On the first Wednesday of the month, we publish blog posts written by members of our Generous Space Community. This piece was written by Heather Morgan, who lives in Barrie, Ontario.
I sat propped up in my bed to watch the recording of the Allyship evening that Generous Space hosted a few months ago in Vancouver - and I loved so much of it!
As a queer woman with two queer kids, I have been so thankful for allies in our lives.
Their story is not my story to tell - and so I won’t - but suffice it to say that without them I don’t know if my eldest would be alive or not, because four years ago when they came out as trans, it was the allies around us who very quickly taught us what we needed to know, gently corrected us about our approach, and guided us in how to respond with grace and with love and with compassion.
Without these allies, we would have lost our faith community.
Without these allies, we would have lost what was left of our marriage.
Most importantly, without these unsung heroes, I think we might have made an enormous mess of the whole thing, instead of just the awkward, bumbling one we ended up with.
This is what allies do - they show up with wisdom and grace and an ability to say things that need to be heard and teach us (who had no idea how queer we were) what we need to know and support us (as seemingly cis-het parents) in showing up the way we always wanted to but weren’t quite sure how.
In every single case, these allies have done so at the risk of their own comfort - they have put careers and friendships on the line - and they have done that because for some crazy reason their commitment to love has been greater than any of their own preconceptions or even their own prejudices. That is an amazing thing.
And the crucial thing I’ve learned about allyship in all of this is that allyship starts when we take the time to truly see another person in all of their uniqueness - the totality of their being - and to say, ‘this person matters’. To see the things about them that are beautiful and say they matter. To see the things about their lives that are hard and say they matter. That’s where allyship starts. It starts by seeing.
Which is why as a queer, disabled woman, I get worried whenever I hear lists of groups that we need to think about - and be allies for - that fail to include folks with disabilities. (Which is sadly almost always the case …)
This is for two reasons. The first is because I think that the work that allies do when they see us has a profound impact on how we see and value ourselves - regardless of whether you are indigenous, a person of colour, LGBTQ, disabled, a person experiencing homelessness, living in poverty or with addiction or any number of other ways we can become marginalized within our society.
The second is because for many folks with disabilities our capacity to speak up and show up is silenced to a greater or lesser degree in ways that no other group faces. For some of us, disability has or will eventually silence us entirely. That’s because not only do we face external sources of erasure - with our own history and even current stories of institutionalization, sterilization and eugenics, not to mention poverty and barriers to accessing needed services, procedures and medical care - but this is also often compounded by internal sources - diseases and accidents and chromosomal abnormalities that slowly or quickly take away our ability to speak up for ourselves or the energy to roll up to the table.
Which is where you come in.
Every time I hear a list of groups we need to support in allyship, I would love to hear the word ‘disability’ on that list. Whenever I see people asking for voices they should be listening to as they work to broaden their perspective, I would love for ‘disabled writers and speakers’ to be on that list. When I see people thinking about diversity at conferences and in leadership, it would be amazing for disability to make that list.
As I have come to know my LGBTQ community, I have discovered the richness of this diverse and beautiful group. I have discovered that you are collectively Changers of Stories - Imaginers of Possibilities - Finders of Identity. It is through this community that I finally - at age 39 - realized my own identity. This is the community that propelled me to ask my own questions, to explore my own sexuality. To name and understand and work through my own messages and questions and fears and traumas so that I could show up more fully as myself in my life and my marriage and my parenting and my community.
And that’s why I know that the disability community needs you - the LGBTQ community - as allies.
We need people who understand what it’s like to have to work to make a space for yourself in the world. We need people who can remember how hard it is to move through life feeling like you are invisible. We need people who will take the time to look around the room - to not only see us when we are present and help to elevate our voice, but notice when we are missing. We need people who won’t accept an able-bodied individual’s description of our lives or our needs when a person with lived experience is available to hear from. We need people who have learned how to listen and hold space for hard stories, and people who are courageous enough not to run away when things get real.
In other words, we need you.
And the best part about holding space for other people? It turns out that when we do this for others - just like Sarah Bessey said - we are the ones who end up richer for it.
More about Heather:
Heather (she/her) lives in Barrie with lots of disabilities shared between herself, her husband and her two incredible teenage kids. She is a disability advocate and life coach with a focus on supporting families and individuals with disabilities navigate personal, partnering and parenting challenges. Heather serves as an elder at Vox Alliance Church, and is also a member of the City of Barrie’s Accessibility Advisory Committee. Heather and her husband have competed in 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons and triathlons with the use of her accessible racing chair, and they are responsible for bringing this opportunity to other disabled athletes through her volunteer work with My Team Triumph Canada. Heather has been part of the Generous Space community since 2016.