Thursday, March 6, 2014

An Open Letter to Matt Walsh

Dear Matt,

Can I call you Matt? I feel like I can. I've been reading your blog for awhile now. So many of your posts make me want to stand up and cheer. One of my favorites was I've been divorced four times, but homosexuals are the ones destroying marriage. That was brilliant and I was so glad somebody finally said it out loud. Your recent posts on marriage and public schools have been laudable, as well.

Last night, I was catching up and I read your post about letting businesses refuse services to anyone at any time. Honestly, it resonated with me and I read it to my husband, too. I'm all for making the government smaller. My husband was a small business owner for several years. Autonomy in business decisions was important to him during that time.

I admit to an initial hesitation about what could go wrong with that idea. But then I read your example of a business owner hanging a sign stating "no blacks allowed". You said the market would punish him, and he would be out of business by Wednesday. It made perfect sense. Of course. No one would stand for such behavior in this day and age. 

It sounds so reasonable. It is very probable that if a business refused to serve someone who is gay or someone based on their color, word would spread and that business wouldn't last long. 

But I'm a mother of two young sons with special needs and something kept niggling in the back of my mind. I'm not very quick on my feet. Ideas need time to percolate for me. The more I think about your post, the more certain I am that I cannot agree with you, this time. 

You said, "Don't worry. I've heard every outrageous hypothetical." Well, I can't help but lay another one on you. Only I don't think it's outrageous, at all. In fact, I think it's highly probable. 

Let's pretend there was a young man with a cognitive disability and some physical limitations that make it difficult for him to control his movements. He is having dinner with his family in a local restaurant. Not wanting to disturb the other patrons, the family requests a table in the back, but are seated in the middle of the room, instead. The young man uses a bib and is doing the best he can with the spoon, but is making a colossal mess with his dinner. As food particles fall back out of his mouth, other diners can't help but notice as he also talks loudly and his garbled speech draws attention. Someone complains and, in the middle of the meal, the owner of the establishment orders the server to box up the remainder of the family's food and rudely tells them people like their son are not welcome in his restaurant. 

The family is angry, to be sure, but mostly they are profoundly embarrassed and overwhelmingly tired, as this is just the latest in a long line of injustices. 

Unlike in your example, though, the market will not take care of this business owner. The other patrons are simply... relieved. They had been uncomfortable witnessing the young man with special needs and it is a much more pleasant dining experience without him in their visual field. 

You said:
The social movement — not any bureaucratic decree — is what heralded in the era of racial equality. The lunch counters at Woolworths weren’t desegregated by law; they were desegregated in 1960 when courageous young black Americans staged a sit-in. The Montgomery Bus Boycott marked the beginning of the end of segregation on busses [sic], and that had nothing to do with any law or governmental initiative.
Society gave us civil rights. People. Private individuals. Marches. Protests. Sit-ins. Civil disobedience. The tide was turned by free people; the government simply rode the wave. And, in so doing, they caused more problems than they solved. As usual.

You know what gave rights to people with disabilities, Matt? The law. The tide was turned by the law. Parents, self-advocates, and professionals came together and advocated tirelessly to have the law changed to allow people with disabilities included in civil rights legislation. And it was a long and hard-fought battle. Public sentiment was not on their side. 

It still isn't. 

The law is what allows that young man to have dinner out with his family. The law is what allows my friend, a wheelchair user, access into businesses to do her shopping. The law is what will allow my son to go to kindergarten and be included with his peers next year. 

It's The Americans with Disabilities Act, and not a tide of free people, that ensures these individuals can live without discrimination.

See, there are still segments of the population that do need to be protected. I've been to countries without laws to protect them and I didn't see a soul with a disability. I know why. People with disabilities are hidden away. Babies with special needs are abandoned and left to rot in institutions. How can a parent keep them knowing they would be ostracized everywhere they went?

Without laws to govern behavior toward those with disabilities, life would be infinitely harder for them than it already is. Public sentiment is not behind us, still. If you have any doubt about that you need only look at the wrongful birth law suits or the high rates of termination for Down syndrome pregnancies. Society does not want to be bothered with imperfection. It certainly doesn't want to make accommodations for it, or interact with it, or dine with it.  

People don't want to see my friend, Andrea, feed her daughter through a tube in a diner any more than they want their "genius" five-year-old to be slowed down by my son with a cognitive disability in the classroom. They don't want to have to bypass a handicapped parking spot nor do business owners want to be inconvenienced by putting in a ramp for wheelchair users.

