Coercive Mental Health Legislation Threatens Rights of People With Disabilities

originally published by Truthout on July 25th, 2016

Between headlines of racist police atrocities, on July 6, 2016, the US House of Representatives quietly passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act by a vote of 422-2. If made law, this legislation, also called the Murphy Bill, would be the most significant reform affecting mental health care since the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 ushered in the era of deinstitutionalization.

Hailed as a rare bipartisan victory, the Murphy Bill lets politicians falsely claim progress against gun violence while stigmatizing people with mental illness, undermining civil liberties and diverting attention away from institutionalized racism and structural poverty. Actually, it does nothing to increase access to vital resources or address the pandemic of police violence against people with mental illness.



While Police Exist, We Cannot Be Free: An Open Letter to the Radical Mental Health Movement

[I wrote this for a peer support community based in radical mental health but it feels relevant here too.]

As a crazy person who experiences extreme emotional states including uncontrollable rage and altered states of reality, as a working class queer trans woman from a conservative small town, as someone who was homeless as a young person, a drug user, a former sex worker, and an organizer who’s been targeted by the feds, I’ve always been afraid of police.

And I have damn good reasons to be. Many, probably most, of y’all do too.

Spaces like this one have been important to me and I care about it. But in the past week, as I’ve seen posts critical of whiteness have been reported and read some of the comments around here, it’s hard for me to understand anyone in this group who doesn’t see that the police are our enemies. And that if we are white or non-Black we need to shut up and take leadership from the people who are being most directly impacted by policing – Black people.

When a white trans woman I knew who shared a lot of other identities with me completed suicide, I saw myself die. I relived my own suicide attempts and that time I succeeded in my mind. I became a ghost who had to stay to witness my community and my chosen family cry and mourn and worry that all of the rest of us were gonna die and want to kill themselves too.

Every time since that another trans woman has completed suicide, even ones I didn’t know or only knew through a friend, it has added up. Cis people can feel this pain, but they can’t understand that cumulative effect, even if they are suicide survivors too. They can’t feel like I feel every time someone gets on TV and says trans women are rapists and shouldn’t be allowed to pee, how it makes me relive abuse, all the sexual assaults, all the suicides, how it becomes one more reason I never want to walk out the front door or take another breath ever again. Even if they were also abused or assaulted or afraid to go outside.

Every single day – every. single. day. – I see my Black community attacked. My chosen family, my friends, my clients, my comrades, my coworkers. By cops, white yuppies in the gayborhood, and even security guards at social service agencies supposed to serve them. I lost track of how many got locked up a long time ago, all of them for doing shit they had to do to survive, and some for doing nothing at all. I can’t count the number of people I’ve held in tears about another friend or partner who would never be coming back. But I still remember the faces of the ones shot by cops.

I remember, I bear witness, I try to hold space, I cry with them, but I don’t understand.

If you are in this group, the police are a threat to you. We have a stake in this struggle. If we are white, we are much more likely to survive a police encounter during a crisis, but one emotional breakdown in the wrong place and crazy people can be shot down or locked up. None of us can be healed or free as long as the police exist.

But for those of us who are white or non-Black, we cannot understand that cumulative effect and exhaustion that Black folks are experiencing right now, or the weight of 400 years of white supremacist oppression. We are not the ones who are most directly impacted by police violence.

So back here in this tiny corner of the internet, and ones like it, where we’ve tried to build a space for crazy people to come to seek support or commiseration or validation or advice or shared rage, now is the time to look at each other and realize how class, gender, race, ability and other identities we hold shape the suffering we bring and share and process here. And also for non-Black people here to look at how many of the same systems that are killing Black people are killing us too, and the only way any of us can get better is to join the Movement for Black Lives and follow the people who feel the most pain and fear and loss those systems are creating.

