Introduction by Samantha Crane
Just to introduce myself, I’m Samantha Crane, Director of Public Policy, Legal Director at ASAN.[Applause]
I’d like to start off our awards portion of the evening with our Ally of the Year Award. This year’s ally of the year, I’m proud to say, is not only a colleague, but also a personal friend. I didn’t make the call to the final call to give her this award. I want to point out that conflict of interest has been mitigated. But she is a personal friend.
We met on Facebook a while before she joined the National LGBTQ Task Force in an argument over the rights of lawyers with mental health disabilities. We were both on the same side.[Laughter]
Since then, she has joined the LGBTQ Task Force and she and I have had the privilege of working together on many issues, from the privacy rights of people with mental health service needs, including LGBTQ people who use mental health services, but also the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people on the autism spectrum. We collaborated with the National Center for Transgender Equality to fight for the rights of transgender and nonconforming people for self-identity and respect.
I’m really proud that we’re getting this award to Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán. And I think that this week’s recent events have made this choice of ours to present this Ally of the Year Award more important than ever.
Victoria, despite working at an LGBTQ organization that isn’t explicit disability focused, has been an amazing ally to our community, and we have worked together in the recognition that we have incredible overlap in our communities and even outside of that overlap. We all have common interests in respect – in respect for diversity, in access to appropriate healthcare, in nondiscrimination, and in privacy and self-determination.
To me, it’s so important for us to not only keep those coalitions going, but strengthen them, because as Julia said, if we don’t hang together, we’re going to hang separately.
Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán is the Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Justice Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. Her particular areas of expertise and focus are the intersections of issues affecting transgender people with disabilities and mental illness, ant-trans workplace discrimination, and gun violence prevention from a social justice lens.
She’s the author of “Valuing Transgender Advocates and Employees: A Gold Standard Best Practice Guide for Employers” and frequently speaks on discrimination issues impacting the trans community, inclusive of disability and racial justice. Prior to joining the Task Force, she was an equal opportunity specialist for the US Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center.
Victoria holds a BA in psychology with honors from the University of Puerto Rico and a JD from the University of Maine School of Law.
We are absolutely committed to continuing our work with Victoria, and with all other social justice organizations that want to partner with the disability community on issues that affect our intersections and affect all of us in general. Thank you, Victoria, and please come up and accept your award.[Applause]
Victoria M. Rodríguez-Roldán
First off, I’m going to say when Sam first informed me of this award, my instinctive response was to ask if she was joking.[Laughter]
I’m not joking about that part.[Laughter]
When it comes to this and I would like to say, I had all sorts of things that I want to say, but then last week happened essentially, and then we had our collective national funeral in the process. And what I would like to say about that is essentially the reason why I’d like to say maybe you’re joking is that when it comes to allyship, we need to make it something more common, make it more than something that deserves an award. We need to make it part of our basic humanity, essentially.
When it comes to our work, when it comes to our advocacy, now, and I will in this sense also put the past our community as the disability advocates, as LGBTQ advocates, as reproductive justice advocates, as progressive advocates in general, that we’re not movements separated in various silos. We are not different movements. We are all part of one collective set of work and ideals towards social justice, towards a more humane world, towards a better place, which is our goal as activists – that of leaving the world a little better than we left it.
In the process, what I will insist is that now, more than ever, we have to maintain that intersectionality. It may be tempting throughout the next few years, throughout the challenges that we have ahead, to engage in piecemeal, to drop things in the name of trying to protect that which we are siloed and tunnel visioned into, but we need now more than ever to understand that even if there may be the illusion of benefits, even if there may be the illusion of gains, these are hardly gains if we are not taking care of all the intersectionalities that impact the disability community.
It is not a gain. We are not engaging in real activism if we leave behind LGBTQ people with disabilities, if we leave behind immigrants with disabilities, if we leave behind the disabilities that we don’t like or that are harder to sell, so to speak, the ones that are not – that don’t generate the empathy – or carry the stigma, such as mental illness, speaking as someone with bipolar disorder. Such as the autistic community. This is not the time to make sacrifices in the name of expediency.
And that is the lesson that we need to make sure, both as allies, both as advocates, and in the name of self-advocacy, of the principle that there can be nothing about us without us. We are there to ensure that whoever isn’t in the room is in the room. We need to ensure that this activism doesn’t leave anyone behind.
Because as long as there’s anybody behind, as long as there’s somebody in an institution, as long as there’s somebody being deported, as long as there’s somebody being denied their care, their healthcare they need, as long as somebody isn’t able to access their basic dignity, as long as someone is denied their profession or the right to vote, because of their disability, as long as any single person is in that situation, our work is not complete.
My final word would be to invoke the principle from the Talmud that says that to save one life is to save the world entire, because for that one person that is the world. I know the work we’re doing for the next few years will feel essentially like pushing the rock up the mountain and then slipping and falling back down. I know it will feel miserable. I know it will be long. It may be winter in many ways, but our job is to save people, is to ensure the rights of people, and for every single person we help that is the world entire.
That is our work, and that is what we’re doing here tonight, and that is the mission we cannot forget. And knowing again that it’s dark, knowing again that we are trying to keep candles lit in a world where the lamps seem to be going out, my promise to you is I am not going anywhere, nor is the LGBTQ community going anywhere. We’re staying right here, in this muddy town by the Potomac, and we’re going to keep fighting!