Brad van Eeden-Moorefield, MSW, Ph.D., CFLE
Acting Department Chair, FSHD
Professor and Associate Department Chair for Social Justice Initiatives
Department of Family Science & Human Development
I was thrilled to be asked to contribute a post for Pride month. I thought it would be helpful to share a little about how Pride began and what makes it so important. In doing so, I think it is also important to acknowledge how Pride is one way to help create visibility, safety, and spaces of belonging for the larger LGBTQ+ community and for those at the intersection of LGBTQ+ and Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities (IDD), including those who might be on the Autism Spectrum (ASD). Second, I thought I would share a little about my background and how I became connected to the WAE community, specifically the LGBTQ+ WAE Group.
A Brief History of the Origins of Pride
Pride month started after the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, the symbolic beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, on June 28, 1969. These riots occurred because individuals in the LGBTQ+ community fought back against police who were once again raiding a space that was established as a safe place for members of the LGBTQ+ community to socialize and interact with one another. This was not the first time people fought back, or the first raids on LGBTQ spaces, but it was the first activist event that garnered greater public attention across the nation and globally. The following year a parade was held to commemorate the riots, and formal Pride celebrations were born, with many others occurring in other cities. Today, Pride events are held around the globe and include elements of celebration, advocacy and activism. Although Pride month comes once a year, it is critical that we continue to fight for full equality and access to all life can, and should offer, all people, families, and communities throughout the entire year. It is equally important that we celebrate all of who we are everyday of the year (for more information about LGBTQ history and Pride please visit this link).
The Intersection of LGBTQ+ and IDD/ASD Communities
During the past couple of decades, the LGBTQ+ community has made more efforts to enhance its inclusion of the immense diversity of identity intersections within the community, including those LGBTQ+ individuals who experience an IDDs/ASD. This particular identity intersection has largely been invisible in both the LGBTQ+ and IDD/ASD communities, or in the general public sphere. Only in the past couple of years have individuals at this intersection started to receive a little more recognition and attempts to understand by professionals across the U.S. some of their uniqueness’s, needs, and dreams. What a few practitioners and researchers have started to understand is the importance of creating spaces for belonging and connection for these individuals to be their full selves and how this can positively influence health and wellness. This certainly is in line with what both the LGBTQ+ and IDD /ASD communities have been advocating individually for decades, as well and those advocacy efforts of loved ones for even longer. In real life, these spaces rarely exist though. Accordingly, the LGBTQ+ WAE program is quite unique in its mission and service for individuals who identify as part of both the LGBTQ+ and IDD/ASD communities. The program is particularly important for giving a group of exceptional, yet often invisible, people a place to gather and create a sense of support and belonging in a way that also promotes holistic wellness. That is, seeing people as full people and supporting wellness across all of who they are and desire to be. This mission and practice truly is special and I continue to be so proud to be a part of it all.
My Path of Connection to the LGBTQ+ WAE Group
I am a cisgender, gay white man who currently is a Professor of Family Science and Human Development at Montclair State University. Before earning my doctorate, I also worked in outpatient and inpatient mental health centers for several years and served in various roles such as one-on-one worker, case manager, crisis and intake clinician, and clinical social worker. I worked with individuals and families facing a variety of life and personal challenges, and also became a qualified developmental disabilities professional and certified family life educator as part of this work.
On a personal note, I first had a sense that I was “different” when I was around 4 years old (4-5 yrs old is a common age when many cisgender males that eventually identify as bisexual or gay have a similar sense of being different) and it was about the age of 10 when I first learned the word gay while watching a TV show called Threes Company. I realized immediately the word gay described me and what I felt. However, the way it was portrayed on TV and the comments I heard made about the character were quite negative. So, I internalized gay as something that was bad; thus, I must be bad. I then did everything I could to hide that part of myself from others for years. Although I was lucky to have many people in my life that loved me, I felt isolated and like I was not able to fully be myself with anyone. At that time in history, there also were no positive LGBTQ+ images or visible spaces to which I could turn. It was not until college that I happened upon a campus LGBTQ+ group that I first felt a sense of true belonging and connection. In those days we met in secret in the basement of a campus building as a way to maintain safety. This group was incredibly diverse in so many ways. Experiencing how powerful a sense of inclusion could be deeply resonated with me and became something I paid close attention to in every space I became a part of after that.
Fast forward many decades, I was on Facebook one day and saw a notice posted on a local community page asking about any interest in helping with a new group being developed (the LGBTQ+ WAE group). I responded with a big YES. That was in late 2018 and I have had the extreme privilege to be a part of this community since– a community that feels like a family and provides a sense of belonging for all. The LGBTQ+ WAE group members inspire and teach me new things every month when we meet, and that is a special gift. I am in awe of the many people that helped establish and that facilitate this group. I think it is important to acknowledge the many allies that also are so committed to this work. The importance of allyship and advocates has and will continue to play an important role in these communities and their intersection. (for those that want to learn more about being a strong ally to the LGBTQ+ community please see this guide). It is now Pride 2022 and the second LGBTQ+ WAE Art Exhibit is upon us, another example of talent and the importance of visibility and pride. Again, Happy Pride month 2022!