Lydia X. Z. Brown (they/them)is a gender/queer and transracially/transnationally adopted east asian autistic activist, writer, and speaker whose work has largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing. They have worked to advance transformative change through organizing in the streets, writing legislation, conducting anti-ableism workshops, testifying at regulatory and policy hearings, and disrupting institutional complacency everywhere from the academy to state agencies and the nonprofit-industrial complex. They have also advocated around radical inclusion, access, and participation for disabled people in the academy as well as the implementation of the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services regulations.
At present, Lydia is co-president of TASH New England, chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, and a board member of the Autism Women’s Network. In collaboration with E. Ashkenazy and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, Lydia is the lead editor and visionary behind All the Weight of Our Dreams, a forthcoming anthology of writings and artwork by autistic people of color. Currently, they are a Visiting Lecturer at Tufts University’s Experimental College, teaching Re-Thinking Disability: From Public Policy to Social Movements.
While an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, Lydia co-founded the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective for intersectional disability justice organizing, led multiple campaigns to reform university policies on disability access, coordinated a lecture and performance series on disability justice, served two terms as Undersecretary for Disability Affairs with the Georgetown University Students Association, and served on the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities’ consumer advisory council.
Lydia is a past Holley Law Fellow at the National LGBTQ Task Force, and a past Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership. Additionally, Lydia worked for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network for several years, most recently as part of the national public policy team, where Lydia worked on various issues relating to criminal justice and disability, healthcare disparities and service delivery models, and research and employment disparities. In Massachusetts, Lydia has authored legislation addressing law enforcement response to people with developmental disabilities and served on the state autism commission’s adult services subcommittee, in addition to currently serving on the OneCare Dual Eligibles Demonstration Project’s Implementation Council.
Lydia has received awards from the White House (Champion of Change for disability rights), Georgetown University (Lena Landegger Community Service Award), Washington Peace Center (Empowering the Future Youth Activist of the Year Award), National Council on Independent Living (Diana Viets Memorial Award for Youth Advocacy), and Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts (Mary Lou Maloney Award). In 2015, Pacific Standard named Lydia a Top 30 Thinker under 30, and Mic named Lydia to its inaugural list of 50 impactful leaders, cultural influencers, and breakthrough innovators.
Lydia’s work has been featured in various anthologies, including Feminist Perspectives on Orange is the New Black, Criptiques, Torture in Healthcare Settings, and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, as well as periodicals including the Feminist Film Review, Tikkun, Disability Intersections, Black Girl Dangerous, hardboiled magazine, POOR Magazine, and the Washington Post. Currently, Lydia is a Public Interest Law Scholar at Northeastern University School of Law, and blogs at Autistic Hoya.
Transcript (courtesy K. Bicknell) of video excerpt from Citizen Autistic 2 by William Davenport, featuring Lydia:
“I can’t say that I can point to a specific incident or specific point in time that gave me a reason to want to become an activist. I can say that I don’t think I really had a choice… um.. when that happened… and it’s… I guess you could say it’s been much more of a process than a single moment where I had to say, ‘Yes, I am going to be an activist!’ And… um… a number of different scenes and events that, I guess, led to my work in this right now included numerous cases of abuse of Autistic people, learning about the deaths of some Autistic people, learning about the existence of institutions like the Judge Rotenberg Center, which is notorious for electric shock on Autistic people as punishment. (sarcastically) Good job, guys. Learning about organizations like Autism Speaks, honestly, that claim to represent Autistic people in the complete absence of any Autistic leadership whatsoever. And the accumulation of all of these themes, all of these recurring… consistently recurring incidents of violence against people like me — simply for having neurologies like mine — led me to the conviction that if I’m not doing something for the sake of my community, and I am capable, all resources considered, of doing something to benefit my community, then I must be doing something to benefit my community. That work is a moral imperative; it is not an option.”