#EqualAccess Series Guest Post: Not So Safely Gathered in …. Abandoned, Overlooked, and Misunderstood
By Melissa Malcolm King
This post is part of The Exponent’s #EqualAccess Series. Disabled voices rarely get a chance to speak for themselves, but this blog series seeks to eliminate the stigma that disabled people are less than, and need a representative to speak on their behalf. This blog series is intended to break stereotypes by gathering the voices of disabled individuals. #DisabilityExperience
The images displayed in the Ensign, Come Follow Me materials, and Church media generally depict the same redundant images: a cis-gendered, able-bodied heteronormative Caucasian family with 2.5 children. Even the Church-approved media reflecting the history of the Church and scriptures stories erase culture and appropriate false images.
As a Queer, Disabled, Person of Color, I am not part of this narrative. There is no story or place written for me in the Great Plan of Happiness. In a previous post, I discussed how race impacts my world including my religious experience.
Today, I want to bring to light another aspect of my intersectionality: Being a disabled person among the able-bodied community of the church. This is not a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for having better egresses, accessible parking lots, and adaptive equipment. We can all agree that the Church and society at large can do much to improve in these areas.
What I am requesting from Church members is much more than becoming in compliance with ADA laws or local regulations. I am asking for more than teaching children to sing “I’ll walk with you.” I am asking for a change in thinking because we all deserve so much more. I am calling for the Church and its associates to reconsider the narratives they are sharing. I am calling for everyone to look around and listen for the voices you cannot hear.
Ask yourself : Are we are all safely gathered in or only those who have “met the requirements” in some way “earning” the right?
It is not a privilege to be accepted. It is not a privilege to be heard. It is not a privilege to stand in holy places. It is the right of every person who is born to be loved, accepted, and worship just as they are.
In that spirit, I offer the following food for thought with the invitation to not only be better and do better but to feel better.
1. Love yourself! So often, we beat ourselves up for all the things we are not doing right. Somehow, we equivocate our righteousness with our perfection. This is actually the opposite. It is through our imperfection that we learn to love more fully and to experience empathy for others. Our job in this life is to build on these moments and in turn become advocates and allies for those who are marginalized.
2. Change the Narrative! We all have the power to change the story we have been given. We do not have to sit idly by and allow others to dictate what what we know is wrong. It only takes one person for a movement to grow. Why not let it begin with you? Educate yourself and your families about disabilities including the ones you can’t see. Get to know someone in your ward, neighborhood, or work who you feel you have nothing in common with. You will be surprised what happens when people work to build bridges instead of tearing them down.
3. Paint a different Picture! One of the most difficult things I had to learn to do was to paint a different picture. As a young person in the LDS Church, my life was mapped out for me. Who I should marry, where I should marry, what my life’s goals were, and the list goes on. For a long time, I lived a “paint by numbers” life. I just followed along, creating the image of the Church and world laid out for me. I have come to realize that each of us has the beautiful and life-changing opportunity to paint our own unique pictures. Our pictures in reality hang in a great gallery called life; we paint our our pictures as our story is told. The more our story is told, the more we realize that we are more alike than different, but those differences are just as beautiful and powerful.
4. Time is the greatest teacher! It is often said that the most valuable thing we can spend on children is time. The most valuable thing we can spend as a society is time. I would like to invite you to take control of your time instead of it controlling you. Are you making time to live your dream? Are you making time to learn more about others? Are you making time for self-care? Are you making time for you? I think one of the most dangerous narratives is that we are supposed to sacrifice everything in order to demonstrate our devotion to God or our higher power. I cannot believe that any higher power would want us to sacrifice our mental health or limit our ability to love to achieve our goals. I believe the best way to serve others is to build ourselves up first. Only then can we truly love and have empathy for others. Don’t believe me? Just give it time.
I hope that as you read this food for thought, it is digested in your spirit and stimulated your soul. While issues that we face today have much to do with laws, regulations, and politics, it goes beyond that. The issues we face today are because we have become complacent in our actions. For the majority of us, we can simply shut off the TV, scroll down our newsfeeds, or tune out the suffering of others. To those with the privilege to shut it out or turn it off, I ask: Will you join my fight? Will you stand with me when others say you should not? Will you amplify my voice?
Truthfully, this is a privilege I don’t have and will never want to have in this life. As person marginalized in so many ways, I want to stand with those who still must sit. I want to wash the tears of the broken and rise up against inequality in all forms. It is my life’s mission and what the heart of humanity is all about. Martin Luther King said, “There comes a time when Silence is betrayal.” Let us be silent no more.
I beg of you please do not just sit idly by. Please do not just walk with me. Please have the courage to help me stand-up when everyone else around me has knocked me down.