated to racial justice, does just that. Organizers have made sure to include child care in their budget since the 2010 conference in Chicago.

“A huge number of people in Facing Race are parents and caregivers,” explained Rosana Cruz, the organization’s leadership action network director. As the conference grew from 1,000 attendees in 2010 to more than 2,000 in 2016 (plus a waiting list of 500), organizers have pondered how to grow to accommodate families and caregivers. “After each conference, we think, ‘That was great, but we can do better,’” reflected Cruz.

For instance, she recalled that the 2014 conference did not have a room for nursing or pumping. As any parent who has ever breastfed can tell you, nursing or pumping requires a space that is quiet; a refrigerator is needed to store breast milk. This year’s conference included a breastfeeding and pumping room. “We also bought screens for privacy and rented refrigerators,” added Cruz. For the 2018 conference, organizers are thinking about expanding to offer programming for children and youth similar to the AMC’s Kids’ Practice Space.

The challenge for Facing Race, which takes place at a hotel in a different city every two years, is ensuring that accommodations work for children and caregivers. “We need to secure a space in a hotel room that’s big enough,” explained Cruz. The size of that space dictates how many children can be in child care. Child-care costs also include paying licensed and insured child-care providers as well as renting cribs and a projector to screen movies when a quieter activity is needed. But organizers see these efforts as integral to building their movement: “What makes it accessible is what makes it a great conference,” Cruz said.

“It’s a little extra brainwork for people who have never had to think about this,” Cruz, who is the parent of a teenager, reflected. “But if you’re determined, this is just a given. Just like you’d value amplified sound or a keynote speaker.” Plus, when put into the context of the entire conference, child-care costs are negligible; for Facing Race, organizers say paying child-care workers and buying supplies makes up less than half of 1 percent of the total conference.

AMC, meanwhile, costs more than $400,000 each year. Child care and the Kids’ Practice Space are only a fraction of that price tag, costing $1,400 and $2,500, respectively. The value of not only accessibility, but creating relationships with future media makers and movement builders, goes far beyond that fraction, Morgan Willis, the conference’s program director, said.

“The money comes next,” said Willis. “Once you figure out what you want to do, then you figure out the money.”

The AMC has never encountered hesitation from funders about child care and kids’ programming costs, which are explicit budget lines. Willis noted that, when seeking funding, AMC organizers explicitly talk about how accessibility—whether for people with disabilities or people traveling with children—can be expensive. “We articulate to grant makers what we’re asking for and why,” she explained. “We’ve never had pushback around accessibility. Funders have responded extremely well to that.”

When the Allied Media Conference began, she said, “none of us had kids. We weren’t thinking of ways to include kids; we were in our 20s.” While the conference has always offered child care, she recalled that the parents and caregivers in attendance pushed them to do more to include the youngest attendees in conference goings-on.

As the years went on and the Kids’ Track evolved into the Kids’ Practice Space, conference organizers, in turn, challenged presenters to make their content more accessible. “What does it look like when someone with very little experience is in your space?” mused Willis. “That’s where we received the greatest amount of pushback, from people used to traditional forms of presentation.” The pushback didn’t last long; instead, what ended up happening is that considering the presence of younger attendees encouraged speakers to present information more clearly, making it more accessible to everyone who attended, regardless of age.

Unlike CLPP, the AMC is not connected to the university where it takes place each year. But, Willis said, Wayne State University has never balked at having child care or kids’ programming on site. Of course, there were questions and concerns about liability, reflecting what Willis described as “a conception of kids exclusively as a liability,” but the conference and university administrators worked through it.

It’s not just conferences centered on social justice that make accommodations for caregivers and children. When Natalie DeYoung Ricci was asked to read her essay about death at this year’s BlogHer, a conference for women in social media, she was pregnant and expecting her first baby to be born the day of the conference. Knowing that first babies often arrive later than expected, she said yes with the caveat that she might not be able to attend. Rather than write her off, the conference organizers agreed to include her. Furthermore, they offered to have her Skype in from the hospital if she gave birth earlier.

Ricci’s son was born a week early. She contacted the organizers and asked if she could bring him. Not only were organizers willing to accommodate the new mother and infant, but they encouraged her to take as many breaks as she needed, bring him on stage with her, and bring her husband to take the baby from her if needed.

Exhausted from giving birth four days earlier, Ricci only stayed for her session. She said that not only organizers, but attendees welcomed her and her young son. The experience inspired her. “This is my first baby,” she told Rewire. “To know that I could still have a professional life outside of being a mother meant a lot to me.”

The experience also set her expectation that other conferences will be as flexible. “It demonstrates goodwill towards inclusivity of families,” she said. “Many writers struggle. Child care is not always affordable, or even an option.”

BlogHer does offer child care for attendees. “It’s very key for us,” Jenni Ottum, the public relations director of BlogHer’s parent company SheKnows Media, wrote in an email to Rewire. “We actually have a digital storytelling and a media literacy program called Hatch that takes place live during our conferences so kids have a place to go where they learn while their moms do the same thing.”

Some conferences are already seeing children return as teens and young adults ready to participate in the larger conference goings-on. Trainor has seen people who initially came to CLPP as children with their caregivers returning to participate in the larger conference as adults.

About one-third of the children and youth who attend the AMC return the following years. And now, conference organizers are beginning to read workshop proposals from people who first came as young children.

“We reached an interesting challenge in 2015 where the content for the Kids’ Practice Space was so good that the adults were knocking down the door,” recalled Willis. The number of adults crowded out children from attending two of the kids’ sessions. Another conference organizer asked, “Can we ask some of the adults to leave so kids can get in?”

Recalling that particular scenario, Willis added, “With over 350 sessions, you’d think you’d find something that wasn’t for kids!” But the popularity of the workshops indicated the quality of the programming offered to children and youth.

“I’m sure that there will be a very short time before we’ll be seeing people say, ‘I was 12 at the conference in Baltimore or Dallas and now I want to present my own workshop,’” reflected Facing Race’s Cruz.

The organizers of Facing Race, AMC, and CLPP see accessibility for families with children not only as essential, but, as Cruz puts it, an act that “pushes back against the rugged individualism that is a hallmark of white supremacy. So it’s not, ‘I don’t have kids’ or ‘I don’t need translation,’ so why should I pay for this? It’s ‘I love this conference because people who are monolingual, people who are deaf, people who have kids can come here.’”

They also note that, while child care is offered, none of the conferences require children to stay sequestered in separate spaces. “We think children deserve to be in these [conference] spaces,” said Trainor. “It’s positive to have younger members participating in these discussions. Children are not a distraction.”


 

Vikki Law
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist focusing on intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Her next book, Your Home is Your Prison, critically examines proposed “alternatives” to incarceration and explores creative solutions that truly end mass incarceration.

Black Mental Health & Self Determined Futures

by Louise Boileau

A friend went to a youth shelter when it was cold. He was in distress, having a mental health crisis. He was told firmly to leave, or else they would call the police.

In July 2015, police arrived at subsidized housing unit at Eglinton West and Gilbert Ave, and murdered Andrew Loku within 20 seconds of seeing him. His house was a block up the street from Horizons for Youth, a shelter where my friend was living at the time.

The question has come to my mind helplessly many times: Where does a Black person in a mental health crisis go when they need help?

Left Illustration by Eli WiPe 

There is no safe place to go in this city when experiencing crisis where a black person will not be treated as a threat; including in one’s own home, be that a shelter or a private residence. It is a tired fact and one that requires urgent attention, that Black youth are treated as a problem in Toronto, on many institutional levels.

If reproductive justice is the ability to raise children in a community that is free from violence, it must also encompass mental health, and our ability to receive culturally relevant supports without being isolated or removed from the community, whether it be by child welfare, push out from school, incarceration or institutionalization.

