Friday, December 7, 2012

Boldly Going Nowhere: An Open Letter to William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Sir Patrick Stewart

Dear William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Sir Patrick Stewart,

Star Trek was created out of a simple vision - a vision of an Earth that has advanced beyond hatred, prejudice, greed and war.  To that end, an organization like Autism Speaks, that seeks to destroy an entire population of people, does not seem to fit in with that vision.  And yet it was with great disappointment that I heard that all three of you are participating in a fundraiser to "Sound Off for Autism Speaks".

Autism Speaks has habitually rejected the perspectives of actual autistic people.  They have no autistic people on their board of directors and prefer to instead misquote and plagiarize Autistic activists.  They continually use scare tactics to refer to autism as an "epidemic", comparing it to deadly diseases such as cancer and AIDS.  Autism Speaks paints a picture of autism as a life-ruining burden, that sucks money from our nation and holds our children hostage.  Autism doesn't kill, but rhetoric spouted by organizations like Autism Speaks doesIncluded in this blog post by Autistic activist Kassiane Sibly is an incomplete list of disabled children and adults murdered by their parents or caregivers, most of them Autistic.  These human beings were cruelly murdered, executed for the "crime" of being disabled.  And Autism Speaks tacitly encourages these abominations by using fear-mongering language in their website and advertisements to paint a picture of autism as a devastation, instead of simply a different way of being.

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Masterpiece Society", Geordi LaForge finds himself on a planet where people like him do not exist, a planet where disabled fetuses are terminated at conception and genetic conditions are eradicated through DNA manipulation.  Hannah Bates, a scientist on the planet, explains to him: "It was the wish of our founders that no one have to suffer a life with disabilities." Geordi responds: "Who gave them the right to decide whether or not I should be here? Whether or not I might have something to contribute?" I ask the same of Autism Speaks.  No one should have the power to decide for someone else whether or not they should exist.  That power lies with the individual, and the individual alone.

Gene Roddenberry once said: "Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”Autism Speaks actively seeks to destroy diversity and difference by making prevention and a cure for autism its primary mission, and silencing the voices of those who can truly offer insight into autism - autistic people themselves.

I encourage you to take a look at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's informational flier on Autism Speaks, and read this letter from autistic activist Leah Grantham on this very topic.  Consider supporting an autism organization run by Autistics, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network or Autism Network International.  Autism Speaks is the antithesis of everything Star Trek has represented for nearly half a century.  I am not autistic, but I am disabled, and I stand with my Autistic brethren on this matter.  Star Trek has, since its inception, continually pushed boundaries and re-framed diversity.  I beg you to please follow the example of the show that has touched so many hearts, and stand for diversity, acceptance, and justice for all.

Cara Liebowitz, a disabled Trekkie


Vince Steele said...

Speaking of Star Trek and Autism...

Vince Steele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vince Steele said...

Sorry, my browser posted my first comment twice.

spookiewon said...

As it happens, I'm BOTH a disabled person AND a person with autism, and you don't "stand with" me. SOME people with autism object to "Autism Speaks," but not by any means all. As it happens, you've missed the entire point of the ST:TNG episode you relate. There is a difference between not allowing disabled persons to be born and wanting to cure their disabilities. I'm also gay, and I'm often asked if I'd want my child to be gay. NO! I'll say that again so you get it. NO!! That doesn't mean I think there's anything wrong with being gay, it means my life has been immeasurably more difficult because I'm gay. It's also been immeasurably more difficult due to my disability, and my autism, and I wouldn't wish my child to have those difficulties either. Would you HONESTLY wish your own child to have cerebral palsy, or depression? I sincerely doubt you would choose that, if you had the choice. Celebrating diversity doesn't mean hoping we'll always have people whose lives are more difficult than they need to be.

I had already been a Trekkie for more years than you have now been alive by the time you were born (Since 1966!!) I stand with Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Sir Patrick Stewart, and with The Great Bird of the Galaxy, in celebrating diversity of all kinds.

And BTW, those people who object to Autism Speaks? They also object to being called "autistic." They prefer you call them "PERSONS WITH AUTISM." Me? I'm cool being called autistic. And disabled. And gay.

Cara Liebowitz said...

Spookiewon, it's perfectly okay if you don't share my opinions and the opinions of many Autistic activists. In that case, I don't stand with you and I apologize for making generalizations. However, in no place did I say that ALL autistic people object to Autism Speaks. I apologize if that was the impression you got. However, I stand with the autistics who object to Autism Speaks, because they feel it does not represent them and I agree with that sentiment. Personally, in terms of the difficulties of disability, I feel much of it (but not all) comes from the way society treats us and the fear-mongering that is spread about disability, such as language like "epidemic" and "tsunami" to describe disability. I am certainly in support of treatments to make disability less difficult, such as pain management, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of preventing disabled babies from ever being born, for many reasons. I don't think it is possible to celebrate diversity while simultaneously trying to wipe out the very people that make our society diverse.

Many people who object to Autism Speaks, including many prominent Autistic activists, prefer the identity first language. Below are links to autistic activists specifically explaining why they prefer identity first language. All of them have expressed strong objections towards Autism Speaks:

Julia Bascom, founder of the Loud Hands Project:

Lydia Brown:,, and

And finally Jim Sinclar's "Why I Dislike People First Language":

Although I recognize that not all autistic people/people with autism prefer the terminology, it is by and large the terminology that my friends in the autistic community have expressed they prefer, so for the purposes of this letter/blog post, I went with "autistic".

Please let me know if you have any further concerns.