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Lydia X. Z. Brown

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Lydia Brown
A person in a suit holding a microphone in their left hand with a red chair to their left.
Brown speaks at the Colorado Trust in 2017
Born1993 (age 30–31)
EducationGeorgetown University (BA)
Northeastern University (JD)
Known forDisability rights advocacy

Lydia X. Z. Brown (born 1993) is an American autistic disability rights activist, writer, attorney, and public speaker who was honored by the White House in 2013.[1] They are the chairperson of the American Bar Association Civil Rights & Social Justice Disability Rights Committee. They are also Policy Counsel for Privacy & Data at the Center for Democracy & Technology, and Director of Policy, Advocacy, & External Affairs at the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network.[2] In 2022, they unsuccessfully ran for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 7A,[3] losing to state delegate Kathy Szeliga and delegate-elect Ryan Nawrocki.[4]

Student activism[edit]

As an undergraduate student at Georgetown University from 2011 to 2015, Brown was a student organizer and advocate for disabled students on campus.[5] Brown served as the first Undersecretary of Disability Affairs for the Georgetown University Student Association[6] and was on the planning committee for the first university-recognized Disability Cultural Month in October 2012.[7] They wrote and disseminated a citywide guide to resources for students with disabilities,[8] surveyed student government candidates on disability issues,[9][10] organized a Twitter chat by Georgetown students with disabilities,[11] and hosted and organized a lecture & performance series on Disability justice that featured talks with disability activists, scholars, and cultural workers including Karen Nakamura, Margaret Price, Leroy F. Moore Jr., Kassiane Asasumasu, Stephanie Kerschbaum, and Shain M. Neumeier.[12][13][14]

In the fall of 2012, Brown designed a proposal for and organized a planning committee of over 20 university community members to advocate for the creation of a Disability Cultural Center on campus.[15] The planning committee's recommendations, in combination with a 2014 #BeingDisabledAtGeorgetown (shortened version: #BDGU[16]) online campaign, contributed to the Disability Studies Minor Working Group's establishment of a Disability Studies Course Cluster[17] in the fall of 2015 and Georgetown University's subsequent approval of the creation of a Disability Studies minor[18] in 2017. It also led to the creation of a dedicated fund for sign language interpretation and real-time captioning, and the creation of a dedicated access coordinator position.[19] A Disability Cultural Center has not yet been established as of May 2022.[18]

As a Public Interest Law Scholar at Northeastern University School of Law,[20] Brown helped to found the Disability Justice Caucus.[19]

Disability activism[edit]

Brown has described themselves as having "fallen into activism by accident".[19] Their experience raising over $1200 for an autism awareness nonprofit advocacy organization then returning funds to donors after discovering behavior "counter to the organization's stated mission" led them to seek out and later work with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. In Massachusetts, Brown first wrote and introduced legislation in 2010 on autism and developmental disabilities training for law enforcement, including corrections officers, and has continued to lobby for passage of that bill.[21][22]

In 2011, Brown wrote a petition demanding school district-wide policy changes in Mercer County, Kentucky after viewing local news coverage of an incident in which Christopher Baker, a nine year old autistic student, was punished by being placed inside a large bag.[23] The petition gained over 200,000 signatures[24] and media attention.[25][26]

In 2013, Brown co-organized a protest outside the Food and Drug Administration White Oak Campus in Maryland against the Judge Rotenberg Center, which is known for its use of aversives as a form of behavioral modification on people with developmental disabilities, including many autistic people.[27] Later, in 2014, Brown testified against the Judge Rotenberg Center's use of electric shock aversives at a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel hearing.[28] Prior to the hearing, Brown submitted a written testimony on behalf of TASH New England arguing that electric shock aversive devices should be banned as an ineffective and dangerous form of treatment.[29] Brown maintains a living archive of documents and other resources related to the JRC on their website.[30]

During college, Brown co-founded the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective.[31]

Brown was the lead editor of All the Weight of Our Dreams, an anthology of art and writing entirely by autistic people of color published by the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network in June 2017.[32][33]

In 2020, Brown supported the FDA's ban of electric shock devices at the Judge Rotenberg Center and said that there should be reparations for survivors of this method of torture.[34]


A study by Nature Communications found that trans individuals were three to six times more likely to be autistic, and gender diverse people are more likely to report symptoms of autism.[35] The intersectionality of gender and neurodivergence has led both communities to coin the term gendervague. Lydia X. Z. Brown has popularized the term which refers to an intersection between their neurodivergent and the transgender identities.[36] Gendervague falls under the non-binary and transgender umbrellas, although individuals who identify with this term feel their gender identity is intertwined with their neurodivergence. Brown noted, "for many of us, gender mostly impacts our lives when projected onto us through other people's assumptions, but holds little intrinsic meaning."[37]


Brown is a former Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership.[38] They were a policy analyst for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.[19]

They were the chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council[39] from 2015 to 2017, the youngest appointee chairing any state developmental disabilities council in the U.S.[40]

As a graduate student, they were the 2018-2019 Justice Catalyst Legal Fellow at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.[40]

Brown has lectured on neurodiversity; connections between trans, queer, and disability experiences; racial justice and the disability rights movement; and intersectionality at numerous colleges and universities, including Yale University,[41][42] Bellevue College,[43] University of Virginia,[44] Grinnell College,[45] College of William & Mary,[46] and Vanderbilt University as part of the Inclusive Astronomy Conference.[47] In 2015, Brown gave the keynote speech at the Students of Color Conference held in Yakima, Washington,[48] and in 2016, Brown gave the keynote speech at the Queer I Am Leadership Symposium held at South Puget Sound Community College.[49]