But Andrea's daughter has a right to be fed with the rest of her family. My son has a right to be educated alongside his typical peers. Wheelchair users have a right to accessibility. I assure you these rights will not be "taken care of by private individuals," as you assert. 

People don't care. 

Oh, sure. People with special needs are good for inspiration porn. We'll put them on a meme with some kind of positive quote or elect them prom king to make ourselves feel good. 
But we don't really care about the underdog. 

We care about our own rights, or perceived rights. The extensive history of exclusion and discrimination against those with disabilities is proof of that. The pervasiveness of the r-word is proof of it, too. 

People with disabilities need the law to protect them from discrimination. I wish, with everything that is in me, that they did not. I wish that they could be seen as equals, as peers, as fully human. I really believe, for the sake of my boys, that one day it will happen. We in the disability community are working hard to make that a reality. 

But until then, all we have is the law.

And the law does not allow a business owner to refuse service to my sons. 

And, I'm sorry, Matt, but for that I cannot be anything but grateful. 


Tara Lakes


  1. ADA, is not what allows your child to go to school hun. That is another law. Also the ADA isn't applicable to all business, some are exempt.

    There are some you tube videos of diners standing up for an autistic child. It was an experiment done. The answers may surprise you, but public sentiment may actually be on the side of the disabled. That isn't due to law, but to a lot of public relations work of advocates of disability.

    1. I'm well aware of the difference between the IDEA and the ADA, but both are the generic "Law" that I was referencing. If you'll read closely, you'll see that I only referenced the ADA about discrimination.

      I'm glad you mentioned the you tube videos. It actually humbles me and makes me realize that I was wrong to assume that people would stand up for people who are gay or another color. I made assumptions based on isolated incidences where I had seen that level of solidarity practiced, but I have never walked in those daily shoes. Just as you have no idea what it is like to live with disability day in an day out based on a youtube video, I have NO IDEA what it is like to be gay or black. I made an assumption and I was wrong to do so. Thank you for pointing it out. You've only strengthened my resolve.

  2. Way to go! Great post. Blessings, Tara, for you and your family!

  3. Thank you for writing this. I have been chastised by other patrons in restaurants because food came out of my son's mouth. I have been hurried out of restaurants too. Matt does have some interesting things to say but he is just plain wrong on this point. He can certainly go out to eat with me anytime and see how it really goes.

  4. I read Matt Walsh's piece on divorce and marriage equality. Of course he doesn't take into account the fact that vulnerable populations of historically marginalized people have a greater need for protection by law -- he's a homophobe. Every single argument you use here applies just as well to government-mandated civil rights for GLBTQ individuals. This is exactly what intersectional progressives keep trying to point out: the oppression of one marginalized group is the oppression of ALL marginalized groups. The oppression of the disabled doesn't happen in a vacuum. Neither does the oppression of people who are GLBTQ, or women, or people of color. The law can be a powerful equalizer. Look at state mandates regarding desegregation: they were furiously opposed by the majority of the population at the time, but now people accept that those mandates were desperately necessary. These matters are quite literally life or death. We can't afford to wait for the fickle tide of public opinion to turn in the right direction.

    -- Elle

  5. I like this post a lot. As a former educator for the deaf, I have seen how the law opened doors for my students. As a camp counselor for campers with physical disabilities, I know that the law has made aspects of life accessible for them. As a wife of a camp director for kiddos on the autism spectrum, I know the law provides services that help families and children.

    I am not convinced that the law has changed opinion, though. I think it has helped, for sure. I think it's the personal advocates (like you) and public media advocates (through movie or book) that have made just as big of a difference.

    I will say that I disagree that business owners should be forced by law to go against their religious convictions. I do not believe it is right to force a wedding photographer to photograph a gay wedding or a cake owner to bake a cake for them. Or a church to hold a service for them. They should be allowed to refuse service.

    I just don't. Maybe I see a difference between a public place that literally has a door that people walk through and an application for hiring someone. Maybe it could be argued there is no difference.

    Still... there is a difference between not liking gay people, not agreeing with them, and not wanting to participate in an act that flies in the face of their religious views.

  6. I'm confused -- I tried to post a comment two days ago, but it hasn't shown up. Is there a screening policy I wasn't aware of? Do you not take anon comments? Or did it just not go through? Help!

    -- Elle

    1. I posted it, now, Elle. I don't post anonymous comments, usually, but your persistence paid off. ;)