Written in June 2023
CW: mentions of suicide
Autistic Pride Day falls on the 18th of June. I, like most autistic people who have heard of the event (and many non-autistic people who want to celebrate as a form of allyship or even businesses who mark it in an example of neurodivergence-washing), did not know about the origins of the day, about who is credited with setting it up.
Autistic Pride events seek to be an inclusive act of pride in our neurotype. Pride events for all minority groups seek to do the same. Peter Tatchell said at the first UK Gay Pride event:
“Our aim was to show that we were proud, not ashamed. Determined to come out of the shadows and stand up for our rights, we wanted to make ourselves visible and demand LGBT liberation.”
This is, broadly speaking, the aim of all Pride events for any cause. Lots of autistic people want to show that we are proud, not ashamed, of the way we are. When we do this, we send a powerful message to society, and to autistic people who may not feel proud (due in a large part to the stigma that persists) that we are not going to accept shame from those who do not accept us. We want to make ourselves visible. We are demanding neurodivergent liberation.
You can read for yourself the history behind the problematic group who are credited with founding the day here. The group no longer exists, yet their influence is still being wielded as a way to shut down Pride events. I have been asked not to celebrate Autistic Pride now that I know this history, but I am making no such requests of anyone who reads this.
I feel it is unfair to hamstring an entire minority community (the autistic community) due to the inter-group actions of the moderators of a small forum. The concept of a Pride event is not new, and to disable a global community from having a Pride event (that embodies the concept of pride in difference), due to events that happened in a now-defunct group, who no longer have any involvement in running events under the banner name of AP is unfair.
It is also incredibly unfair to intimate that anyone who wants to feel pride in their neurotype and claim the event back for the sake of the community is contributing towards suicide risks. I reject wholesale the idea that I, in any way, advocate for suicide, or create a risk of suicide to others. I do not find it fair that in wanting to celebrate my way of being, that I am therefore, labelled as someone who contributes towards a suicide risk to other people.
I believe we should be able to reclaim both the words and the date (indeed I think a majority in the community won't even see it as a reclamation) for us. To continue to publicise the wrongdoings of AFF and continue to credit them with “inventing” Autistic Pride gives them more power than they deserve. The events now are organised and run by local groups; there is no large overarching organisation and the name is used not as a nod to such, but as a signpost that the event is for autistic people, and is a celebration.
This year I shied away from Autistic Pride while I digested this information and came to terms with the fact that some people will see me as contributing to suicide risk in others. This was not an easy thing to make peace with, hence my rejection of that label. I believe it is much more beneficial to the mental wellbeing of more people to be able to have Pride in this way of being.
Being an out and proud autistic person will help change society, by sending a powerful message of acceptance and inclusion for those who feel marginalised, unaccepted and even shamed for their existence. Autistic Pride is an important tool in changing society for the benefit of all autistic people including those who may feel marginalised, unaccepted and shamed by the actions of those people credited with “inventing” the concept.