Flip the Script: a Q&A for Sue Created by Tereneh Idia

Flip the Script

This is the second installment of our new blogging Q&A project: Flip the Script. I have invited a group of friends and acquaintances to design a Q&A for me to answer. As we near #AMPLIFY 300, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ‘flip the script’ and put myself on the opposite side of the question, to walk the walk of so many brave people who have shared their stories and to explore in a more personal way the power of storytelling.

The questioners will draft the questions, they will receive my answers, and they will review the final post before I share it on the blog. And then they will write a guest blog post about the experience in their own words.

Our first installment was published on May 6, 2019. I’ve had this second set of questions for that long, it has required a lot of energy to dive into my answers.

I will blog as the project unfolds about my own experiences, perspectives, and feelings. You can follow along at Flip the Script.

Our ‘questioner’ this installment is Tereneh Idia. She wrote the questions. I wrote the responses. Tereneh and I engage one another, mostly on Twitter, about our experiences and life stories. I follow her work in the Pgh City Paper closely. She asked questions that forced me to dig deep.

Name: Tereneh Idia
Pronouns: she/her/they/them/yinz
Affiliate: designer and founder of Idia’Dega: a global eco-design collaboration of women. Award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Public Source and AfroPunk.

Tereneh’s questions are in bold, my responses are not.

One of the more interesting and encouraging things to see in contemporary culture is language and terminology shifts. I struggle with the term disability or disabled and started saying differently abled instead. What are your thoughts on that? It is a struggle to exist in this world as a person with disabilities and there are unique challenges living with hidden disabilities as I do. I find that I spend so much energy trying to get my needs met that sometimes I just can’t find the energy for certain battles. The language around abilities and capacities is vital. But personally describing myself as disabled is like reclaiming queer, a political act. Like calling myself crazy or mad or other MH terms people toss about without a second thought. I want them to have a second thought.

As for able-bodied people making language choices, it should stem from some reflection as with any choices we use to describe people. I don’t believe folx appropriate disability culture so much as try to exert control over it, especially when it comes to children. If you referred to me as different abled in a conversation, I wouldn’t blink. I wouldn’t change my language choices, but I can move between phrases and terms comfortably.  That’s tied to my overall privilege, of course. But it is also about survival choices; I can only stretch my mind and energy so far at any given point in time.

In a Tweet I posted earlier this year I mentioned that events, locations and activities should include public transportation directions as readily as driving instructions are included. You quite rightly commented that Accessibility should also be included. What kind of information should be included and in what form, formats that is best to reach the most people? I’d suggest being very clear about the venue – is it fully or partially accessible? Designate a contact person for questions and accommodations right up the event and keep that information accessible on websites, social media, etc. Make sure the organizers understand that accessibility is not just about wheelchairs, but can include an array of requests. For example, I need an aisle seat period – I don’t need a fold up chair placed in the designated disability seating. Save that for someone who needs that designated space.

If event organizers were more consistent about choosing accessible spaces in the first place, we’d probably see more changes. Sometimes, venues have an accessible entrance in the back or through the kitchen, etc. So I’d like to see events turn *that* entrance into the main point of access so everyone gets a taste of what others must go through to access the event. And to destigmatize that path for those who don’t have a choice.

Club Cafe handles this well – they put a sign on the reserved table/seat that reads “At the artists request, reserved for Sue Kerr” That feels dignified. I’ve been to other events where the person who was supposed to label the accommodations ran into the room with a handmade sign screaming my name because they had forgotten to reserve the seats. I was rather embarrassed. I was also already seated.

Water is another issue. I learned that venues must provide access to water as an accommodation, but that does legally mean they must provide a cup. Or allow us to bring in our own cups. Not everyone can use a fountain with ease or afford the venues beverages, but they also need to drink something for health reasons. Access to clean drinking water should be a priority at every event, especially in the summer months.

Teach your team how to respond to requests even if they don’t have the information.

One time we were misdirected at PPG Paints Arena and circled the entire inner loop searching for our parking lot. We went down this gargantuan flight of stairs alongside a couple that had a baby stroller. At the bottom, the guard told us the elevators all of us needed were closed to the public and we had to go back up those steps.

The parents wept a little quietly. I leaned in to the guard and said “I bet you one ADA lawsuit you can find us an elevator.” He did. All of us. I didn’t even have to resort to mentioning that my partner is a lawyer, but seriously …

What I find unconscionable is when we value the ‘historic’ construction of a building more important than accessibility. Pittsburgh has a lot of one-step stoops along front doors of businesses, an issue that is caught up in the crosshairs of federal and local law. We could do a lot of good with the installation of ramps and/or the purchase of portable ramps in business districts.

We talk a lot about Allies but what are your thoughts on the concept of Accomplice?

A few years ago, I was on a radio program with an organizer from the local Pride group. I was speaking about LGBTQ issues and he interrupted me to insist that we include the “A” for allies because they were possibly the most important part of Pride. That’s the mentality that gets us perilously close to allies being saviors or putting vulnerable folx into the role of educator/savior/explainer at events that are supposed to be about us.

I read somewhere that allies are individuals taking individual actions whereas accomplices are addressing systemic change. If that’s accurate, then there is room for both and I can see how a person who starts out as an ally will move along to the role of accomplice.

Also, don’t believe everything you hear on the radio.

As a white woman how was anti-Blackness taught to you and how do you see it being spread now? I grew up in the blue-collar suburb of West Mifflin. It is a 13 mile community that is divided into the ‘North’ and ‘South’ regions because of the shape of the borough. When I was a child, there were very few people of color living on my end, the ‘South’ end. So I grew up in a very insular lower working class all white community. In 1984, the school district decided to merge the high schools and a huge resistance to “bussing” popped up everywhere. I was in the 8th grade and had zero idea what “bussing” meant symbolically or historically. But it was made very clear to us that we would be going to school with more Black kids and there were some mores that we needed to absorb.

