Politics and self-advocacy with Basil Langevin
Have you always been interested in politics?
I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and have long been passionate about making life better for people. Politics itself hasn’t always been a focal point for me. Yet, I’ve long seen it as a critical avenue for driving change.
I began volunteering on political campaigns shortly after graduating high school in 2014. Before long, I wrote off ever running for office myself. Political divisiveness made elected office feel unwelcoming and unsafe. As a young, queer, disabled person, this was especially true.
My special interests revolve around city planning and social justice. I’m fascinated by the ways our cities work and the opportunities we have to create equity within them. Naturally, I pay attention to what happens in cities around the world.
When the pandemic began, I saw dozens of cities use it as an opportunity to innovate. To reimagine their streets as places for people and community. To retrofit their buildings for health and access. To build a better society faster than previously thought possible.
Meanwhile, most other cities struggled to adapt and innovate in a changing world. Two years on, so many of our communities are worse off because of it.
2021 was a real wake-up call for me. Skyrocketing housing costs, disastrous flooding and fires, and a deadly heat dome devastated our province. I felt an immense responsibility to use my knowledge about politics and energy to fight for a better future.
I realized a run for local office would be my best opportunity to drive large-scale change. I live in a district that elected a 19-year-old to Council four years ago, so I knew an election would be winnable. Now, a year into campaigning and with remarkable support behind me, I’m so grateful I decided to run.
What does community inclusion mean to you?
To me, an inclusive community is one where everyone can live comfortably as their truest self and be embraced for who they are.
This aspiration goes well beyond changing individual beliefs and attitudes. It means building a society where everyone can afford to live in safe, stable, and accessible housing. Where everyone can take part in their community without facing barriers. Where everyone has access to the supports and resources they need to thrive.
Fundamentally, community inclusion requires collective action. It requires individuals coming together to create welcoming environments. It requires governments investing in access, supports, and people. It requires us imagining a better world is possible and working together to make it a reality.
Where in your community do you feel like you can be your true self?
I’m fortunate to have wonderful friends and colleagues who encourage me to embrace my identities and live authentically. Their support and companionship help me feel true to myself.
When I began campaigning in politics last fall, I decided to put aside important parts of myself because I was afraid they would hamper my chances of success.
Being openly autistic often means facing stigma and being underestimated. It means being perceived as less competent, less capable, and less valuable by many. I see it when people use their “kid voice” when talking to me. When people assume I’m incapable of making decisions and speak to others on my behalf.
Because of these experiences, I was afraid that the average voter would learn I’m autistic and decide I wasn’t fit for office. That they wouldn’t realize my special interests, ability to think outside the box, capacity for understanding complex systems, and deep empathy for others make me uniquely qualified to serve elected office.
Yet, I’ve met so many people in this campaign who’ve encouraged me to embrace being autistic. To see my identities and experiences as strengths. To recognize that my story is one people will identify with and rally behind.
I hope that my role as a Councillor will help shift narratives around autism. That my success will show that, with support, autistic people are often capable of far more than we’re given credit for. That my municipality can become a trailblazer in true community inclusion.
A part of running for office is self-advocacy and self-promotion – did you have a mentor who helped teach you about self-advocacy?
Absolutely! I’ve had plenty of mentors throughout my life.
My parents taught me how to navigate a world that wasn’t built for me. My ballet instructors showed me how to be true to myself even when others thought it was wrong. Countless teachers equipped me with the skills and tools I needed to thrive.
I’ve now been leading an LGBT nonprofit for 8 years. Through that position, I’ve had the privilege to work with incredible leaders who’ve been true mentors and allies. Their guidance, compassion, and unending belief in me have made me the person I am today. The experience and skills I’ve gained through my work have made my run for office possible. I’ll be eternally grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way.
Why do we need more autistic leaders in the community?
Our communities benefit enormously from diversity of perspective and experience. Research shows us that organizations with more diverse leadership are generally more effective. Yet, too many governments and organizations are led solely by the most privileged in our society.
Autistic people have so much to contribute.
- Our different ways of thinking help us find creative solutions to problems that stump everyone else.
- Our strong sense of justice and unwavering principles help us challenge status quos that impede progress.
- Our deep empathy and lived experiences inform our efforts to create truly inclusive communities.
And as always, the mantra Nothing About Us Without Us holds true. Our leadership is crucial in building communities where autistic people can thrive.
What advice would you give youth looking to be policymakers or agents of change?
I so deeply appreciate anyone who works to make a positive impact in our society. With the huge challenges our world faces, this work is far from easy. Yet, the change-makers among us provide hope for a better future.
Recognize first and foremost that your well-being is paramount. Too many young activists burn themselves out. Too many throw everything they can at a cause that is too big for any single person to tackle alone. I’ve certainly made that mistake many times myself.
Your value doesn’t come from the accomplishments you achieve or the work you produce. You are inherently valuable as you are, and nothing can ever take away from that.
No matter what path you go down, try to find people who appreciate you for who you are. People who encourage you to show up authentically. People who care about your well-being above all else.
In every community, countless people are willing to provide guidance and mentorship. You may just need to ask them. The wisdom you’ll receive from them is often worth more than months spent in a classroom. Make sure you thank them in kind: one day, you may be the one giving advice.
Lastly, know that there is no single “correct” path to take as you move through life. Our society was not built with autistic people in mind, so we often need to find our own way through it. By forging our own journey, we can find fulfillment and wonder against all expectations.
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