 In the school system, Black youth experiencing anxiety, depression and trauma (which can manifest in many ways), are often summarized as having behavioural issues and are discarded. Expulsions as early as grade one show the incredible reach of anti-Blackness – that a child could be considered not worthy of an education and so lacking in hope for their potential that they should be isolated from their peers and “expelled” from opportunity. The treatment of Black students, and the problematization of Blackness at early ages is consistent with Black overrepresentation in the criminal system.

 Although Black communities represent 3% of the general population in Canada, we represent 9% of the prison population. People with mental health challenges are overwhelmingly filtered into the prison system. So, the chances of a Black person with mental health challenges spending timae in prison at some point in their life is extremely high. Furthermore, mental health challenges such as psychosis and paranoia are so extremely stigmatized, those who experience these symptoms are ostracized and isolated especially when they are most in need of support.

A Punitive Model Across The Board

When you begin to look at the methods of management in the education system, prison and hospital systems, the approach to Black students, youth and adults are very coordinated.

It seems that each uses a punitive approach to trauma, where Black people are being punished, ostracized and further traumatized for needing support, expressing anxiety, depression or distress, even though we are experiencing some of these things as a direct result of the hostile environment we are in.

In psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, there seems to be a chronic issue of overuse of force and restraints. On paper, restraints are meant to be used as a last resort measure. For those who are unfamiliar, to place someone in restraints is to secure them to a bed using straps. First, however, the person is forcibly sedated, sometimes by as many as 8 people (as a friend recounted), and then have their pants brought down so that they can be injected with a sedative in the buttocks. Then they are transported to a bed, and secured with the restraints for an unspecified period of time. A friend recounts being placed back in restraints whenever a nurse who didn’t like them would come back on shift. When she left her shift, they would be released. This is against standard protocol which dictates that restraints are to be used only in extreme situations, where staff either fear the “patient” will harm themselves or somebody else. So their discretion on using restraints lies on their perception of whether or not the “patient” is a threat. It is unreasonable to assume that anti-Blackness never plays a role in their decisions.

Placing a person in isolation is another approach, on paper, used to maintain “patient” or worker safety. However, I have also known it to be used in reaction to something a “worker didn’t like” about a patient, where the patient was then placed in isolation for a period of weeks, and was disallowed from contacting family or advocates. The use of isolation has drastic negative mental health impacts on any person, as has been documented in relation to the use of solitary confinement in prison and remand centres, where most of Canada’s imprisoned population are kept awaiting trial.

Remand facilities receive no resources or training in terms of caring for a person undergoing mental health challenges. Their primary go to, for the “safety” of the person imprisoned (the inmate), is to place them in solitary confinement. Furthermore, people are often denied their right to healthcare, medications or otherwise while in remand. The numbers and demographics of solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons and remand centres is not publicized, similar to the numbers and demographics of deaths inside both prisons and psychiatric institutions.

A Picture of The Mental Health System in Ontario

The mental health system in Ontario is a network of services and institutions, that follow two models intended to work together. The first is the the community based model which is meant to allow people access to support while staying within their communities. and The second is the institutional or medical model, which includes both inpatient and outpatient programs such as CAMH. The community model of mental health services is relatively new and certainly not perfect. Many services are rarely accessed by youth of colour, or and present services are often not culturally relevant.

Only two services in Toronto, that I am aware of, provide services focused on racialized people, and there is only one that provides counselling specifically for Black people in all of Canada. Across Boundaries, and The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) which runs as a program out of CAMH.

The SAPACCY program began in 1996 from community concerns over the amount of Black youth incarcerated for drug related crimes. It was proposed to the ministry and then amalgamated into the CAMH Queen and Shaw location. The SAPACCY program, due to lack of allocated resources is currently hanging on by a thread with only one counsellor with an unusually large caseload, and an even larger waitlist. The waitlist includes only those people who qualified for the services because they are in the catchment area. CAMH recently received a donation of $100 million. It appears they are determined to allocate these funds entirely towards “high-risk” research and the hiring of “top scientists,” in the midst of our current housing and resource crisis. What they intend to research, and how this is suppose to help anyone, I am unsure.

Toronto Police Services & The Mental Health System

The mental health system in Ontario maintains a tight relationship with Toronto Police Services (TPS). The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which is intended to respond to mental health crisis, is a partnership between Toronto Police Services and participating hospitals. The team is a mental health nurse and a police officer (who may or may not be trained by the TPS in mental health awareness). To what extent they receive any training on de-escalation is entirely unclear. The Mobile Crisis team is only available between the hours of 6am and 11pm. TPS is usually the first point of contact for people undergoing mental health crisis. Police officers may bring the detained person to a hospital, where they will be kept for anywhere from an hour to several weeks if admitted. Or they may be charged with an offence and placed in remand.

To call the police in the case of a crisis, is to risk the death of yourself, your family member or friend. But this is the only option presented in a mental health related emergency. Even if a person calls the MCIT, they are still calling the police. There is little assurance that this is in anyway a safer option. At the many times I have made a list in my head of the greatest risk to my family members’ life, police interactions was always the one I feared most.

 The only route made available to access mental health care in crisis is the trauma of police services, and the trauma of psychiatric institutionalization. If we must cope with the pain inflicted on us by those systems that we are asked to call supports than we have very few options at all within the current structure of mental health care.

Community-Led & Self Determined Futures

Because of shame and exhaustion it is often difficult to seek out community or support services. Although we must teach ourselves how to navigate systems and how to survive, there is little space to share these tools with each other.

Intercepting the Pipeline to Prison is a project, lead by Black youth, to address the intersection of mental health, anti-Blackness and criminalization. It is a project created to share survival skills and strategies and to document our experiences. We have developed workshops in three streams: Youth Justice and Advocacy, Family and Community and Creative Solutions. The workshops provide skill building on safety tools for interactions with police, getting access to advocates while in remand, daily self care and coping methods, discussing mental health in our families, the ways we do support and advocate in our families and communities and how to strengthen them, and designing the kind of supports that we would like to see gain funding. In these community conversations we will have the opportunity to pool our knowledge and skills and create take-away resources for each other. The workshops are written from a lived experience perspective, with supports from our organizational mentors such as Legal Swipe. The Project also includes a short documentary interviewing Black youth on their experiences surviving, accessing services, living and creating.

We are creating spaces where we are able to talk about things we have never felt safe bringing up in mental health care spaces, institutional or otherwise: Anti-Blackness as we see and feel it in the mental health system, Caribbean perspectives on mental health, spiritual affliction, “pray it away” and stigma in the Church, spiritual or religious supports that we need, how the option of medication can be complicated by medical trauma, self-determination and the need for supports where people look you in the eye and understand you beyond the idea that you are an impossible problem.

 We believe it is within the community; friends, family, partners and chosen family that long-term support for mental health come from. And any service or support that a person seeks along the way should strengthen their chosen support circle.

 There are many directions to work in and issues to tackle; prison reform and abolition, deinstitutionalization, and the creation of Black-focused mental health supports that strengthen the community. There are conversations and actions happening now in regards to Anti-Blackness in the Peel Board lead by community, the scrapping of the SRO program (s/o to the many people who worked tirelessly for that), the Black Youth Action Plan, and the 10 year health accord that will see $1.9 billion allocated to mental health initiatives in Ontario over the next decade.

 It is a very important time to document our experiences, demand resources, and lead solutions as we connect the conversations on Anti-Blackness to mental health and the criminal system.

 If you are interested in getting involved in the project as a youth, mentor, interviewee, creative collaborator, researcher etc., or you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch by email at interceptingthepipeline@gmail.com or by phone at 647-207-9376. We are also interested in Indigenous community collaboration on the project.


