By Marvin Ross
It’s Pride Month and the LGBTQ+ community and AIDS activists can teach schizophrenia advocates how to do it. There are commonalities between the two groups. Gays hid in the closet for years while many families are still embarrassed by the illness their loved ones have and don’t say anything to people. More of us need to come out of the closets and fight. When we do, we often find people who have schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses in their families. It is doubly important for us to do that because the LGBTQ+ folks have the mental capacity to fight their battles when our relatives do not.
Just look at what has been accomplished by them in a few years. Not only are cops not raiding bath houses but police chiefs and right wing politicians are proudly marching in Pride parades (unless they are Republicans in the US). The Pride flag flies over many public buildings including police stations. There are some exceptions of course and in Ontario, the York Region Catholic School Board has voted to not fly the flag. At one of the debates held by their council, police had to be called to deal with the opposition but they eventually went ahead and refused. Now, there are calls to the government to force them to fly the flag.
A relief pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays posted an anti-gay video on-line and was forced to apologize to the public and to his teammates. The Toronto Star editorialized that he be traded and when he came in to pitch shortly later, fans booed.
Very few defend those with schizophrenia. A number of years ago, I went to a Billy Crystal one man show and he told the audience how is mother worked as a bookkeeper in a psychiatric facility and charged schizophrenics for both their identities. I complained and the theatre passed my complaint on to him (or they said they would). Then I heard a radio DJ on Valentine’s Day make up a stupid poem about a schizophrenic and his two identities. I complained again.
As for AIDS, it has gone from a sure death sentence to a manageable chronic illness in a very short time. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with it but I was at an AIDS medical conference in the late 90’s and was surprised to see that half the delegates were AIDS activists. They were arguing and pressing the docs and researchers to do more and providing commentary on the studies presented. Maybe its time that we started showing up at psychiatric meetings.
We need to up our game considerably although I recognize that many families are exhausted. I know I am. Some of it was done, at least where I am, when the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario had an active chapter in Hamilton, Ontario. We had regular monthly meetings with interesting speakers that were well attended, we put on an annual mental health fair where most of the agencies had booths and explained to the public what they did, a well attended Annual General Meeting and banquet with a speaker from the local health system and an annual golf tournament sponsored by the NHL Old Timers.
The golf tournament raised a considerable amount of money and enabled the chapter to explain schizophrenia to the golfers before the first hole. One determined mother stood in the hot sun and would not let anyone tee off until she had explained the disease to them and given them literature.
We once met with the hospital president and his senior staff to demand greater accountability in the post hospitalization residences they were in charge of. I still remember one vice president ask in exasperation if they were supposed to house the people at the Hilton.
It all died when the central provincial office exerted its legal authority to take over the chapter and the other well functioning ones. Today, schizophrenia is not in the name of the provincial organization which holds yoga sessions. Over 20 years ago, they were central to lobbying for community treatment orders to be implemented in Ontario and they were successful.
Time to get back to active advocating across the country.