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)


Call to Action: Reclaim Pride From the 1% #OccuPride

a tyrannosaurs rex in front of a city skyline with a stylized rainbow in the background. text reads: assimilation = extinction / #occupride #pinkbloc / summer 2012

Originally posted to OccupyWallSt.org.

Many events are listed below the call to action!

Pride 2012: The Struggle for Sexual and Gender Justice Continues

This summer, communities across the world will celebrate Pride Festivals commemorating the birth and victories of the Gay and Trans Liberation Movements. Despite the profound social change these movements have accomplished since the first high-heels were thrown over the barricades at Compton’s Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn, it is clear that the struggle for queer, trans, and gender-variant liberation is far from finished.

From California to North Carolina, and around the world, our relationships remain under assault by the State. The progress made so-far by the established LGBT Rights movement has been uneven, excluding trans women, homeless youth and elders, people of color, low-income and poor communities, immigrants, gender non-conforming people, people with disabilities, neurovariant people and sex workers — the very communities whose militant resistance to police brutality and vice patrol raids first gave life to the Gay and Trans Liberation movement. Now, the life-or-death (primarily economic) needs of marginalized people are ignored by the mainstream LGBT Rights movement in favor of symbolic victories for relatively-privileged members of our communities.


OWS Must Resist Cis-Supremacy and Trans-Misogyny – A Statement to the NYC General Assembly

originally posted to OccupyWallSt.org and distributed around Liberty Square. Written in colloboration with other trans women from the Queering OWS Working Group, Women Occupying Wall Street, and the POC Caucus

As feminists, we enthusiastically support women’s groups and womendesignated safer spaces, but as trans women and allies, we oppose (and will categorically block) any group or space that excludes trans women1 , as well as any standard that functionally asserts authority over our self-determined gender identities2 . On multiple occasions, we have witnessed the exclusion of trans people from spaces and groups affiliated with Occupations, both here in New York and elsewhere. We have also encountered transphobic hate speech propagated by certain “radical lesbian separatist” individuals within the movement. This must not be allowed to continue.

By denying the existence of cisgender privilege and furthering the disempowerment of trans people, transphobic groups, spaces and individuals violate both the letter and spirit of our Principles of Solidarity3 . The elimination of systemic oppression against marginalized people is a core goal of the Occupy movement, but self-identified “womyn-born-womyn”4 and other types of cisgender people do not constitute a marginalized group relative to trans women. Throughout the world, trans people – especially trans women, trans people of color, trans youth, trans sex workers, trans people with disabilities, and gender non-binary/non-conforming people – are among the people most marginalized by systemic oppression. In the U.S., trans women face extreme violence (a 1-in- 12 chance of dying from a violent crime), poverty (fifty percent unemployment rate) and criminalization (trans women, especially trans women of color, are routinely subject to police profiling).5

To fight this systemic oppression – including transphobia, cis-centrism, cis-supremacy, and trans-misogyny – it is essential we support the self-determination of all people oppressed by coercive, non-consensual gender assignments. Allowing any group or space to define gender by essentialist, cis-centric standards is intrinsically at odds with gender liberation and trans people’s right to autonomous self-determination. It is a fundamental affront to solidarity.

For decades – from the Stonewall Rebellion to Occupy Wall Street – trans women have stood at the forefront of social justice movements, often at great personal risk. But even within these movements, trans women have been excluded, silenced, shamed, and abandoned as political liabilities. Since mid-July, trans women have played a critical role in OWS, including the creation and 1 operation of OccupyWallSt.org, the de facto voice of the global Occupy movement. Nonetheless, we are prepared to leave the New York General Assembly and its empowered Spokes Council en masse if trans-excluding groups, spaces, and individuals continue to be tolerated by this body. Over 50 OWS-affiliated groups have already signed on to a trans-inclusive safer spaces policy (and any group which has not is encouraged to join!), but for Occupy Wall Street to hold true to its Principles of Solidarity, we must take the additional step of ensuring that trans peoples’ identities are respected, and that trans women are safe and welcome in all women’s spaces.