Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gay Marriage and Other Social Changes

When gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts four years ago, it was all over the media for months. The talk shows and conservative blogs buzzed with outrage, and Republican campaign strategists even went as far as to put anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in several states, with the goal of increasing conservative turnout to help George Bush win re-election.

Last week the California Supreme Court declared a state law against gay marriage to be unconstitutional. If you didn't happen to notice anything about this court decision in the news, you wouldn't be the only one. It was only in the headlines for a couple of days. Political pundits wrote a few articles to the effect that gay marriage wasn't likely to be an issue in this year's election because opinion polling suggested that as many voters would turn out to support it as to oppose it. Hollywood gossip columnists mentioned a few gay celebrity couples who were celebrating the decision and planning their weddings.

This goes to show how quickly mainstream society can adjust to a new state of affairs. Within four years, gay marriage went from being widely seen as threatening America's traditional way of life to being such an ordinary event that it hardly merited any news coverage. And who would have thought, before the presidential campaign season started, that a female candidate would lose the Democratic nomination because (among other things) she ended up being seen as the establishment candidate and yesterday's news?

Four years ago, the idea that our society ought to respect neurological diversity also was seen as an outrageously radical challenge to the status quo, to the extent anyone had heard of it at all. The number of pro-neurodiversity websites literally could have been counted on one's fingers. Autistic people were almost never interviewed by journalists, invited to speak at autism-related events, or considered worthy of holding positions of authority in autism-related organizations.

Now, although most media organizations have a long way to go in shedding their biases, they regularly interview people who support neurodiversity, and they're coming to see it as a mainstream viewpoint. Thousands of websites have been created over the past few years by supporters of autistic civil rights. Organizations are starting to understand that equal opportunity for autistics is a diversity issue. Governments are starting to understand that it is a human rights issue.

We're still at a very early stage in this process, and there is still a huge amount of ignorance out there; but I am hopeful that in another four years, social acceptance of the autistic minority population will have become just another unremarkable aspect of everyday life.

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  • While I think it an admirable goal, unfortunately I don't share your optimism for a four year timeline.

    Just as racism has been with us a long time, I expect that discrimination against those judged neurologically "different" will lessen over time, but not disappear in anything close to four years.

    But that doesn't mean we should give up or stop working.


    By Blogger Club 166, at 5:49 PM  

  • I think we will see the change in official attitudes (the stuff you hear in the media and from politicians) quite soon, but the change on the ground might take longer. And, of course, Joe is right to say that discrimination will still exist, just as it exist for gays and people of color. But, to be frank, if the discrimination against neurologically exceptional people could be reduced to the level experienced by gays and people of color, it would be a huge step forward.

    By Blogger VAB, at 9:04 PM  

  • To clarify, I wasn't suggesting that anti-autistic prejudice could disappear entirely in four years, but I think it could go from being a common attitude to being socially disapproved, as with other types of bigotry.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:40 PM  

  • I think there is a long ways to go in this, not helped any by an amazing array of folks who really think that autie bashing is a sure fire way to garner funds and support. Since the mainstream advocacy organisations have as their battle cry some variant of 'better dead than autistic', we surely have a very long way to go.

    Of course the folks who wanted designer children and didn't get them don't like autistic self advocacy because it interferes with and could easily scupper their plans to incarcerate the offspring 'for their own good'.

    The biomed crowd don't like it any more than the designer parents, because they much prefer the disease model to the heredity model.

    By Blogger Alyric, at 8:53 AM  

  • It's not quite main stream media, but it's close.

    This morning my New Scientist had an autism story. It was pretty boring with no actual news in it and a fair number of unsubstantiated claims -- yawn, but the last half dozen paragraphs fell under the heading, "Should be try to 'cure' autism?"

    This is the second time we've see autism from a neurodiverse viewpoint in New Scientist, but it illustrates your point well. Once NS did one piece on neurodiversity, the editors and the staff were primed. The next time they had some reporting to do, they felt obliged to mention it. What is more, I bet it shaped the language they used in the first half of the piece.

    By Blogger VAB, at 11:27 AM  

  • The early voices in the autistic self-advocacy movement and its allies go back much further than 4 years. Jim Sinclair's "Don't Mourn For Us", which might be considered the Stonewall of the movement, dates from 1992. Autistics.org dates from the late 1990s.

    The pace has certainly accelerated over the last 4 years, but the timeline for change is a good deal longer.

    None the less, we shall overcome.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 11:11 PM  

  • Phil: Yes, and there were some people in favor of gay marriage more than four years ago, too; but neither viewpoint was really on society's radar screen, so to speak.

    By Blogger abfh, at 12:05 PM  

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