Black people in this group and everywhere, your lives matter. Everyone else, don’t critique the ways Black people resist or express their anger and grief. Amplify their voices any way you can. Admit you think and do racist shit all the time, learn about why and stop. Get the fuck into the streets or do whatever else you’re asked to do.

I know disability doesn’t go away when there’s a demo or vigil or march or direct action. Go if you can, even if it’s really hard and your body hurts and your anxiety makes you afraid – but if you’re non-Black, only go if you are asked to show up or its crystal clear that the event is open to everyone. If you can’t or shouldn’t go, give all the money you can, organize other people who can and give love and emotional support to the Black people who are leading them, even if you feel hollow and alone and like you don’t get enough love or support yourself.

Black people are putting their bodies and souls on the front lines of a struggle that will help free all of us, even when they are the ones who are suffering the most. To everyone here who is trying to educate others on top of dealing with all our own private and collective tragedies, thank you. There is no such thing as reverse racism. Hate speech is not free speech and cannot be tolerated here or anywhere.

But posting facebook statuses ain’t enough. Polite conversation ain’t enough. Nothing will change until we actively fight back and disrupt the status quo.

Black lives matter. No justice, no peace.

The System That Killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Cannot Be Reformed

What To Do Instead of Call the Police

26 Way To Be In The Struggle Beyond The Streets (for disabled folks and others who can’t march etc)

Note to self: White people taking part in #Blacklivesmatter Protests

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors

Transformative Justice and Prison Abolition Resources 

Chicago Dyke March Statement on Orlando Shooting

The Chicago Dyke March Collective would like to send all those in our community lots of love and healing today. The coverage of the mass shooting in Orlando has left many of us scared and mourning the lives of queer and trans people of color. With Dyke March approaching we want to ground ourselves and our community in our continued resistance against all discrimination and violence including xenophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and racism.

We know Black and Brown Queer and Trans people are being killed everyday. We want to be able to grieve as a community without our dead turning into a PR stunt. We know there is no Queer or Trans solidarity with the police, with mayors, or with politicians. We know as people of color that this is not the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States. We know this will be used to condone violence onto Arab and Muslim communities. We know they do not care about us and that we will continue to love and care for each other. On June 25th 2016, we will march in memory of all the lives lost in last night’s shooting, and of all others that have been taken in years past.

“We move to create visibility,

to honor our histories and identities, 

to disrupt oppression and dominance, 

to challenge silence and fear, because we are everywhere,             

because we must survive”

The Mental Health Industrial Complex Will Not Solve Incarceration

forced drugging

Image depicts a multiracial and multigender crowd chanting and holding a banner that reads “to hell with their profits: stop forced drugging of psychiatric inmates!” against a white-coated doctor holding a syringe and a man in a suit holding a wad of cash. Created in 1978 by Rachael Romero of the San Francisco Poster Brigade for the Mental Patients Liberation Movement


When they aren’t hurling ableist slurs at one another, it seems the only thing all sides of the U.S. political spectrum agree on is that we need more mental health care. This comes up especially after mass shootings, even when the shooter’s stated motivation was white supremacy, misogyny, etc. Madness is used as a scapegoat so no one has to confront the structures that create violence.

This is old news. The troubling part, however, is that prison reformers and even some prison abolitionists have allied themselves with this establishment talking point. The argument is that defunding prisons and shifting money into mental health services is a step toward decarceration and a society that no longer needs prisons.

This is true. But in my experience, many people advocating this solution are neurotypical and have not experienced the potential violence of the mental health system, or have only interacted with it as a relatively privileged person seeking therapy and antidepressants. For people who have more severe disabilities or come from marginalized communities, the mental health system can be much different.

I should start by saying of course I would rather take as many people as possible out of prisons and build more mental health clinics. The mental health system does a lot of good for a lot of people. It has kept people alive. My fear is that mental health care is being uncritically heralded as the solution without an accompanying call to radically transform it as well. The system is, first and foremost, a business controlled by for-profit corporations and neurotypical academics who are eager to “fix” us so we can go back to being productive workers in their shitty economy. Like prisons, the overall goal of the mental health industrial complex is to preserve the status quo of capitalism and oppression.