Lou Boileau
Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Eli Wipe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

A Single Question

by Najla Nubyanluv

About 8 or 9 years ago, Yvette* arrived at a hospital to support Miranda*, a doula client who had given birth earlier that day. When Yvette knocked on Miranda’s hospital room door, Miranda called for Yvette to enter. A nurse was in the room questioning Miranda about the absence of their partner throughout the birth and postpartum. What the nurse did not know, was that Miranda was a newcomer refugee, who had fled to Canada from her partner due to domestic violence. She had arrived pregnant during the winter. It was her first time outside of a tropical climate and she did not have friends or family in the country. The conversation was triggering and Miranda was in shock. In that moment, Yvette was glad that she had arrived in time to support Miranda in advocating for her own care and respect. What in the world was going on?

Illustration above: Guiding by Mia Ohki

 

I wanted it to be the first and last experience of that sort that I had heard of but it was not. I had supported many single people and partnered people choosing to birth without their partners, who had faced some form of dismissive or disrespectful behaviour from institutions that were supposed to offer quality prenatal services to ALL people and family structures.

I wanted it to be the first and last experience of that sort that I had heard of but it was not. I had supported many single people and partnered people choosing to birth without their partners, who had faced some form of dismissive or disrespectful behaviour from institutions that were supposed to offer quality prenatal services to ALL people and family structures.

Fast forward to 2018. In some ways, many things have changed. In other ways, we are still dropping the ball on supports for single parents. Are we going to play this game of hetero-2.5 kids-with-a-dog-and-a-picket-fence forever? Unfortunately, at the rate that Toronto is going, many millennials will only be able to afford 2.5% of a picket fence from the money they save from their second job as a nanny to someone’s dog, so let us get right into this brief discussion on some of the experiences of single parents in Toronto.

Single parents are not new to our communities. Many of us grew up with friends or in families where parents were remarried, single or separated. There are many, many family structures and somehow our society is not as inclusive as it could, and should be. With people having children later in life, and opting more and more for fertility options that do not require a partner, there will be many more single biological and adoptive parents to come. Yesterday, I filled out an intake form at a medical appointment that asked if my mother and father lived together while I was growing up. Who promised them that I had two parents? How were they sure that having two parents meant that one of them identified as a mother, while the other identified as a father? This is basic. Regardless of the reason for lone parenthood, these parents are real and should not be treated as an afterthought and family services should consistently be provided to address their family needs.

Many families choose to hire a doula to support their family through a pregnancy transition. A doula is a birth companion who is skilled in offering support to birthing parents before (prenatal), during and/or after birth (perinatal). Doulas are amazing resources and support systems. They can soothe concerns and support in birth preparation, and provide a care after baby arrive. Families of all structures choose to use doula services. Doulas have been proven to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, while also reducing the rates of emergency cesareans. While many single parents hire doulas and there has been an increase in programs that offer free or affordable doulas, cost is still a barrier. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan does not cover doulas and prices can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands, depending on the nature of the individual services. Increased access to doulas provide a more companion style support with phone calls and appointments leading up to birth but what about more intimate companion supports?

My initial searches for single parent services brought up a lot of dating sites. I rejigged my search and I could not quite find what I was looking for. I was searching for professional prenatal intimacy or cuddle support. Doulas are reliable companions but cuddlers are a completely different service. I am a snuggler. Not professionally yet. I am snuggler because it makes me feel warm and comfortable. I love tucking my feet under thighs for warmth when I sit next to someone on a couch (beware!) and my favorite time of day is snuggle o’clock. Are you seeing the pattern here? Research has proven that cuddling releases oxytocin, resulting in a lower risk of postpartum depression. People who live with depression before pregnancy may experience ongoing calming support that can intervene in their elevated risk of postpartum depression. Cuddling can significantly decrease stress levels and it can help to abate anxiety around birthing and rearing a child alone. Where the cuddle supports for expectant parents?

I have been researching professional cuddlers for a couple of years now, diversity in body types and races is lacking, and the ones that exist do not focus specifically on prenatal care. Many single parents would benefit from intermittent non-sexual intimacy options. These services can provide those soothing intimate moments like an arm over a belly, or someone to lay next to when discomfort wards off sleep. That relaxation can be helpful with preparing the body for birth. Hiring a cuddler is an opportunity a professional intimate relationship that completely respects the client’s boundaries. There is a lot of stigma around single pregnant people dating, but pregnant people are still people with desires, so why not? Some expectant people would prefer not to engage in negotiating romantic relationships or are the risk of recovering from a potential breakup while they are pregnant. Either way, lone pregnancy does not result in an immediate loss of romantic or sexual desire. For those who are looking for more than a non-sexual intimate option,  People can/should still educate themselves about sex workers’ services and other sex positive services. Sex during pregnancy may provide a number of health benefits such as stress reduction, release of oxytocin and pleasure. Therefore, I will still mention sexual intimate options even though it is not the focus of this article.

Toronto Public Health offers a wide range of prenatal and parenting services but many of them can definitely more inclusive program. Check their resources. The information provided can be useful, but they continue to refer to a partner or a support person. Ask for referrals and resources from community health centres, midwifery practices, doulas, friends and family members. Advocacy is such a key part of supporting single parent families. Offer feedback about programs and services that are needed at your local community health centre. Services are continuing to try to be inclusive but single parents already exist now. The experiences of single parenthood are vast and diverse and the programs to support them should be too.

*Names changed for privacy


Najla Nubyanluv
Najla Nubyanluv is a queer black playwright, actor, author and doula who loves belly laughter. She is the author & illustrator of “I Love Being Black”, a clay illustrated children’s book published by Sorplusi Press. Most recently, her afrofuturistic shero drama about black women’s magic and mental health entitled I Cannot Lose My Mind saw its World Premiere at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, On, Canada.

Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however, her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.

Missing Links

The Injustices Surrounding Prenatal Care in Canada

by Ciana Hamilton

Reproductive Justice isn’t a term that many people understand. And maybe that’s the first part of the problem. In contrast, abortion rights seem to be interpreted more easily; does a woman in Canada have the right to terminate her pregnancy? Yes. Does this mean Canada gets an A on reproductive justice? Not really.

Canada is one of the countries where abortion is legal; a woman who decides to abort her pregnancy in Canada has no legal restrictions. However, accessibility to abortion clinics can vary from province to province. If a woman chooses to abort her pregnancy but is unable to access an abortion clinic where does that leave her? Reproductive justice is the framework that gives an individual choice over their reproductive health, but puts the responsibility on governments to provide accessible care to accommodate those choices.

In 1994 a group of black women from Chicago recognized that there were other important reproductive issues, besides abortion, that were affecting women in their community. This group of women created the term Reproductive Justice. They called themselves the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice and their goal was to give black women a voice and a platform outside of the mainly white, middle class, women’s rights movement. Almost twenty-five years later the term is known worldwide and represents Indigenous Women, Women of Colour and Trans People.

Today many people of marginalized communities face reproductive injustice and oppression. Access to safe, compassionate prenatal care where both medical and cultural needs are met, doesn’t always happen. Women and families are not being given access to resources and information in order to make informed choices; community services are not accessible and their voices are not being heard. In Canada, Aboriginal women face the most significant inequality around maternal care, especially those in remote communities. Women of colour, women living at or below the poverty line, teen mothers, LGBTQ families and HIV positive women also face the reality of reproductive inequality when seeking care. There appears to be two crucial factors when discussing reproductive justice: inaccessible midwives and a lack of representation in the healthcare system.

