2020 was my second time marching with Aspect in Mardi Gras. For many years I watched with the crowds of people vowing to one day walk along the route of the world-famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
When Aspect announced they were entering I saw it as my time to fulfil a dream of mine and I saw marching as a proud autistic and openly gay woman with my tribe as the perfect way to do it. I covered myself in all the rainbows and glitter I could, donned our fabulous ‘Nothing about us, without us’ shirts and made my way in to meet everyone.
Along with our shirts came a package of goodies including flashing lights on a rainbow lanyard, glittery and rainbow stickers, tattoos, rainbow flags, essential information to help prepare.
There was an array of signs modelled on the Picture Exchange Communication System using SymbolStix Prime to display the words with identified by the Aspect LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee. This ensured that all members of our tribe are truly represented, whether they were present at the parade or watching from home. Whilst marshalling I was asked by someone what was the meaning of the signs and I explained that they resemble the communication system that some autistics use to communicate on the daily, they took a photo to share on social media because they loved the them soo much.
The moment I saw the Inclusion sign on the ground I snapped it up. I am a high school teacher and my current role is the Senior Inclusion Coordinator at my school. I spend my days navigating the education system for my senior students and engaging with their teachers and parents about strategies that can help the students achieve the best they can. I am openly gay and openly disclose being autistic and ADHD with my students. I remember my schooling journey and having a disability and being LGBTQIA+ was not socially acceptable. More so hidden away and made me feel I was broken. I want my kids to have proud positive role models, someone who will advocate for them, teach them self-advocacy skills, let them know it is ok to be themselves exactly as they are and to aspire to achieve their goals. I demonstrate the strategies I use, by taking a container full of fidgets to my classes for all students to use and I am forever wandering around the classroom, on duty or in meetings with a cube in my hand showing staff and students that stimming can be a useful tool for all.
After I got to experience Mardi Gras 2019 where I was my authentic self, taking off my mask and the absolute joy that brought me cannot be quantified. There are a number of students at my school who are autistic and/or LGBTQIA+. I wanted them to experience the same feelings I had at Mardi Gras where I could be my authentic self and to be accepted as I am. I pushed for us to celebrate our first ever Wear It Purple Day in 2019 where we unveiled a gender neutral toilet for students. I shared my lived experience through a Neurodiversity presentation to our large school community for our Body, Mind Character Day. This year our school had planned an event for Walk for Autism on April 2nd. A number of staff registered to participate and there was a continuous parade of green shirts moving around the school.
As we marshalled, I recognised a number of people who marched in 2019, we reminisced about our previous experience and spoke about how that was our motivation to do it all again. I noticed a number of new faces including a number of children beaming with smiles as they proceeded with the Mardi Gras rite of passage of being covered in an abundance of glitter, rainbow tattoo’s and any other rainbows one can get their hands on. Being a big kid myself I lead the way high fiving the crowds with a line of kids and adults following suit.
This year I was surprised by my parents attending Mardi Gras for the first time ever! I received a random call in the marshalling area saying they had a spot on the fence and couldn’t wait to see my come past. I know I’m one of the lucky few in the rainbow community to have supportive family and seeing my parents there to support me on the biggest night of my year means more to me than anything.
Aspect’s attendance at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with the Neurodiversity Rainbow has been a positive promotion of creating a world where no-one on the autism spectrum is left behind particularly those in the LGBTQIA+ Community. When it comes to gender diversity and sexual orientation, autistic people are 7.6 times more likely than non-autistic people to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community. By and large the stereotypes that Autistics don’t like loud noises, don’t like big events, don’t want to socialise, don’t want over the top fanfare are simply myths. When we are prepared with the right supports, strategies and plans we thrive and enjoy the same things as the non-autistic community. A number of people approached our group saying they too were autistic and if they had have known about our group, they would have joined us because that’s where they feel they truly belong.
Mardi Gras is the one night of the year where everyone participates in Autistic Space whether they know it or not. As they celebrate how they truly feel they are having their sensory needs met with colour, music, social interactions, costumes, bright lights, flashing things, physically stimming and not masking or hiding their true self. For that one night we don’t stand out as different, we are simply in a place where we belong.