Unlike prisons, however, there are aspects of the mental health system that are worth keeping. I am not interested in entertaining the notion that mental illness or psychiatric disabilities do not exist or are merely fabrications of pharmaceutical companies. These experiences are real. Whether they are caused by trauma or genetics or both, they can be painful and even fatal. It is clear that many mental illnesses are actually healthy responses to an extraordinarily violent world, while others are forms of neurovariance that are just part of the complicated, beautiful, dangerous range of human experiences. I do not agree with aspects of the anti-psychiatry movements who would take away access to services such as hospitals, medication, or therapy which are vital to many people, including me. But we must not let this stop us from understanding and critiquing the ableist, racist, homo/transphobic, and misogynist history of the mental health system.

We need to understand that eliminating poverty, white supremacy, and other forms of oppression should be our priority and not let the ruling class distract us with empty promises to expand access to a broken mental health system. As we work toward a world without prisons, we also need to transform how our society treats trauma survivors, extreme emotions, and disabling conditions that are currently marked as mental illness.

I’m writing this because I want other abolitionists to learn about oppressed people’s experiences with the mental health system, the overlapping history of mental health care and prisons, and why mad liberation is indispensable to prison abolition.


“We must love and protect each other”: Queer and Trans Resistance to Policing


Update: You can read a rough transcript of part of my contribution to the workshop, meant to help introduce what policing of queer & trans communities looks like, offered in loving solidarity with the rising movement against policing:

Next weekend in Chicago, I will be helping to lead a workshop with other folks from BYC at the Watching the Watchers: Strategies to End Police Violence conference. It’s called “We must love and protect each other”: Queer and Trans Resistance to Policing and we will be trying to help shed some light on how policing impacts queer and trans people, disproportionate impacts on QT people of color communities, constructing an interactive timeline of our favorite moments in history when our communities fought back, and brainstorming what we can do to build the movement to end state-sanctioned violence for good.

The conference is organized by We Charge Genocide and Project NIA – if you haven’t already, please get to know the work of these two amazing Chicago organizations! And keep an eye out for all of the beautiful acts of resistance that are happening all across the country right now. I am so inspired to see movements lead by young people of color rising up everywhere I look. In Chicago you can also check out Black Youth Project 100 for updates on the movement locally.

If you can’t come to the conference, you can also participate on social media with #wewatch. (See below for transcript)


Chicago: Protect Safe Space for Queer and Trans Youth and Youth Experiencing Homelessness!

Update: We won! Thanks in part to hundreds of folks turning up to the hearing and thousands more writing letters of support, BYC got the permit. It was amazing. Love y’all. 


The place I work, a drop in center for LGBTQ young people experiencing homelessness or housing instability, needs a special use permit to continue existing and we are experiencing resistance in our neighborhood to our presence here. We need your help. Please read this beautiful description of BYC via Prison Culture blog .. it made the tears well up, in a good way. Taking Care of Our Own: Stand With the Broadway Youth Center.

I will also add that the BYC is one of the most transformative,  loving, radical, healing, magical, beauty-inducing, community-supporting, life-sustaining, world-changing spaces I have ever been part of and it’s continued existence is absolutely crucial to the hundreds of young people served here.

Chicago in Solidarity to End Violence Against Sex Workers: Resist the Swedish Model!

So, I live in Chicago now and I want to promote this important event I helped organize. I encourage folks to check out the original page at [Updated, 7/20: Reportback from the demo added!]


When: Friday, July 19th, 6:30pm central time
Consulate General of Sweden (150 N Michigan Ave, Chicago)‎
What: Rally to demand justice for murdered sex workers and an end to all policies criminalizing sex work
Social Media: #JusticeForJasmine #JusticeForDora #StigmaKills
To RSVP: e-mail
Global Facebook event: International Day of Protest against the violent Abuse and Murder of Sex Workers
Allies Welcome!!