Midwives

For many women, the first time their reproductive health is spotlighted is when they become pregnant. This was true for me, being pregnant for the first time at 23. I did not even know that I had reproductive rights. As a young, black, woman from a low-income home, I felt the system was stacked against me from the beginning. I did not have a family doctor and was nearing my second trimester without receiving any regular prenatal check-ups. I remember initially wanting a midwife but was unable to access one in the city I was in. I remember going to a walk-in clinic and practically begging the doctor to refer me to anyone who could provide prenatal care for my baby and me. She did not. Eventually, with some family help, I got in with a team of obstetricians. I was initially relieved, but quickly realized the type of care I would receive was nothing like I imagined. I got basic treatment; none of the doctors cared to know my name. None of the doctors asked if I had a birth plan. I was not given options or choices. I was handed requisitions for tests and sent on my way. I didn’t know who would deliver my baby until the day of delivery. Reflecting on my experience with my first child, what sticks out for me was my desire to have a midwife and being unable to access one. I didn’t know much about midwifery but I felt like a midwife would be the obvious choice for compassionate, trustworthy and respectful care.

Midwifery has gained traction over the years, going from a misunderstood hippie alternative to the more natural, inclusive option. In fact, more parents are continuing to seek out care from midwives. According to the Better Outcome Registry Network or BORN, in Ontario between 2014-2015, midwives cared for 15% of all births in the province. It also helps that midwifery services are covered by OHIP. And, although there has been an increase in the amount of midwives providing care, there still seems to be a lack of midwifery services in the communities that need it the most. If given the choice, I strongly believe most women, specifically marginalized women, would choose to be cared for by a midwife. However, if midwifery services are inaccessible in their community, then there is no choice.

In early December I sat down with Martha Aitkin, a registered midwife in Guelph who has been practicing for 21 years. She believes there are some key differences between care from a doctor and care from a midwife. “The way we organize and the way we give care gives us a lot more time. Time with women and their families to get to know who they are and what is important to them. Time to answer their questions and share information to allow them to make their own decisions about their care.” Aitkin adds, “if a person has a midwife then they have a known care provider, someone they have had a chance to develop a relationship with – someone that they trust. That enhances the safety of their care.”

Pictured above from top to bottom: Martha Aitkin and Nicole Barrette

The midwifery model of care is beautifully simple. Give women choice. Give women a safe space to ask questions, review options and be vulnerable. Give people who identify as LGBTQ+ an inclusive space that is accepting and easily adaptable to non-binary lifestyles. Provide access to materials that can educate and inform families about choices around parenting.

Midwives also provide in home, postpartum care up to six weeks following the birth. For women in the far north, such as Nunavut, extended postpartum care within their own community could be extremely supportive. These women could potentially receive extra support around breastfeeding, diagnosis and treatment of postpartum depression, as well as incorporating traditional medicines for physical healing. Martha spoke about her experience providing care for Inuit women in Nunavut, one of the places that still suffers the most reproductive injustice in Canada. “Most women in Nunavut have to go far away, separate from their families to other cities – Edmonton, Winnipeg, Yellowknife to have their babies. They could be gone for a month to six weeks separated from their other children and the rest of their community. That’s an injustice as far as I’m concerned and the solution as far as I can see is the growth of midwifery services provided by Inuit people for Inuit people.” Martha is right; one possible solution for many Indigenous women living in remote communities across Canada is the growth of midwives in their communities. Imagine the possibilities, women would have access to a midwife close to their home, receive regular prenatal care and be able to deliver their babies in an environment where they feel safe.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I knew I wanted my experience to be different. I wanted to exercise my reproductive rights to the fullest. I wanted to be cared for by a midwife. I wanted an un-medicated homebirth. I wanted to breastfeed. Luckily, I was able to access and get what I had hoped for. I was cared for by two midwives in Guelph, I had a completely non-medicated home birth and I have proudly breastfed my daughter for more than a year. My second experience completely changed my views on reproductive care and reproductive choice. My voice was heard and my choices were respected. Instead of being told to take certain tests, I was asked. I felt empowered and valued as a parent. A part of this empowerment came from the quality of care I received by other women. My midwives were women who respected the autonomy of pregnancy and parenthood. We worked as a team to strategize the safest maternal care and delivery for me. They ensured that I always felt comfortable with any procedure or test that needed to take place. Ultimately, the connection between my midwives and I grew much deeper than I could have anticipated. And as a result, I felt safe.

Representation

If we are looking at ending reproductive injustice than we need to look at equal representation amongst care providers. Midwives provide a piece of that representation; they represent the power and beauty that is a woman birthing a child. They represent the diversity in methods of care. They represent open spaces for different family dynamics. However, midwives are in high demand and in short supply. Not having equal representation in the healthcare system for a marginalized person creates an automatic distrust and assumption that those providing care – the doctors, the nurses – don’t understand the issues that a vulnerable person might face. Representation doesn’t begin and end with healthcare professionals; doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants and patient advocates also need to be included to represent the diversity of the people receiving care.

Two years ago I began volunteering for Women Everywhere Breastfeed (WEB), a volunteer run program out of the Guelph Community Health Centre. The cafe offered by WEB is held weekly and is aimed at anyone in the community who may be facing challenges around breastfeeding and who is looking for accessible support from their peers. The program is coordinated by Nicole Barrette, an advocate for reproductive justice, who is deeply invested in ensuring that her work remains inclusive of all people who are needing support during their parenting journey. Nicole is also a birth and postpartum doula and has been for 11 years. She has first-hand experience with the layers of stigma that marginalized women and families face from health care providers when receiving reproductive care. One group we talked about were parents who identify as LGBTQ+, specifically Trans people. “There’s a lack of gender diversity acknowledgment – not everybody who has a baby is identifying as a woman. We talk about breastfeeding/chestfeeding at the WE Breastfeed program.

Chestfeeding, the term Nicole mentioned, is an example of how interchangeable language can be used to make a program more representative of all parents who may choose to attend. Chestfeeding is a term that could be used by a Trans masculine or gender-non-conforming parent. It simply takes out the word breast for a parent who is using the milk from their body   to feed their child, but because they do not identify as a woman, the term breast [may?] conflict with their gender identity. Most hospitals and doctors’ offices have information promoting breastfeeding, and the term breastfeeding is almost always used. WEB is one of the only places I’ve seen that includes terminology that would be representative of Trans parents.

If we are looking for ways to end reproductive injustice, then we must allow communities to represent themselves in the healthcare system. Reproductive justice starts at the grassroots level- people with diverse backgrounds and experiences need to be at hospitals, clinics or community centres offering advocacy services and providing basic resources to educate people.

Collective efforts need to be put forth to educate, empower and equip those who are victimized by Canada’s accessible, but oppressive health care system. The Women of African Descent created the term and set the stage for an open and honest discussion around reproductive injustices faced by marginalized women. It is up to us to demand a change from a system that needs to be held accountable.


Ciana Hamilton
Ciana Hamilton is a freelance writer based out of Guelph,Ontario. She respectfully honours Turtle Island as sacred Indigenous lands. Her work leans towards creative non-fiction and she enjoys writing about issues surrounding advocacy, justice, feminism and cultural ancestry.

Supporting pregnancy within Queer BIPOC Communites

Portrait of Kyisha in a headwrap holding her pregnant belly

By Kyisha Williams

The task of creating a just world involves many moving parts including us deciding when and how we bring life into this world. For queer people this is often a process that involves a lot of planning and support because the possibility of it happening ‘by accident’ is far less than in heterosexual communities. In racialized communities, specifically Black and Indigenous communities childbearing holds unique challenges because the way we parent and bring life into this world is heavily scrutinized and due to racism our processes are often interrupted, intervened in, etc. This limits the ability of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to seek professional and medical supports during their pregnancies, such as mental health supports for fear that the state may get involved/come into conflict with their lives.

