Sunday, July 8, 2012

Different motions -- more on Entertainment Panel at 2012 Conference

four people sitting at a table participating in a panel discussion at lpa conference
Yesterday, July 7, I wrote about a panel that I had sat on as part of the 2012 Little People of America Conference in Dallas.  In that post, I focused on the impact of the show "Life's Too Short" on dwarfism audiences in the United States. In addition to providing a good discussion around "Life's Too Short" and other issues related to entertainment, the panel reinforced in my mind a decision that Little People of America made within the past few years.  A few times since 2009, the Little People of America Board of Directors has addressed a motion, or a resolution, that, if adopted by the board, would have forbidden any type of recruitment by the entertainment industry at Little People of America Conferences.  In the past, Radio City has recruited little people at national conferences to perform as elves in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.  Radio City's presence at conferences raised two concerns.  First, it pegs dwarfs as an industry specific community for employment.  If no other company is recruiting employees at conferences, it sends a message to younger people that people with dwarfism are expected to go into entertainment.  Or, it sets up Radio City as a fallback measure for people who are struggling to find other employment.  This happened to me to some extent.  I was in the midst of a job that wasn't going anywhere.  I heard Radio City was fun, so I thought, "What the heck! I will give it a shot."  I performed with the show in Chicago for two years.  It was a lot of fun.

Second, some people say that elves reinforce traditional stereotypes of dwarfs as fantasy creatures, perpetuating stereotypes that make it difficult for the general community to treat people of short stature as they would others.  Whether this is true or not, if some people believe it, and if Little People of America appears to support it by partnering with Radio City, it creates a conflict.   In an attempt to terminate the relationship between Radio City and Little People of America, and to prevent future types of relationships, a motion to deny entertainment recruitment at the conference was introduced.  While I agree that using Little People of America Conferences as a space to recruit dwarfs for entertainment roles is problematic, I was against the motion.  As an organization, Little People of America is meant to be a space in which all people with dwarfism should feel accepted and welcomed.  Such a motion would have implicitly judged some little people negatively for the decisions they made.    Indirectly, it could have made them feel unwelcome. 

I supported a different motion.  A motion that would welcome Radio City to national conferences, but only if at least three other employment industries (non entertainment industries) also attended conferences with the intent of hiring little people for jobs.  By providing options other than entertainment, this motion would address the problem of sending the message that there is the expectation that many little people will pursue entertainment as a career.  In the end, it was the second motion that was approved by the board.  Next year, at the 2013 conference in Washington, the motion may be tested for the first time.  Little People of America's Employment Committee Chair plans to host a job fair.  I am very excited and believe the job fair will be a success.

But once, on a conference call within the past few years, the board came within  just a vote of passing the original motion.  I hadn't thought about it much recently.  But sitting on the panel last week, I was relieved that the original motion never passed.  On the panel was an actor and a recruiter.  And within the audience there were more actors who participated in the entertainment field.  As I said before, Little People of America's role is to create a welcoming environment, regardless of what type of decision an individual has made in employment.  It would have been strange and uncomfortable to sit on the panel, knowing that some people in the room had been made to feel unwelcome because of a policy decision made by the organization.

This is not to say that Little People of America does not have a role in confronting negative stereotypes in entertainment, and promoting positive awareness and positive messages of dwarfism.  We do have a role and a responsibility to that end.  And sometimes, that responsibility will force us to go after the entertainment industry or least specific aspects of it.  But this doesn't mean that Little People of America can create an environment in which people of short stature feel unwelcome within the organization.


  1. I like your proposal better, glad it passed. Like you said, the former would have sent a very negative message.

    If I may make a suggestion that would work towards showing a broader range of options: it may be worth pursuing theatre groups interested in employing little people in roles OUTSIDE the stereotypical elves, leprechauns, trolls, etc.? For example, maybe there's an acting troupe performing The Crucible or Romeo and Juliet that is willing to audition dwarfs for some of the roles, even though none of them specifically call for, nor exclude the casting of, a little person? Would be nice to show that, even if you do choose to enter the entertainment field, there are more serious and varied options out there.

  2. good idea. We should work on proactively reaching out to a more diverse group, both in and out of entertainment.