This post is coming somewhat a few days after the event of 9th April, but better late than never I hope!
I have taken a jolt from the events surrounding the fact that one person at the event was attacked by a couple of others (more on that later): that is not a nice feeling when it happens to a friend, but I tried to support the person as much as was possible, while also having to grapple with the nerves of having to take part in the debate, and I had also had intense (but useful) genetics meetings earlier on Wednesday and also on Thursday.
It risks taking the focus away from what was, for me, one of the best events I have seen that involves Deaf people concerning a political issue for years. So while I do not in any way want to belittle, undermine, or ignore what happened with the attack, I do want to try and firstly write something of the spirit I felt being there.
I can’t remember the last time being part of an atmosphere such as was the case on Wednesday: utterly electrifying, and probably not felt since the march/event meetings on BSL recognition. In many ways I felt a lot more could be taken from this occasion, simply on the basis of who was present at the debate, the atmosphere created, and just the sense that everybody present had so much to contribute.
The incredible thing of all were the mix: medical people, geneticists, and department of heath officials, genetics interests groups, mixing with local Deaf people, Deaf academics, and representatives from Deaf organisations, including the campaign group Stop Eugenics and the BDA.
The way the seating was arranged (it is hard for me to explain this) meant that people felt so close to you when you stood up to speak/sign; it wasn’t like a flat classroom or a huge lecture type all. It was really a dynamic setting.
This also wasn’t one of those conferences that you pay ridiculously huge amounts of money to attend and so in the process exclude those on lower wages and are more likely to get a balance of professional heavies who can afford to go because their work pays for it. That was, of course, thanks to the Progress Educational Trust, who made no charges, and who, incidentally, appear to favour dropping/amending the clause. But the thing is, ‘professional’ (Deaf and hearing) people turned up anyway, out of genuine interest, and not cos their job demanded it.
Neither was it a show for men/women in suits telling you how it is and then giving the ‘proles’ from the audience a chance to have their say: in fact after the three speakers had given their 10 mins view, and apart from having had one or two times each to respond, this was an occasion for as many people to come forward and have an opportunity to put their point of view: professors, government reps, Stop Eugenics activists, BDA (National and Wales), IDC, NDCS, and so on. The event did not end with any so-called experts telling you what the answers were, because the truth is there aren’t any simple ones (other than, of course, dropping the clause!).
And the guy who was the speaker at the debate other than myself and Anna Middleton; Colin Gavaghan; I am linking to his website: go see what this guy has to say; he has written on this issue and there is a link on the right hand column of his page: I may not agree with all his finer points, but his approach towards the issue is very refreshing and if you are an activist I’d count him amongst your allies.
Everyone I spoke to after the event had nothing but positive things to say about the event and what was said/signed; other than the attack on the friend, the vibes were buzzing, people wanted more such debates, they wanted to know ‘what next’.
The event was ticket (free) only because they can only cram 100 people into this hall (and when I agreed to be a speaker I wouldn’t have thought we’d get more than 40 or so, cynical me); it was sold out and there was a long waiting list, plus I understand some people who had driven all the way from Bristol had to be turned away due to the event having started and being packed out completely.
Where-ever else do we see this happening? It proves very clearly without doubt that Deaf people ARE political people; this specific IVF issue will hardly affect anybody, but the interest does not come as a surprise because it will affect ‘the Deaf community’. Just in the same way that issues regarding education do, this is another that Deaf people involve themselves deeply in, because they know what it can lead to.
It was with great sadness that my friend was attacked; this spoilt the event in a big way, however, my friend showed great bravery and dignity to stand up to this attack, ignore the demands of one other, to come into the meeting, sit through it, join us all afterwards for drinks and chats, and then pen a fantastic summary of the event itself. And she has continued to engage with the issues ever since: I, in contrast, have found it hard to deal with, needing to take a few days ‘off scene’.
My hope is that people will not allow that event to overshadow what was, in effect, a very interesting debate. I hope that people will take inspiration from it.
Our international allies will surely be assured that we UK activists are fighting this every inch of the way!