In this context it becomes extremely important to be able to support individuals and families, (especially Black and/or Indigenous Queer people) who take on the hard work (full of physical, emotional and spiritual labour) of bearing children. Children themselves are important teachers in our movements that can push us forward with new ideas and methods to achieve the just world we dream of. We need them to survive! I’ve compiled a short list of things I have found helpful in my pregnancy and that others have shared was helpful in theirs in hopes that we can build strong communities of support for parents in our movements.

Although pregnancy is a common process in our world and not an illness or disability, as a chronically ill person I have noticed that many disability justice principles apply. Much of the support I have needed throughout my life when I’m ill and ‘lower functioning’ is quite similar to the kinds of support I’ve needed within pregnancy so keep this in mind – chances are if you’ve supported someone with disabilities, you’re familiar with these points.


  1. Offer support – don’t wait to be asked to support if you know that you have particular kinds of support you can provide.
  2. Be specific – Don’t worry that you’ll offend someone by assuming what people need. Instead offer support with a couple of specific examples of the kind of support you can provide
  3.  Try not to ask big blanket questions, like “what kind of support do you need” – brains of pregnant people at this time are pretty single focused and it can be hard to ask for support. It really helps if suggestions are made so that the person doesn’t have to think too much/deeply.
  4. Don’t make decisions for people – Often times we have a tendency to make subtle decisions for pregnant people such as “Oh, that person is probably too tired to go out to this event with us” and thus decide not to invite them. Pregnancy can be an isolating time where lots of fear come up about the radical changes coming up in the pregnant person’s life (especially if they are a new parent). These kinds of scenarios can heighten anxiety and triggers (such as abandonment) which can affect pregnant people’s emotional states so try to avoid this. Invite them to things you would otherwise invite them to and let them make the call on whether or not they’d like to go. They are the best judge of what they can and can’t do at this time. Also be flexible if they are late or need to cancel.
  5. Don’t assume support is already present. It’s easy to assume that people have support especially if they have an online presence and are sharing their story – don’t assume they don’t need anymore help because of this – if you can support it doesn’t hurt to check in.
  6.  Ask for consent before sharing stories – the pregnant person in your life might not want to hear your mom’s horrific pregnancy or labour story in which she almost died or if they are having a lot of nausea it might not feel great to hear about how your friend had none for 3 pregnancies straight. Everyone has different experiences (even the same person can have multiple radically different pregnancies) and unless they are asking they might not want to think about others experiences that are radically different from the experience they are having or they may not be ready to speak about certain things (for example: labour, c-section, etc.).
  7. When someone asks for something acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask (at the very least) especially if you can’t provide the support they are asking for. If this is the case; offer an alternative person or alternative task that might be able to meet a similar or different identified need. Many kinds of support are needed including Practical, Emotional and Spiritual (see below for specific examples). You should also ask if you can suggest other ways you might be able to support instead of just volunteering the other things.
  8. Don’t question or interrogate people’s experiences when they share them. For example “Why do you feel isolated?” – believe them, take a moment to think about how or why that may be true for them and then ask questions (preferably to other people) if you still have questions or are unclear.
  9.  Visit, check in, be present – This helps with or prevents potential isolation, loneliness, anxiety etc. that may be present.
  10. Don’t take things personally – If someone doesn’t want you to come by that day or to be in the delivery or birth room don’t take it personal – it’s their process to navigate and they deserve to be able to do that without having to navigate other people’s emotions

Don’t know what kind of support might be needed? Support can include (but is by no means limited to): Practical- Physical and Financial such as cooking, driving or getting something off the baby registry, babysitting, gifting a grocery gift card, household tasks, organization (meal delivery, care team, furniture, etc.) Emotional- talking, visiting, listening. Spiritual- lighting a candle for safe pregnancy and birth, sharing a ritual or meditation practice.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! Happy supporting!


Kyisha Williams
Kyisha Williams is a magical, Black, Queer, high femme, sex positive, artist and health promoter. working mainly in filmmaking and performing. They work around health within Black/queer/trans/racialized/criminalized/HIV positive/HCV positive communities. She is also a soon to be mom. For more information on Kyisha’s work visit kyishawilliams.com

Re-envisioning Our Communities

blue, black and white illustration of 3 brown kids happily eating cupcakes

Facilitated by: Shabina Lafleur-Gangji 

Why are so many of our QTBIPOC (queer and trans black, indigenous and people of colour) spaces so often inaccessible to parents and kids? What do we need to do to change that dynamic? How do we build community and movements of inter-generational voices that don’t just simply leave people behind when they have kids? These were the questions I was asking myself and so I decided to explore these questions in a roundtable discussion with a few racialized queer/trans parents.

Shabina: Can you introduced yourselves?

LeRoi: I’m LeRoi and I’m an educator at Africentric Alternative School and an organizer for BlackLivesMatter Toronto. I have a two and a half year old whom I’ve single-parented since he was born…although I recently decided to start co-parenting with someone who has always been FAM to us.

QueenTite: I am QueenTite, owner of Natty (natural mobile salon), Co- founding director of PFFD inc, and creator of QTPOC – Toronto. I am single mother to 18 year old Ayomide and 7 year old Iahnijah of Nigerian/Jamaican Roots.

Akio – I am human rights activist and  a Mother of 8 year old multiracial child of Black and Métis heritage with one on the way

Amandeep: My name is Amandeep Kaur and I have two kids aged 2 and 4 years.

Shabina: How do you find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent? Do you find most spaces are accessible to you?

QueenTite: I find navigating queer spaces as a parent kind of challenging. I am still new to the city, so I haven’t had much opportunity to explore…but I don’t find [queer spaces] really available. Finding events that are family-friendly have been challenging.

Akio: Navigating queer spaces as a parent is hard, as it often feels like I have to create the spaces for myself or fight to have the space accessible to me and my spawn. Which I often don’t have time or energy for.

LeRoi: I find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent to be challenging sometimes. There are some queer Black events and spaces that I’ve gone to that have been really dope for bringing kids, but I feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on creating queer/trans spaces for youth and not much for older people…I think lots of times people don’t think of making events accessible to parents if they haven’t grown up with lots of kids in their life. Also in terms of community organizing spaces sometimes there is just no effort to accommodate parents. I’ve brought my kid to meetings before when he was really little and spent the whole time chasing him around the hallways of Flemington Park Community Centre while everyone just continued their conversation.

S: What have you found really helpful in making community spaces accessible to you?

QueenTite: I have found having ECE (Early Childhood Education) educators present to engage the youths is helpful and a room equipped with fun stuff.

Akio: Most spaces aren’t accessible to me nor any of my intersectionalities.

POC spaces aren’t sex worker positive, queer spaces too white and all of them are very clique-y and no one considers that parents have value and therefore they should have accessibilities for us. So Basically I have to A) create my own, or B) work with/fight with the organizers to create space that’s safe and accessible (found this easier in queer white spaces than queer POC spaces)

LeRoi: What helps to make spaces accessible to me is parties in the daytime. They have this dope party for BIPOC queers in Oakland where people turn up from like 2 to 8pm. I really wish we had that here. Cuz even if I get childcare to go out at night, nobody’s tryin’ to wake up at 7am with my son.

LeRoi: Yea, childcare being offered is helpful to me, but I also like when people just find ways to make spaces engaging for kids, like the other day I went to the book launch for “I Love Being Black”. They had a bunch of play-dough set up in one corner of the rooms for kids to sit and play. There was food like samosas and cupcakes…and there was a big chalkboard for kids to write about what they love about being Black. So in that way it was like kids were invited to be part of the event and to contribute. That was dope.

QueenTite: I’d like a community of willing affordable sitters also.

