Thursday, March 17, 2011

Midwest Advocacy Trip--Part I

This morning, Ethan, my friend and colleague, and I began the first phase of a project that will take us to six high schools in six different states. Ethan and I are both on the Executive Committee of Little People of America, a national membership group for people with dwarfism.

One issue important to thousands of people of short stature is language. For most people with dwarfism, the word 'midget' is a dehumanizing slur. (For more on the word, the second half of Chapter Seven in Dan Kennedy's book Little People is a good source) For years, there has been an effort to raise awareness around the meaning of the word from the perspective of people with dwarfism. That effort has generated momentum within the past several years, with reality programs featuring people of short stature raising awareness around language and with an FCC Complaint against NBC for its use of the word midget and its poor portrayal of people with dwarfism on "The Celebrity Apprentice."

Little People of America also is working to raise awareness around language. Within the past year, Ethan and I began planning a trip to high schools around the country that have the 'midget' the 'fighting midgets' or the 'mighty midgets' as a mascot. We planned to visit the schools with the intent of sharing our concerns around language, and hearing directly from people who attend the schools, who work in the schools and who live in the towns. We want to equip the schools with the perspective of a community with a very personal connection, albeit a negative connection, to the word midget. This morning at 7 a.m., Ethan and I loaded up Ethan's car and began a five-hour drive from Indiana, where Ethan and his family live, to Freeburg, Illinois, home of the Freeburg Fighting Midgets.

Long before our visit, Ethan reached out to the Freeburg Superintendent, who organized a series of focus groups with students. We arrived in Freeburg around 12:15 p.m., met Superintendent Lehman and went directly to his office. A few minutes later, the first group of students appeared. Over the next two and a half hours, Ethan and I conducted interviews with five groups of kids, ranging is size from five to seven and ranging in grade from freshman to senior. We asked a series of questions designed to get their thoughts about what they think about the mascot, what others think of the mascot, what they think of the word midget, and what they think of people of short stature. After the final interview, Ethan and I checked in at a nearby hotel, made a short trip to Steak & Shake, then returned to the school to present in front of the School Board. Before the School Board, we talked about Little People of America, language, and our initial reactions to the interviews with students.

Back at the hotel, while unwinding and watching the NCAA Tournament, Ethan said aloud "Did we just present in front of the board?" He was not alone. After months of planning, it was hard to believe we had made the first visit.

Now that our first trip is nearly over, in addition to unwinding, we'll have to sort out what we heard from the students, what we heard (or didn't hear) from the faculty and staff, what we can do with the information, and what we think Freeburg might do with the information we shared. In the days to come, we plan to report more on the themes and surprises that emerged from the conversations.


  1. Thank you Gary and Ethan for getting out there on behalf of LP's. Sounds like a you are off to a good start.

  2. Thank You! I hope this will be a positive and successful trip for you and LPA!

  3. Thank you Gary for doing this!! If Bill or I can help in any way, please send me an email!!! Good luck! Jen Arnold and Bill Klein

  4. Thank you for doing this important work. It is very much appreciated!
    Jodi Bradley

  5. Hi Gary,
    I've been reading your blog for a while. I'll be interested to see what the results were from your trip.

    There is one thing that I've seen you do repeatedly on your blog that bothers me. People need to stand up against all forms of ignorance and offensive words. Of course there is going to be an extra-sensitivity to your specific cause, but it demeans the whole message if you let the others slide.

    I'm referring to your repeated praise for Little People, Big World and the Roloff family. They've used racial slurs. They've used gay slurs. They have never properly apologized or even accepted responsibility for it. If you belonged to those groups (black, Mexican, gay), I can guarantee you would not be happy with them or happy with TLC for attempting to cover it up.

    The Roloffs vilified people that they say they are wrong to use offensive words. Matt Roloff's own website, in defense of Jeremy Roloff, wrote the message that "Words can't hurt unless you let them" and dismissed people as being over sensitive who were upset at Jeremy Roloff for repeatedly using the N word and for saying that he's not "a gay bragging f*aggot".

    Yet you hold the Roloffs and LPBW up as heroes because they promote the message of the M word being wrong and hurtful. It demeans the whole message if you support people that don't extend the same respect to other minority groups. Why is a LP celebrity family saying "faggot" any less offensive than any of the "Midget" references or the mascot issue? It's not. It goes back to the old thing that people are only offended at things that affect them and people they care about personally. We have to change that way of thinking.

    I agree with all of your messages about the M word in society and the media and what you are doing with your trips to the schools, but it is frustrating to see you not only overlook, but praise people that don't extend the same respect to groups that you don't belong to.

    Take care and keep up the good work on the blog.

  6. thanks everyone.

    And to Derek specifically, thanks. I really appreciate you writing how you feel. I hear what you are saying. In issues of language, we have to be consistent. It would hypocritical to do otherwise.