On July 19th, 2013, people are gathering across the globe to protest against violence against sex workers.

Following the murders of Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine on the 9th and 11 of July 2013, sex workers, their friends, families, and allies are coming together to demand an end to stigma, criminalisation, violence and murders. In the week since the two tragedies occurred, the feelings of anger, grief, sadness and injustice – for the loss of Dora and Jasmine, but also for the senseless and systemic murders and violence against sex workers worldwide – have brought together people in more 36 cities from four continents who agreed to organise demos, vigils, and protests in front of Turkish and Swedish embassies or other symbolic places. JOIN US on Friday the 19th and stand in solidarity with sex workers and their loved ones around the world! Justice for Dora! Justice for Jasmine! Justice for all sex workers who are victims of violence!


As the sex trade becomes an ever more important part of how neoliberal economies handle the poorest and most marginalized, violence against sex workers – particularly against transgender and immigrant women – has become a tragic epidemic. Please join us this Friday, where we will be rallying in solidarity with sex workers all over the world to commemorate two women, Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine, who brutally lost their lives last week in Turkey and Sweden.

Despite being organized at the last minute and many sex workers and allies currently being in Las Vegas for the Desiree Alliance Conference, it is still important for Chicagoans to demonstrate solidarity with the international call for a day of action for sex worker justice.

As the cases of Dora and Jasmine show, the criminalization of sex work is a global problem that is literally killing our communities. It takes global solidarity to combat this kind of systemic, legitimized, state-sanctioned violence.

Why the Swedish Consulate?

Many people interested in sex workers’ rights have heard of the so-called “Swedish model” or the “Nordic model” — a strategy aimed at decriminalizing some aspects of selling sex, while increasing the criminalization of buying sex. The goal of such laws is to eradicate sex work by “ending demand,” – presenting it as a more “humane” (or even “feminist”) response. While Turkey has an extremely high death rate for sex workers and transgender women, it is also important to challenge the growing number of people (including here in Illinois — see below) who want to follow the Swedish example of pushing ill-informed policies that give stricter punishment for the purchasing of sex. As the tragic loss of Jasmine shows, this false alternative is just another form of violence against sex workers.

This model is not a kinder, gentler alternative to arresting and giving heavy sentences to sex workers. In reality, these laws haven’t eliminated demand. They have only made things worse for sex workers, especially those already most vulnerable — street workers, transgender women (who are often profiled as sex workers even if they aren’t), homeless/street-based young people, undocumented immigrants, etc.

People will continue to do what they need to do in order to survive, and should never be punished or stigmatized for how they do so. By conflating all forms of sex work with violence or human trafficking (which is not the same thing as sex work) or calling sex work ‘sexual slavery’, proponents of “End Demand” policies erase the agency and autonomy of people who chose sex work. Even by criminalizing clients, End Demand denies the reality that sex workers and our clients can have consensual relationships. Far from being feminist, proponents of End Demand are trying to legislate what we can and cannot do with our bodies.

Why Chicago?

Because “End Demand” policies are coming here — in fact, they already are here. Almost anyone who rides the CTA or drives along the highway has seen prominent ads purchased by End Demand Illinois, an organization pushing (somewhat successfully) for “Swedish model” type legislation in our state. (For further critique of the End Demand ad campaign, check out this from the Sex Workers Organizing Project-Chicago.) Some of these laws, advertising campaigns, and the policies they are lobbying for have already had direct, negative impacts on the lives of sex workers in Chicago and across the state. We don’t want to see the very same laws that contributed to the death of Jasmine in Sweden come here, or anywhere. Now is the time to soundly reject these policies and demand full decriminalization.

More on why the “End Demand” or “Swedish” model is dangerous…