LeRoi: Yes to affordable baby sitters…cuz sometimes you can’t bring your kid to childcare at an event. If they have to nap or something and they wont sleep in a room full of people. Also I like when I bring my kid somewhere and people explicitly tell me not worry about him making noise or crying…then I feel like I can relax a bit more

QueenTite: Sometimes I don’t want to beg my child – I want me time to network and such. But affordable sitters are not accessible to me. Charging nearly fifiteen dollars per hour with no masters in parenting.

Amandeep: That event sounds amazing! and I wanted to agree with the point about more affordable sitters..

LeRoi: I feel like what actually ends up making events more accessible to me when there’s no childcare offered is friends taking turns kicking it with my kid..taking him outside to go crawl all on stuff or into the hallway to be loud…Other parents I know end up being the ones to do that lots of the time.

Akio: yeah, always.

LeRoi: Also people in my life who spend time with my son ‘cuz they want to build a relationship with him and ‘cuz they have privilege and time…

QueenTite: I know nobody so I don’t have that option… I haven’t entered any cliques, it’s just me. But yes what a blessing – and a necessity.

Akio: Yep, the folks that usually want to help with my child are usually white people.

LeRoi: Yeah, I’ve had that experience too…

Amandeep: Having more folks want to make the trip to where I live cuz they want to spend time with my kids doesn’t happen often enough. I am fortunate to have my mom and my sister on occasion but feel I don’t have any other friends to rely on now.. the dayjam idea sounds too good though..its being intergenerational, being able to connect in different parts of the city with other queers of colour and parents and knowing who is close by through friends of friends would be great to try and build this in more local and accessible ways.

Akio: I like to keep my circle small and tight cause I’ve seen how folks treat their own and I’m not trying to have my private business out there for the local queer 6 o’clock news. So often I go it alone and for the most part I’m okay with that. Hired help when it can be afforded works for me.

LeRoi: Yeah, I love that. There’s a queer Black BBQ during Pride that is pretty dope like that…there’s also Queer Black FAM JAM that has lots of kids roll up usually.

S: What do you find are common problems with things like child care at events?

QueenTite: Problems with child care – not enough variety in the space for the age ranges – emphasis on the very young – older kids get slightly less attention. No, disability based thought put into spaces to accommodate a variety of abilities/disabilities.

Akio: They are subpar, not age appropriate and often boring.

LeRoi: Sometimes I have found that there aren’t enough people working in the childcare room and the childcare room is kind of just like mayhem. People need to realize that for babies/young toddlers the ratio should be 1 adult to two babies. The other thing is I feel like there isn’t respect for childcare being a position that requires a lot of skill and experience. Sometimes the people doing childcare aren’t trained properly and they’re just like “winging it”. Like my ex put her son in childcare at this event once and the person doing childcare let him tape his mouth shut with duct tape

Akio: Duct tape!!!

LeRoi: hahahahaha

Akio: See I’d need bail money. But I digress…

Amandeep: omg yes LeRroi.. haha..

LeRoi: I think this points towards….for those of us who are Black …sometimes when childcare is offered by white people there is a bit of a cultural disjunct. Like, I don’t want my child running up and down, doing any and everything.

S: What do you think people need to address in order make community space accessible to parents and children? How do we build intergenerational spaces?

QueenTite: More family based activities – co planning with the expectations of including youths. Create the activities we aim to see. Ensure that we see family based activities for all. This convo and thinking proactively is apart of it. Create solutions to the problems. Remove obstacles. Break the cliques apart…collaborate and connect – get kids together at BBQ family based days etc..

Akio: Advance planning, Invest in resources (money, activities etc), engage parents, age-appropriate child care.

LeRoi: What we need more of I think is an effort to make events accessible…we need people (not just parents) to clap back when you see events posted that don’t offer any childcare. We need people to value us…so for example if you are doing community organizing and you are used to calling your meetings with no notice, during the evening you are not gonna get parents out…especially single parents. Daytime parties. People who are not parents being like…okay let’s tag-team. I’ll go to that event for the first two hours and then I’ll watch your kid so you can go.

Akio: We can’t even…Folks barely recognize intergenerational folks much less. The thought or actions to make spaces. We gotta break it all down and build up from scratch with accountability and transparency.

LeRoi: That can be true so much of the time. I have seen some really dope things in practice though. Like I saw this daycare one time that was housed in an an elderly care facility which was really, really cool. And the kids got to interact with elders all the time at “school”. I would be really interest in working on a project like that/creating a space like that.

Akio: If I had a dollar for eeverytime I took my time and energy to help start something only to have the jancrow them fly over and either shit on it or take it as their own but LeRoi that would be amazing. Depending on the space. Old people can be unapologetically racist. Speaking as a nurse.

LeRoi: I would be envisioning something specifically for Black community. I feel like BIPOC in Canada have a lot issues finding appropriate care for our elders and appropriate education for our youths. Both need dignity and programming that is Black centered. Also we need more things like the Radical Monarchs, BlackLivesMatter Freedom School…programs for kids to be engage in what we are building in our communities

Akio: Toronto Child Care collective here in Toronto But it didn’t have the right clique to gain momentum But the more we create spaces for us by us the better we will be.

LeRoi: Childcare collectives are really dope though. I remember there was one in Montréal that offered free childcare for families without status and for events and ting. Also, they would do a March Break camp that was really cool where kids would learn to DJ and stuff.


LeRoi Newbold
Leroi Newbold is an artist, community organizer and an educator at Canada’s first public Africentric school.

QueenTite
I’m a winnipeg born, west coast grown, toronto based multidisciplinary artist. I AM; a black, proud, queer, Hybrid. My roots are laid in art, activism, education, black liberation, poetry, love, and in constant pursuit of more love. When I’m not busy changing the world, you can find me devoted to my personal projects which include; Co – Founding Prosthetics For Foreign Donation & owning Black Heir.

Instagram and Snapchat: @missqueentite

Akio
Akio is a Single mom, Human Rights activist, Educator and Community Organizer.

Illusions of Access

blue and grey sun ray

A conversation about ASL, interpretation and inclusion.

With Kylie Brooks, Alex Lu, Sage Nobel facilitated by scout huston

           As someone connected to queer/trans communities, social justice communities, disability justice communities, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing communities, I am often in conversations about “the right ways to hire ASL (American Sign Language), interpreters”. Finding interpreters for events can be a tough process, however building connections with Deaf people/communities is about so much more than booking interpreters! The following conversation is meant to complicate the narrative around access, inclusion and ASL interpretation. The transcript has been edited for the purposes of length, clarity, and flow- with the permission of all involved.

scout: my first question was: what does the idea of “accessibility” mean to you both?

Sage: From my own perspective, genuine inclusivity and accessibility looks like this: Recognizing that each individual may have a different set of access needs and may have various types of accommodations. The best thing is to do, is to simply, ask the participants what their access needs are. Like being Deaf-centric and ASL-centric can be two different things.

For me – Accessibility means the freedom to navigate the world with minimal barriers with the necessary accommodations.

Alex: Well, for myself, the one thing that I’ve been trying to really push back on in my accessibility work is that, I think accessibility has been distorted to mean a checklist of physical accessibility items. Which is to say, when I worked as the accessibility director for BCRAD (British Columbia Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf), every time I had a collaboration, the same question would pop up over and over again – “What is X, Y, and Z that we have to do to be accessible?”

And it’s the mindset that tends to be a bit toxic. You can go through all of the physical motions of having accessibility, but unless you foster a space where people feel like they’re included, it’s not really accessible. I try to look at it more holistically. For instance, culturally, what do people need? Socially, what do we have to do to make people feel like they’re part of a community? How do people feel like they have a voice and say? Do they feel respected in a space?

