It is important for me to state at the start of this blog post that I am not speaking on behalf of AOTPAC or AOTA. My statements and opinions on social media or my website are my own and are not endorsed by AOTPAC or AOTA.
For many years I have been a supporter of AOTPAC or the American Occupational Therapy Political Action Committee. I have been a long-time financial contributor and I currently volunteer on its board of directors. Over the years I have had multiple conversations with OT practitioners who are concerned that AOTPAC donations go to members of Congress that hold positions that are at odds with their personal beliefs or values. Moreover, they may perceive that the voting records of these politicians are in opposition to the core values of occupational therapy and/or our official documents including statements and policies. And I get it. It is not a simple or comfortable situation. It is NOT pretty. As a member of the PAC board, I am asked to vote on donations to members of Congress because of the position they hold on critical legislation for OT or because they hold a position on a critical congressional committee. Honestly, sometimes I hold my nose because while it is immediately clear to me that I need to vote “yes” to prioritize our profession, its practitioners, and stakeholders I would NEVER vote for that politician in an election!
Again, this is not an uncomplicated dynamic. It is messy and hard, and I get that others would make a different choice or would never put themselves in the position that I have accepted. However, political action committees operate in politics and politics are complicated, messy, and not at all pretty.
Recently I came under specific attack on social media. An Instagram post stated, “Brent is one of the AOTPAC board members who have decided to give money to politicians who are actively harming Black people, queer people, Latinx people, women, and trans people.” Yep, complicated and messy. (Now I am talking about the Instagram post!). It is also complicated because I am part of the LGBTQIA+ community as a Gay man and in my non-OT life I actively volunteer and advocate on behalf of Black people, queer people, Latinx people, women, and trans people (and Gay people, and Lesbian people and intersex people……).
Let me explain why I choose to put myself in the position of voting to support a political candidate through PAC dollars that I would never vote for in an election. How do I hold my nose and open myself up to criticism of hypocrisy and voting against my own self-interest as a Gay man? The answer is not all that complicated. It is how politics work. In today’s highly charged and divisive climate, advocacy is never going to be successful if it is not bipartisan. And without advocacy we can say goodbye to support for OT practitioners to provide Telehealth. We can say goodbye to holding our role in home health. We can say goodbye to legislation that supports diversity like the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act. We can say goodbye to legislation that supports OT practitioners in schools or as qualified mental health practitioners. We can surrender our scope of practice to physical therapists, speech language pathologists, applied behavioral analysts and others. Without successful advocacy our profession will be set back decades and advocacy cannot be successful if it is not bipartisan.
I recently sat in a meeting where a lobbyist talked about sitting in a room with one of the most conservative members of Congress urging them to support a key piece of legislation. When the member came around to close to a “yes” they asked a question. What Democrat can we get on board? Even the most extreme members of a political party are going to work across the aisle if they want to get legislation passed. If we want OT advocacy to be successful, why would we not follow suit?
I understand that there are OT practitioners who won’t buy any of this. They will not be able to understand how I reconcile these conflicts and vote “yes” to support candidates they cannot stomach. Some will attack my integrity, my values, and my value as an OT practitioner or as a human being. They will accuse me of hypocrisy. And that is okay, because I am convinced that I am making an important, valuable contribution to occupational therapy. At the end of the day, I sleep well because I am proud that I am willing to navigate a complicated, messy, and not at all pretty situation.
Okay, so this is my first blog post in a very long time because I am on a tear. Basically, I’m pissed.
When I last ran for AOTA Vice-President, diversity in the profession was rightfully a major issue. I was glad to see that as I believe I have shown myself to me a strong advocate for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in our profession and our society. During the “campaign” I heard from several practitioners and students who, in one way or another told me that because I am white, a male and Cis, my opinions were irrelevant. It’s true folks. I am openly white, male, and Cis. I am also Gay and have been an OT for 38 years and supported JEDI initiatives actively in my paid and volunteer work.
Today I read a response to a thread where my (unpopular with some) opinion that a boycott of AOTA Inspire 2024 will not achieve the outcomes that some people hope to achieve. I believe that economic boycotts of states are largely ineffective and that boycotting our professional conference will have zero impact on the discriminatory and hateful legislation in Florida. I believe that it is more likely that it will have the impact of leaving our profession and our professional organization in a weaker place. The response read, “Oh Ew. Thanks so much, cis, white man, for letting us know what is and isn’t helpful for supporting people.”
Evidently being white, male, and Cis, trumps the fact that I am a 61-year-old Gay male who has volunteered for LGBTQIA+ organizations and been involved in advocacy for marginalized populations for decades. The fact that I am white, male, and Cis renders all experience and insight useless. I no longer deserve the respect that you might think would be shown to a colleague who has practiced for 38 year and volunteered at the state and national level for almost that long.
Recently, the practice of mining social media for posts that can be used to help enrage others to support your position is becoming more common. If you want to convince people that your viewpoint is the only acceptable one, it is easier if they are angry and it is easier for them to be angry if you give them targets. No need to think beyond a sound bite or single Instagram post.
I am completely fine if you disagree with my opinion. It happens ALL the time. And I am aware that there is, the very slight chance that I could be wrong about Inspire 2024. But come at me with logic. Don’t discount who I am and all that I have done and contributed because of the color of my skin, my gender, and that I like to think I am butch. Shouldn’t we all be better than that?
The opinions expressed in my blog are personal and neither represent the views of my employer nor any organization.