Working at AutismBC as a Member of the LGBTQ Community: Amanda’s Journey
By Amanda Flentjar, Regional Coordinator for Vancouver Island
In a fast-paced and diverse world, it can be easy to make a wrong turn. With no ill intent, you can suddenly find yourself being the ignorant one, having hurt people through your lack of understanding. And the first reaction can often be to explain yourself and defend your actions to convey your initial intent.
Pride Month is important to me because it is about me. I have flowed through many labels in my journey of self-discovery. First, assuming I was straight, then bisexual, and finally, the discovery that I am a lesbian. Never judging myself but still surprised to discover I fit into an amazingly diverse community. Self-discovery is always the best place to start, and it is with that in mind that I try hard to learn about others. If I want to be a kind and inclusive person, I need to listen to others and understand their experiences, not only my own. It is easy to say, and much harder to do. As humans are all so beautifully unique, and we are bound to make mistakes. To err is human, but I always want to get up, try again, and do better next time.My cautious, judgment-free curiosity is most likely easier for me as I have been on the negative side of bias, more times than I care to admit. In writing this blog, I realized just how much I push aside in my daily life. From the uncomfortable stares when I hold my wife’s hand, to the playdates my kids can’t have when a new friend’s parent discovers two Moms raise that child. From the ever-present slurs called out in public, to the graffiti on my car, and at its worst, the threats of physical violence. I always try to hold on to the idea that if only they knew me, if they could take a moment to stand where I do, maybe they would think twice.
FEELING DISMISSEDJust over a year ago, a social media firestorm erupted at AutismBC about a board member’s comments. It was reported that they had attended a meeting that included opposition to a public-school curriculum designed to educate youth about my community. This curriculum’s purpose is to bring awareness to a whole new generation about the uniqueness each person has and how we can embrace, support, and include everyone. I asked myself, “What was happening!? Our organization strives for inclusion; it is what we do, it is the core of who we are.” I was confused.In haste to respond to a growing social media outcry, another board member released a statement. It was short and to the point but took a neutral position. Immediately I felt unsafe. I was angry, devastated. I had never experienced bias in my years at AutismBC, but this led me to feel dismissed. Maybe I was not included or considered. On top of that, I also became a target of extreme social media abuse myself. I didn’t know how to defend myself, or if it was even okay to do so.
…if only they knew me, if they could take a moment to stand where I do, maybe they would think twice.I unplugged. I took a few days to talk things over with my wife and decided to resign from my job. I put my whole heart and soul into my work, and I needed to work with people who could embrace, accept, and celebrate me, all of me. I wrote my resignation letter and intended to send it after I spoke with our incoming Executive Director on the phone. I am so incredibly thankful I talked with Julia before I sent that letter. Our chat together was long, honest, and incredibly supportive. Being new to the job, she had been meeting with all AutismBC staff and board members, to learn about who we are. Our phone call gave me hope, and Julia asked that I give it some time for all of us to do the work we needed to. And so, we have.
I AM SAFEThe work we have done as a team over the last year has restored my faith in people again. It has renewed my hope that understanding and learning really can change the world. We have had incredibly candid conversations, embraced new ideas, and challenged each other to learn new things. We had a staff conference in the fall that helped solidify who we were as coworkers, board members, and as an organization. I got to meet, speak with, and learn about everyone, and my biggest take away was that I am safe. We, at AutismBC, are everything I had thought we were: inclusive, diverse, and incredibly passionate people dedicated to positively impacting our communities.I am safe and supported by my work community. We are all dedicated to creating that same safe space for everyone. I know this is true because of the action we have taken, not because of some empty words released to calm a public outcry. I have witnessed the constant, consistent, and genuine effort put forth by everyone to ensure that no one will feel the way I did again. We will never be perfect, but as a team, we now know how to listen, react, and work towards creating a safe space for everyone.
We will never be perfect, but as a team, we now know how to listen, react, and work towards creating a safe space for everyone.
PRIDE MONTHIn a fast-paced and diverse world, it can be easy to make a wrong turn. With no ill intent, you can suddenly find yourself being the ignorant one, having hurt people through your lack of understanding. And the first reaction can often be to explain yourself and defend your actions to convey your initial intent. I think the opportunity of Pride Month is the invitation to awaken to a different approach. To learn to stand in the discomfort of these mistakes and to challenge yourself to do better next time.Join us this Pride Month by listening to someone unlike you, learning about a community of different people, and even if it’s uncomfortable, asking yourself:“How can I show more kindness, respect and support?”
Amanda Flentjar is our Regional Coordinator for Vancouver Island. Her autism journey began in 2006 when her son was diagnosed. Looking for connection and guidance, she joined a family support group which she would later go on to facilitate.
Amanda has been running the Comox Valley Autism Family Support Group since 2014. With the support of her incredible community, which includes not only parents of autistic children but also autistic adults, they have hosted many awareness events and expanded supports and resources throughout the Comox Valley. In 2016 Amanda began collaborating with Autism BC and joined our staff in 2017.
Amanda is a caring, knowledgeable and passionate individual who strives to support the autism community in her region with a strong focus on inclusion and listening to the voices of the autistic individuals in her community. She is an advocate not only for parents and caregivers but also for autistics helping them navigate systems to find the resources, supports and help they need and the respect they deserve.
AutismBC Inclusivity Statement — https://www.autismbc.ca/inclusivitystatement/
AutismBC is Working Towards a Stigma-Free Zone Designation—https://bit.ly/2BRyt0p