These are all as important to accessibility as having an interpreter or a ramp.

I think it sometimes goes against conventional ideas of event planning, which is structured and supposed to be very dogmatic in how you follow out a plan.But in practice, the advice I give is – event planning really isn’t like that, it’s super organic. Especially when you’re dealing with the Deaf community, word-of-mouth is really the best way to get people to your event, for instance.

scout: Sage, would you be into talking a bit about what Deaf Spectrum is and why you started it?

Sage: A little bit about Deaf Spectrum – our goal is to bring greater accessibility for Deaf locals in the Greater Toronto Area who use American Sign Language. Right now, we are producing sign language videos that contain event promotion information and grant information. We are planning on expanding our sign language translation video services. In the future, we are planning to host a series of workshops to provide sign language interpreters training to be competent in their field. There’s more to this but I don’t want to give all my ideas away yet.

We also started up tutoring services – and hopefully, some Deaf interpreting services.

Basically, our goal is to have an all Deaf team and to empower each other. One of our goals is to providing training programs in ASL and teach members of the Deaf community usable skills that can increase employment.

Kylie: I work with them re captioning (on hold for now) and booking stuff.

scout: Awesome! So, is there any advice you would give to someone who is trying to make an event more inclusive to Deaf folks?

Sage: To make an event more inclusive – I would suggest hiring interpreters and Deaf interpreters. Providing captioning whenever possible. Scent free spaces. Wheelchair accessible. Gender Neutral bathrooms. And actually reaching out to the Deaf community – produce vlogs and etc. It’s important to distribute the information as much as you can. Get in touch with Deaf folks who have access to networks/community.

Alex: Personally, speaking from experience – sometimes, even at events that have interpreters, I don’t feel totally engaged. A lot of the time, the reason you’ll go to an event is to feel connected to the community and to involve yourself with other people – but I feel like a lot of hearing people aren’t willing to take the leap to bridge a communication gap. It may be experimental, but one thing I would like to see event organizers do is decenter spoken language as the primary mode of communication. Maybe have notepads around, encourage people to approach Deaf people, etc.

Sage: That’s an amazing idea, Alex.

Also, I find myself more comfortable participating in events where I know there will be signers there. It doesn’t matter if they are not that fluent, but it’s nice to have someone to chat with, rather than just wandering around, looking as if I’m lost.

Alex: Yes! This is also why it’s important to engage at a community level, rather than just at an individual level. If there’s a group going, I’d feel a lot more comfortable. But still, it’s important to address how to break down these communication barriers, so it’s not just the Deaf people sitting in a corner all night and talking between ourselves – as enjoyable as that might be still!

Scout: totally- Kylie, you’ve talked about this before- but there is an idea that once you hire interpreters deaf people will feel totally included and welcome, which isn’t always true.

Kylie: Right.

Sage: And – often, I noticed that sometimes when people try to hire interpreters, they don’t ask you who’s your preferred interpreter is. they just refer to the queer & trans friendly list… which is kind of out dated and has heterosexual interpreters. this shouldn’t be the default in queer & trans spaces.

Kylie: Yeah, it’s important to match the right kind of terp to the space. I think it’s important for interpreters getting into this to… well, not just know their stuff but actually take reasonable risks and learn from mistakes.

scout: what are some ways that people can navigate finding an interpreter that is a good fit?

Sage: I think the first step is to ask the deaf people interested in the event, ask them who their preferred interpreters are.

Alex: It’s a little tough because I understand sometimes people don’t have the resources and connections just to directly ask Deaf people. I think that’s one issue actually – that the burden always falls upon Deaf people. I don’t know the schedules of interpreters or all their specialities and everything.I feel like ultimately, people just need to do more research in general. Like, instead of hiring the first interpreter you find, can you try to look up some testimonials? Have them elaborate more about their expertise and experience?Mostly, I think the key issue that people aren’t aware they need specialized interpreters for queer/trans events. I feel like it’s actually a pretty easy thing to verify – look up who’s interpreting for other events, for instance! Ask the interpreters themselves. But it just gets glossed over because people assume all interpreters are the same.

Sage: Like, there are some events where there are poetry and songs. That is more suitable for a Deaf interpreter, I think. Like, performances, in general.

Alex: Definitely. But there also isn’t awareness that Deaf interpreters are a thing. That’s part of the reason why I want to push back against the “accessibility checklist” idea – there’s so many subtle distinctions that it fails to make about the complexities of accessibility. The other thing I want to add in is that – I think we need to be mindful of cultural issues in interpreting too. For instance, poetry or songs have traditionally been handled by hearing interpreters, and I think a lot of Deaf people put up with it because of access – but at the same time, the language, at that level of abstraction, metaphor and expression, really belongs to Deaf people. Sage previously mentioned hiring Deaf interpreters, and I think that’s something people need to do more often. Not only do they do the source material more justice, but it’s just a matter of cultural reappropriation – it has to come from someone inside of the culture.

scout: are there some specific questions that you would recommend asking interpreters to see if there are a good fit?

Alex: I’d say ask them about the previous events they’ve done.But also, just ask them to be honest about their experience, and ask them if they can pass the job to another interpreter if they don’t feel up to it.

Kylie: I’d ask specific questions. hmm, “do you know what pronouns are?”

Sage: maybe, if they have taken some kind of anti-oppression training?

Kylie: Also, I think it’s maybe a good idea to ask the interpreters what they know about disability. Not as in, “do you support disabled people?” Specific questions.

Alex: Yeah, that’s important too. I remember once attending a BLM panel, and there were white interpreters. So I was like, “okay”, because I mean, access, right! But then I started feeling really uncomfortable watching the rage of black women being articulated through white people. That’s another issue here, isn’t it, that we really don’t have a lot of BIPOC interpreters. Again, part of that is the discriminatory nature of the interpreting program. I feel like it’s racially unbalanced too. Actually, that’s a major issue – I remember surveying the Deaf community in respect to HIV healthcare, and part of the reason why STD transmission rates along Deaf- queer men are so high is because they’re embarrassed to bring interpreters to medical appointments due to the demographics – male and queer male interpreters are just so rare. As a result, they don’t get proper medical intervention and counselling. I think interpreter demographics and diversity is at the root of a lot of social problems in the Deaf community

Sage: We need to feel supported as a whole, not just because of our deafness, but as a whole person.

Alex: Sometimes, I feel like people don’t even notice me at an event, lol. Like, I’m in my own bubble with the interpreter, and it’s the hearing people operating in their own world.

Sage: Sometimes, I’m wondering, if they see us chatting with the interpreter, that we’re busy. we’re chatting with the interpreter because we have no one else to talk to!

Alex: Yeah, I feel bad doing that sometimes because I’m like “Oh, do I seem uninviting?” But what am I supposed to do? Stand around and stare at the wall until some hearing person is generous enough to talk to me?

I mean, okay, I would be totally cool with approaching people, but keep in mind I’ve been socialized to literally not know how hearing people start conversations with each other. Like, I don’t have that experience at all. So when I’m in a majority hearing space, I’m suddenly hyperconscious – oh god, what if I violate some kind of hearie norm or something?

Sage: Hearing people have been oppressing us since forever. so we do have some kind of innate fear of dealing with hearing people.There have been some situations where hearing people think that we are so hard to communicate with, that we are not important enough for their energy to try to communicate with us.

Alex: I think it’s less an innate fear for me, as much as it is a bunch of gaps in my knowledge of how hearing society works.

Kylie: Like I’ve had experiences – and others have seen – where I try to ask to clarify but they refuse. Or, people refuse to type on my communication device after being told – for various reasons but still.

