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Saturday, June 6, 2020

Disability talk by able-bodied speaker prompts protests

Logan Portteus


University Police were called Wednesday, Nov. 8, in response to a student protest of television show “American Horror Story” actress Naomi Grossman’s “Disability and Media” presentation at Western.

The activist who spoke prior to Grossman’s presentation, Lulu, identified as a member of the Bellingham Deaf and Disablity Justice Collective.

Another person stood behind her with a banner that read, “Nothing About Us Without Us!”

Lulu said Grossman was not an appropriate person to speak on disability because she is able-bodied.

“She is not an academic in the field of disability studies, but more importantly, she is not disabled.  She is merely an actress who has ‘cripped’ up as a disabled character for a role,” Lulu said.  “To insinuate that this gives her the authority and understanding to be speaking on this subject makes a mockery of disabled experience.”

In American Horror Story, Grossman acts as Pepper, a woman with microcephaly, a birth defect which affects brain development, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.    

Grossman stated she’s not disabled and never claimed to be.

Lulu said the issue isn’t that Grossman is claiming to be disabled, but that she is speaking on behalf of a community she isn’t a part of.

“This is the first time in my entire career that I’ve ever encountered this sort of hostility,” Grossman said.

The police arrived 30 minutes into the scheduled presentation time, at which point the activists agreed to leave the building.

Of the roughly 90 people who attended the event, about 20 people walked out with the protestors.


Correction made 11/9/17: University Police responded to this incident, not the Bellingham Police Department. 


  1. Having just googled, I now know she plays a disabled person on the tv show ‘American Horror Story’ and she is touring around talking about what it is like to play a person with microcephaly, the process of becoming the character, etc. Seems to me that she had something valuable to say and the outrage is misplaced. If they would like to see more persons with actual disabilities talk to students, instead of protesting they should organize a symposium. One thing they could discuss is how some people in the media are portrayed by able-boded actors like Ms Grossman whereas others are actors with disabilities, like Micah Fowler in Speechless. I know the autism community is not very pleased about The Good Doctor. Would make an interesting talk and be more productive than disruption.

    To be clear, I don’t get the impression Ms Goodman as portraying herself as an expert on disability. She was there to talk about her process, as an actor, portraying a person with a disability. Huge difference.

  2. ““This is the first time in my entire career that I’ve ever encountered this sort of hostility,” Grossman said.” If this is the first time she has encountered this hostility from the disabled community, she isn’t listening!

    The Western AS totally missed the mark on this event. Next time, talk to the disabled community to get input.


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