The Mentra Publication
Living at Intersections: Hearing from Autism and LGBTQ+ activists
Asking ‘who do you identify as’ is a seemingly simple question, but comes with a far more complicated answer. We can choose to identify ourselves with a seemingly endless range of attributes from anything focused on gender, age, sexual orientation, to so much more.
Moreover, each of these attributes we claim as being a part of our identity don’t work in silo, instead operating on a continuum of AND. For example, guest speaker Lauren Mellissa is multiracial, and queer and autistic, and has so many more identities that each form a more complete picture of who she is and how she interacts with the world. In fact, research by the University of Cambridge suggests that autistic individuals are less likely to identify as heterosexual and more likely to identify with a diverse range of sexual orientations than non-autistic individuals.
This topic of intersectionality was the focus of the second webinar series hosted by Mentra in recognition of the fact that no one is just neurodivergent. Each of us carry other characteristics that define who we are and ultimately defines our experience and perspective. Ezperanza, a member of the LGBTQ+ community and webinar panelist, explained that intersectionality (coined by Kimberly Crenshaw) emphasizes the idea that intersectionality is about social structures and norms that make identity a vehicle for vulnerability. Although intersectionality is often used synonymously with the word diversity it is instead a theory looking at the differences in power from factors such as ableism, genders, ageism, etc. and how they work together to shape life and experiences. It is ultimately a lens or framework to consider when interacting with other individuals.
Bringing together advocates and changemakers to carry this conversation forward, the ‘Autism and Intersectionality’ webinar hosted by Lauren Pearson and Jhillika Kumar featured three prominent panelists:
Meet the Panelists
Esperanza Padilla (she/her)
An incoming PHD student at UCSF with work experience at the Stanford Neurodiversity Project and the SSS TRiO. Inspired by her own experience, she has completed extensive research into masking (read more about what this is here), including the interaction of intersectionality in that space. She is also involved in advocacy work as former co-pres/educator at Spectrum: Autism at Cal.
Bryce J Celotto, MAT (he/him)
The head of strategy and founder of SWARM strategy in which he regularly consults, trains, and facilitates workshops for clients centered on DEI. Bryce’s work and advocacy spans across his passions tied to his own foundational identity including racial justice, LGBTQ+ equity, education equity, and youth empowerment/leadership.
Lauren Melissa (she/her)
Works full time as an instructional support therapist. Lauren Melissa is also an autistic self advocate, utilizing both her novels featuring neurodivergent characters as well as her platform @autienelle with over 43k followers on IG to champion a future of authentic inclusion.
Top 3 Webinar Takeaways
01 Avoid single narratives
Sterotypically, when individuals think of individuals with autism, they imagine a single narrative - ‘a cis white male with an interest in trains’. And although this identity does represent some of the individuals that are autistic, it definitely does not represent all.
And that single narrative can be dangerous. Each of the panelists described how they were late to be diagnosed with autism in large part due to the fact that they didn't fit the usual mold represented as being autistic. For Esperanza, being a well performing mixed-race Latina from a lower income family with limited resources, meant she wasn’t recognized for her autism until decades later. She was quickly classified as a shy female when instead she faced anxiety over social interactions. For Esperanza, this limited recognition for her neurodivergence would additionally make her feel compelled to mask. She found herself trying to talk to her friends in higher voices and relate through picking up special interests that she knew were important to others. This lack of space to welcome authenticity is ultimately toxic.
02 The intersection of different identities shape our experiences
Although our identities are foundational to who we are, they don't necessarily stay the same over time. Instead as we grow and mature faced with new experiences and challenges, our identities change with us and the intersection of these identities change as well.
Bryce described how these differences in overlapping identities changed for him and directly showcased the effects of intersectionality. When he was growing up, he was a female raised by a White parent. His curly hair and darker skin tone was socially considered 'beautiful' as a multi-racial individual. However as his identity changed outwardly to that of a male however, he noticed stark differences in how he was treated. He was suddenly seen as a dangerous as a man. He found himself followed in stores and stopped at traffic lights. He became keenly aware of the Blackness of his racial identity over the White when faced with this new intersection of gender.
03 Even with similar identities, everyone shares different experiences
Although many of us do share similar identities such as race or age or gender, that does not necessarily mean we are facing the same experiences. Earlier Bryce described how as a female, his darker skin tone and curly hair was celebrated. For Lauren Melissa, this was not the case. Raised by a single Black parent, she was always keenly aware of her Black identity. Often teased and the subject of several hate crimes, she found herself aware when she was the only person of color in the room.
To say that you know one individual that shares an identity, does not mean that you know all. Instead each of us carry differences in experiences and identities that are representative of our own unique stories.
As each of our panelists shared their aspects of their identity, we invite you to reflect on yours and your experiences - the identities that are seen and not seen, celebrated and hidden.
At Mentra, we celebrate this diversity of identity and experiences. Our platform is designed to showcase unique neuroexceptional talents and skills that are not captured in a traditional resume. We go beyond the stereotype of an autistic individual limited to the field of technology by matching candidates with jobs across multiple industries. We believe that regardless of your interests or experiences, there is a space for you to be authentically yourself.
Interested in hearing from the panelists directly? You can watch a full webinar recap below!