Alex: I fake it a lot since I’m oral Deaf, but when it comes down to it, I sometimes have no idea how to behave in a hearing environment. It feels like there’s all of these rules and stuff that I’m not aware of. Because I’ve been missing that context since birth, since no one bothered to include me in things, right? And then the other issue is that sometimes Deaf folks don’t have the language to deal with things right? I’m lucky, but come on, sometimes we have ridiculous standards of language in social justice spaces. It becomes inaccessible. If you don’t know the right words, you can’t fit in.

Kylie: Also, the kind of normative language in the SJ community is my normal way of thinking – my native dialect. So yeah, I think also important to help each other if struggling to explain stuff

Sage: We are soooo excluded from the mainstream community already. I feel that we have a greater need to focus on community building, to gain knowledge about our rights – to be included in more mainstream spaces. It honestly feels like people don’t care.Sometimes, I have those followers on facebook who like my statuses when I post about audism… that’s all they do. they like the status. but they don’t do anything about it. why don’t they learn sign language? Why don’t they invite us to hang out with them one on one?

Alex: Yeah, that’s one other thing. One-on-one interactions are so much easier for Deaf people, in my opinion, if it’s a hearing person. I feel like the one big thing I love about Deaf groups is that is someone goes to the washroom or something, someone else will tend to fill them in the conversation. But I’ve rarely ever seen that happen with a hearing group. It’s more like, they expect you to blend in, rather than ensuring everyone’s on the same page before moving on. I think the other thing is that I just feel so tokenized in these spaces, actually. Like, I’m oral, and a lot of places like to invite me because I can give presentations in formats that hearing people like. And then I’ll be the only Deaf person, and I’ll give like, this presentation on accessibility and it’ll be an annual thing, but then I’ll never ever see Deaf people attending other than me. Even though they’re like “oh, we’re learning! We’re improving!” Where’s the improvement? It feels like they’re using me to pay lip service to accessibility because “hey, I’m the lone Deaf person there! It’s accessible!” When really, it’s not.


Sage Lovell
Sage Lovell is a twenty-something Deaf queer multidisciplinary artist and community educator who likes to work their magic. In their work, Sage reflects about their lived experiences of struggling in an ableist, sexist, capitalist and oppressive society that only welcomes those who fit their standard set of expectations and norms.  Through sharing stories and lived experiences, Sage discovered a beautiful loving supportive community full of folks of all identities.

Kylie Brooks
Kylie Brooks is a Black Deaf Disabled queer trans woman, using she/her pronouns. She is an online social justice activist that focuses on the interconnections of oppression.

Alex Lu
Alex is a graduate student studying computational biology at the University of Toronto. He also serves as a director-at-large for OPIRG-Toronto and for the frank theatre company, where he addresses Deaf/queer issues and advocates for accessibility from an intersectional perspective.

On Language and Movement Inclusivity

By Maya Menezes

Above: Sonali Menezes

      Dear fellow organizers, survivors of academia, and peers, something is wrong with our movement. In our effort to make things accessible we have made movements inaccessible. If our effort to speak for we have spoken over. Proper grammar is oppressive, spell check is a fascist. Fuck punctuation

Listen y’all, when our movements do not center the non-academic voice, we do more than disservice the potential diversity of our movements, we take on the role of the oppressor. In policing diction, we silence and delegitimize non-institutional folks. When we silence those voices, we damn a lack of eloquent speakers to the silences sidelines. This has to stop.

One of the most beautiful privileges afforded to those who have the opportunity to attend post-secondary education, and one of the most beautiful things that those with class privilege can do, is to use their privilege to ‘share the mic.’ What does this mean? Gayartri Spivak addresses this in her awesome (and incredibly dense and inaccessible article) “Can The Subaltern Speak?” When the left speaks for those who are oppressed, and makes profit from creating discourses of anti-oppression, are we creating revolutionary accessible texts on behalf of those who are not heard? Or, are we instead speaking over, for, and on top of stories we know nothing of?

The hijacking of revolutionary discourse by privileged folks (racialized or not) in the safety of our ivory towers does not serve those who we would think we are helping. Instead, what it does is make palatable a struggle that is quite frankly, not ours to tell. Moreover, the rewriting of discourses and silencing of the less eloquent speaker devalues and delegitimizes the thoughts and feelings of those experiencing oppression and colonial violence on such a raw level that academic language cannot explain it, cannot boil the rawness out of it, and quite frankly- has no business trying.

2014 saw the birth of some of the most revolutionary movements of our generation. Idle No More and Black Lives Matter have shattered the collective consciousness of millions of people around the world, and offered hope to the oppressed, violated and silenced communities of the fringe majority. What have they done differently? Inclusivity. The blockade activist who swears like a sailor has just as much (if not much more) legitimacy to speak than the PhD student who spent a couple days taking photos for a chapter. The angry racialized activist who asks you what right you have to be there, to speak and profit off their struggle, has every right to demand an answer of you. Your social justice studies, your weekend activism, your soon-to-be law degree or radical learning class, does not give you the right to decide who is heard, what voices are legitimate, and what discourse is just palatable enough to be the face of the revolution.

‘Proper diction,’ an anthology of theory, and formal citations should not speak over the current lived experience of oppressed communities. It is important to remember that, while English and your presentation of your knowledge through this format may for you be liberating, it is also the tools of the oppressor, the silencing strong-arm of entrenched colonialism, and the boot of class mite, meant to squash those who cannot speak it, and to push forth the rampant social stratification whose only goal is to to shatter and splinter our movements. Proper diction is the invisible hand of horizontal violence that clouds our understanding of struggle and experience.

We’ve all had our ‘ah ha!’ moment for our entry point to resistance. For me, it was sitting in a classroom, completely new to any type of academia (let alone activism), listening to my professor lecture us on the revolutionary building of the Black Panthers. He lent us readings that were in run-on sentences ending in livid swear words and manic punctuation. It was listening to him yell, and rage, and pace and shake with sadness at the state of the world, and the suffering of others. It was him telling us, his students, that if we have privilege to expend, the best thing we could do was step back and shut the hell up. I’ve never been more uncomfortable in my whole academic career. I’ve also never been more humbled or motivated to learn outside of the classroom.

Complex social movements demand a diversity of tactics. A diversity of tactics does not only mean marches AND sit downs. It means a diversity of participation, a diversity of voices, a diversity of lived experiences, and a diversity of language. When we think of language and the politics of justice over equality, we must remember that justice means sharing space, and giving up space. Giving up space is not only determined by the physicality of carving out space, but of changing the words that we use so that all folks of the revolution can understand our speaking. It means carving out a space so that those who have not read what we have read can still listen and understand your writings and your workshops. It means that you change the way you speak with people and preferably, speak a little less, and listen a little more.

A diversity of tactics means instead of making the complex and angry voices of non-academic movement builders more palatable to the mainstream by allowing white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy institutionalized language to be pervasive, it’s allowing for the legitimacy of all forms of rage, eloquent of not, to be heard and to be legitimate.

As Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools cannot be used to dismantle the master’s house. So please, praise the Lorde, and remember that a movement voice in the image of the oppressor, is not a movement that encourages participation, but one that stratifies us, silences those who need voices the most, and discourages inclusion. Stand in the back, make room at the front, and listen instead of speaking.

So movement builders, as you organize, and write, as you speak and bring in speakers, as you build solidarity, finish your post-secondary certifications and join with others, remember, we are not here to re-make the system in a new image, we are here to fucking smash it.


Maya Menezes
Maya is a queer South Asian WOC, living, working, existing, organizing and writing in the6ix. She is a continuing survivor of post-secondary institutions, passionate food justice grrl at U of T and raging intersectional feminist. She is the Occasional online SJW, non-profit campaigner and lover of poems. Currently chillin’ in Toronto, patiently awaiting the revolution.