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Autism Canada defines autism spectrum disorder (ASD, or autism) as “a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development causing most individuals to experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour”. A March 2018 report by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that 1.5% of Canadian youth between the ages of 5-17 have an autism diagnosis, and though it is found more often in those assigned male, it is not limited to any one race, gender identity or sexual orientation.
But when Autistiqueers co-founder Bridget Liang went searching for resources designed specifically for autistic people identifying as queer and/or transgender, there was a glaring disparity that excluded autistic individuals in the LGBTQ+ community.
“The spaces I learned about were all run by non-autistics and were made up by a majority of cishet white guys,” said Liang. “With such a high number of people whose experiences aren’t being addressed, how come no one is talking about it? With a bit of encouragement from a former colleague, I enlisted Falon (Autistiqueers co-founder Falon Wilton) to help me run this group since we both were wanting to do something about this gap in services.”
Autistiqueers is Toronto’s first social group for LGBTTQA+ people with autism, and has the rare distinction of being developed by and for queer and transgender autistic individuals. It offers an accepting, anti-oppression space for members to be themselves and share experiences – a construct that may sound simple on the surface, but the intersectionality makes it incredibly unique.
“I received a message from someone over Facebook saying how grateful they were that we exist,” said Liang. “They wished that there was a group like us in their city.”
“Our success is in all the little moments,” said Wilton. “Seeing members stim (make repetitive body movements or repeatedly move objects) without shame, infodumping favourite topics to each other with enthusiasm, even just existing as queer weirdos in the same space together is a revolution in itself.”
Autistiqueers received a 2017 General Rainbow Grant, acknowledging its unique and significant impact on a vastly underserved group in the LGBTTIQQ2S community. Liang and Wilton are prime examples of the grassroots activism that Community One encourages through the General Fund – a non-tax receiptable fund that enables those without registered charitable status to carry out important initiatives. Though General Grants often go to projects in the arts, Autistiqueers is an example of the type of social services that can be funded through the program.
“We have been able to provide transportation and food costs, which are huge. It’s hard for low income, especially disabled folks, to leave the house without spending extra money,” said Wilton. “Our group members have mentioned that Autistiqueers is the safest space they have. To think that we’ve been able to provide it to those who need it most is an honour and a necessity.”
Liang and Wilton are determined to keep Autistiqueers running strong, currently producing a zine with content from the LGBTQ+ autistic community, and looking to raise funds for greater accessibility with things like ASL interpretation for deaf members. To learn more about Autistiqueers and upcoming meetings, check out their Facebook page here.
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