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    Title Falling in Love With Ourselves: A Disabled Queer Black Woman’s Reflections on Disability Justice

    By India Harville–

    I’m proud of all my social identity markers—Black, queer, woman, and disabled. Out of all of my identities, developing disability pride was the most challenging. I didn’t always identify as disabled, although I have had chronic health challenges my entire life. As a Black queer woman whose ancestors survived by hiding parts of themselves deemed deviant, dangerous, and unlovable by a white ableist cis-heteropatriarchy, I wasn’t eager to publicly claim another marginalized identity. Queer had already come at a cost, and I had every reason to suspect that claiming disabled would be even more costly.  

    Disability had already claimed me, however, and as the end of my twenties arrived, my ability to ignore my body, mask my neurodivergence, and suppress my mental health challenges withered away. My disabilities, which I had been able to conceal in my younger years, became quite apparent. I was no longer only grappling with my own internalized ableism; I was experiencing interpersonal and structural ableism daily as I tried to adapt to using a wheelchair because of hemiplegic migraine, being too tired to feign neurotypical behavior, and having a myriad of access needs. I needed to learn new strategies to navigate my life and the world.

    India Harville with her service dog, Nico

    Fortunately, I was living in the Bay Area at the time, and I was beginning to learn about Disability Justice. Two events stand out vividly for me as turning points in how I started to shift my ideas about disability, and, ultimately, myself. The first was the 2009 Sins Invalid Annual Performance. I remember being in the audience and seeing the performers talk about experiences with their bodies that mirrored my own without shame but instead with love. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poetry made me feel like they had found a copy of my diary. It was compelling and moving, but I was still unsure if that could ever be my reality. After all, I wasn’t in the habit of sharing my diary with the world.
    The second event occurred in 2011. I heard Mia Mingus speak at the Femmes of Color Symposium. In her keynote address, entitled Moving Beyond the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability, Mia shared a quote from June Jordan that still resonates with me: “To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.”

    Mia invited me into the possibility that claiming my disabilities publicly and politically could be powerful, that undoing internalized ableism would support me to dismantle it in society, and that telling the truth about my body/mind, not just in my diary but to others, could change my life and the world for the better.  
    I have no idea why Mia’s words impacted me so deeply that day, but from that point forward, I became a lifelong student of Disability Justice. Disability Justice is a movement that addresses how multiply-marginalized disabled people are impacted at the intersections of ableism and other types of oppression (racism, cisheterosexism, classism, etc.). Ableism—as defined by Stacey Park Milbern, one of the founders of the Disability Justice movement who became an ancestor three years ago—is a system of oppression that favors being non-disabled at any cost, frequently at the expense of disabled people. Disability Justice centers the needs and concerns of disabled QTBIPOC and recognizes that those of us living at multiple intersections of oppression should lead the way in building alternatives to the oppressive systems that harm all of us.
    Disproportionately, the brunt of the impact of oppression lands on multiply-marginalized communities, including disabled QTBIPOC communities. There is too little research that explores people living at these specific intersections, which compound the impact of each of the individual identity markers. But what we do know is that disabled QTBIPOC experience extreme health disparities, which have been especially highlighted during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Being a disabled QTBIPOC negatively influences life expectancy by multiple years. Disability is an often under-acknowledged component of police violence experienced by BIPOC. There is a lack of acknowledgment of the ongoing health risks of COVID-19 for disabled QTBIPOC in particular.

    Disability Justice activists and communities continue to work to address these inequities. We create disabled-friendly mutual aid networks; we advocate on behalf of each other in medical settings; and we continue to encourage people to learn more about Disability Justice and deepen their analysis of intersectional ableism. Loving other disabled QTBIPOC in these ways has helped me learn to love myself more. We’ve accomplished so much, and yet, there is still so much more to do.
    Although I am only in my forties, now my focus is turning to Disability Justice and aging. I’ve lost so many disabled QTBIPOC community members at a young age due to oppression, and in many subsets of my community, making it to forty is noteworthy. You are even considered an elder. I want to help ensure that disabled QTBIPOC are not only making it to be 50, 60, 70, and older but also that we are thriving.
    Ageism and ableism have many commonalities. People often treat older adults and disabled people as disposable and invisible. Both communities are negatively stereotyped as not having anything to contribute, being perceived as incapable, and being framed as a burden. Disabled communities and older adults are both negatively impacted by how difficult it is to find caregivers due to the current shortage of trained providers. Both communities have concerns about autonomy and having access to remaining safely in their own homes instead of institutions and nursing homes. Some disabled community members and older adults share ongoing concerns about keeping the most vulnerable populations safe during the COVID-19 pandemic as many communities resume pre-pandemic practices. These concerns are even more pronounced for multiply marginalized disabled people who are now also experiencing ageism.
    In 2011 I did not realize that claiming disability would actually be liberatory and one of my primary paths to learning to love all my marginalized identities: Blackness, queerness, and disability. I have a lot of gratitude for the people who politicized me into Disability Justice and helped me fall in love with embracing all of myself. I will be forever grateful to Patty Berne, Leroy Moore, Stacey Park Milbern, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and Mia Mingus.

    I am moving towards embracing a new marginalized identity, but I am also holding it differently because of all the work I have already done to love the other parts of myself. So, as I work to embrace “elder,” I won’t keep my writing secret in my diary. This time, I want to share my truth sooner about loving and valuing myself and my communities as we age. I hold the desire to be a thriving disabled QTBIPOC elder, and I will continue to work to create a world where that is possible for all of us.

    India Harville (she/her), Founder of Embraced Body, is an African American, disabled, and queer disability justice activist. Harville’s work centers reclaiming the body as an often-underestimated pathway to decolonizing ourselves to foster social justice, equity, and inclusion. To learn more about her work, please visit

    Aging in Community Special Section Part Two by Dr. Marcy Adelman
    Published on May 18, 2023