One of those mores was about dating. A friend of mine and I had several conversations because she really liked a certain boy, but her father had made it very clear that she was not to even consider dating anyone but white boys. I remember thinking how silly and unfair that was, but I also knew that the lessons of violence and abuse that qualified as parenting in those days meant there was no room for discussion. A violent outcome was inevitable.

So it was a lifelong struggle to reconcile what I felt in my gut or conscience with survival. I guess it is fair to say anti-Blackness was taught to me by deliberate choices to segregate our communities in school, church, etc. And while it was rare to hear an adult use an overt racial slur, there were lots of jokes and social reinforcements of racial privilege. Very much the classic “I’m not racist, but …” way of life.

Now? Obviously, there are a lot of high-profile incidents and examples of ugly racist behavior in no small part due to the current White House Administration. But I think it is more about the veneer being rolled back to reveal that deeper layer, than anything new under the sun. Denial is still an important tool in the racial injustice arsenal.

Do you think Pittsburgh is a progressive city, why and why not? In what ways is it progressive, if at all? No. I believe Pittsburgh is a moderate city that has some progressive overtones. But our unwillingness to acknowledge and grapple with the racial divides of the ‘two Pittsburghs’ is what holds us back, whether we are politicians or everyday neighbors.

No accomplishment or policy under the sun will offset our refusal to wrestle with racial justice. Period. Not “but we did this and this and that.” Period.

How can faith, religion specifically, be a tool for equity and liberation? I don’t know. I’m not sure it can, but I’m open to the possibility that I simply haven’t met the right people. I used to believe in Liberation Theology and social justice ministries, etc. But has a week gone by since the Grand Jury Report on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania, has a week gone by in which the media has not brought ‘new’ charges to our attention? We’re’ suppose to be talking about healing, but they haven’t even identified all of the living predators.

The way that Christianity dominates social services WITH public funding is also a barrier. The rollback of HHS and HUD protections for LGBTQ folks will make fewer spaces safe for vulnerable – our regional emergency housing was barely in compliance. Now we are right back to requiring people to pray for their supper and bed, then lying about that expectation.

The incestuous relationship between Christianity in particular and local government is awful. Stop inviting me to events in Christian spaces because the venue was free. I pay a price as a former Catholic kid and a queer person, even if admission is free. Stop lying about oppressive practices and structures with faith communities. I know what to look for in your website and listen for in your podcasts.

Stop electing pastors. Get voting booths OUT of faith communities.

The reality is that we cannot trust Christianity to regulate itself. So we need strong secular institutions to protect us.

Do you think there is too much damage from organized religion to be a real source for freedom and equity? I can only really speak about Christianity. And I agree – there has been too much damage. As Christianity loses power, it will inevitably go to greater lengths to retain control over people, politics, etc.

I went to a Maundy Tuesday church supper where an older male member showed up in a MAGA hat. Now most men of his generation (my father’s generation) remove their hats inside, especially in church spaces. So it’s hard for me to believe it was unintentional. No rainbow flags can cover up those damaged members. They need to focus on their own recovery and healing and stop trying to convince us not to look behind that purple curtain.

How does Pittsburgh’s connection to Catholicism shape the culture? If at all? When WESA 90.5 FM debuted their new newsy programming, The Confluence, one of their first special guests was Donald Zubick, bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese. This was weeks after the release of the Grand Jury Report and he gets an entire segment to share his perspective. I asked WESA if they would interview Catholic kids like me and they declined.  It should be noted that the first guest was Pgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. Ahem. (I’m resisting the temptation to google his religious affiliation.)

Does this connection erase or embrace other religions? The solution is not more Christianity and not more any organized religion. The solution is to fall back on Constitutional principals separating church from state and preventing the establishment of religion by government.

Given the need for real intersectional justice work how does or can the Black, Brown, LGBTQIA2+, Women’s, Disability, Age-Inclusive people or/and organizations work together to make it better for all. I think so often how we, We all of the above and more make up the majority but are constantly being “minoritised” I thought about this heading into Pride so I decided to organize a simple little cooperative event – a fundraiser that includes five different LGBTQ organizations, including two led by Black queer and trans folx. It is just 3 hours and we might only raise a few dollars each. But we are in it together. We defined the project, specific the commitment of each organization, as well as how we would divide the funds raised. It won’t radically change anything, but it does illustrate that we can work cooperatively as peers to do this one thing and we can share the rewards.

Maybe we need to occasionally focus on small victories and remind ourselves of how those wins sustain us for the next battle?

Do you have to be a white man to be the mayor of Pittsburgh? You have to be a cisgender heterosexual white Judeo-Christian man.

Can white women and Black women really be friends? I hope so. I value the Black women in my life, including acquaintances and friends. But I’m not an easy person to befriend for many reasons. Rather than point to specific examples of friendship in my life with Black women, I’d prefer to focus on trying to be an ally and accomplice as discussed above. Am I listening? Am I learning? Am I investing and amplifying?

Thank you for the questions, Tereneh.

Thank you, Tereneh. Great questions. I’m appreciating the opportunity to revisit some of these  moments in my life.

Please bookmark this series. Up next is a Q&A created by Amy Koempel Lee, my friend since childhood. I will also write my short post on how this first Q&A experience impacted me as well as publish the follow-up posts. And please consider a modest donation to our crowdfund to provide stipends to the questioners.


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