They previously taught as a visiting lecturer at Tufts University's Experimental College, and as an Adjunct Lecturer in Disability Studies at Georgetown University and Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in American Studies at American University's Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies.[2]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2013, Brown was recognized by the White House Champions of Change program in commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.[50]

The Washington Peace Center selected Brown as the recipient of its 2014 Empowering the Future Youth Activist Award for their work with the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.[51][52]

In 2015, Brown was named a Top Thinker Under 30 in the Social Sciences by Pacific Standard and included on Mic's inaugural list of "the next generation of impactful leaders, cultural influencers, and breakthrough innovators."[6][53]

In 2018, Brown was awarded the National Association for Law Placement Pro Bono Publico Award, which is annually awarded to one law student in the U.S. who makes significant contributions to underserved populations through pro bono services.[19]

Selected works[edit]

  • "intersectionality – a dialogue with Devonya N. Havis and Lydia X. Z. Brown", Addressing Ableism: Philosophical Questions via Disability Studies. Jennifer Scuro (2017)[54]
  • "Ableist Shame and Disruptive Bodies: Survivorship at the Intersection of Queer, Trans, and Disabled Existence", Religion, Disability, and Interpersonal Violence. ed. Andy J. Johnson, J. Ruth Nelson, & Emily M. Lund (2017)[55]
  • All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism. ed. Lydia X. Z. Brown, E. Ashkenazy, & Morénike Giwa Onaiwu (2017)[56]
  • "Autism Isn't Speaking: Autistic Subversion in Media & Public Policy", Barriers and Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disability. ed. Michelle Jarman, Leila Monaghan, & Alison Quaggin Harkin (2017)[57]
  • "'You Don't Feel Like A Freak Anymore': Representing Disability, Madness, and Trauma in Litchfield Penitentiary", Feminist Perspectives on Orange Is The New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays. ed. April Kalogeropoulos Householder & Adrienne Trier-Bieniek (2016)[58]
  • "How Not To Plan Disability Conferences", QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology. ed. Raymond Luczak (2015)[59]
  • "Compliance is Unreasonable: The Human Rights Implications of Compliance-Based Behavioral Interventions under the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities", Torture in Healthcare Settings: Reflections on the Special Rapporteur on Torture's 2013 Thematic Report ed. Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law (2014)[60]
  • "Disability in an Ableist World" in Criptiques ed. Caitlin Wood (2014)[61]


  1. ^ Brown, Lydia. "Keeping the Promise of the ADA: Unequal Justice for Disabled Victims of Murder", White House, Washington, D.C., August 15, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Adjunct Professorial Lect". American University. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  3. ^ "2022 Voter Guide: Lydia X. Z. Brown, candidate for Maryland House District 7A". Baltimore Sun. May 18, 2022. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  4. ^ "Maryland Election Results". The New York Times. November 8, 2022. Retrieved November 9, 2022.
  5. ^ Quallen, Matthew. "For Disabled Students, The Struggle Continues", The Hoya, February 26, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Andrews, Avital. "The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The Self-Described Queer, East Asian Disabled Person Devoted to Defending Anyone on the Margins", Pacific Standard, April 4, 2015.
  7. ^ "Disability Month Focuses on Diversity". October 24, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  8. ^ Welch, Caroline. "GUSA Tackles Accessibility", The Hoya, September 6, 2013.
  9. ^ Henry, Lacey. "Disability Survey Reveals Support From GUSA Candidates", The Hoya, February 24, 2013.
  10. ^ Gregory, Matt. "Candidates Surveyed on Disability for Second Year", The Hoya, February 27, 2014.
  11. ^ Monyak, Suzanne. "Strong Words From GU's Disabled", The Hoya, January 14, 2014.
  12. ^ "Lecture & Performance Series on Disability Justice", Disability Justice for Georgetown University, 2015.
  13. ^ Allen, Charlotte. "Speaker Discusses Incarceration of Disabled People", The Hoya, November 11, 2014.
  14. ^ Wallender, Andrew. "Panel Talks Disability Rights", The Hoya, October 31, 2014.
  15. ^ Rouge, Dominique. "Brown's proposal for establishment of Disability Cultural Center gains momentum", The Georgetown Voice, March 5, 2015.
  16. ^ "Protest Thrives in Diverse Forms". April 25, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  17. ^ "Disability Course Cluster Established". October 23, 2015. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  18. ^ a b "EDITORIAL: Establish the Disability Cultural Center". February 5, 2021. Retrieved May 19, 2022.
  19. ^ a b c d e "The autistic, non-binary, queer, law student fighting for disability justice". News @ Northeastern. April 19, 2018. Retrieved May 19, 2022.
  20. ^ "Celebrating the Public Interest Law Scholars Program: Recipient Biographies for the Classes of 2003-2018", Northeastern University School of Law, January 2016, page 19.
  21. ^ General Court of Massachusetts, "Journal of the House", June 23, 2010, page 1498.
  22. ^ Segelbaum, Dani. "Student pushes bill on autism training", Milford Daily News, February 9, 2016.
  23. ^ Schreiner, Bruce. "School accused of putting autistic student in bag", Associated Press, Boston Globe, December 22, 2011.
  24. ^ Brown, Lydia. "Petitioning Special Education, Mercer County Board of Education Emma Jean Tamme and 14 others: End abuse of Autistic students in Mercer County, Kentucky", Change.org, December 2011.
  25. ^ Schreiner, Bruce. "Mom wants changes before she'll let autistic son return to Mercer school", Associated Press, January 4, 2012.
  26. ^ McVeigh, Karen. "Mother condemns Kentucky school for putting autistic son in duffel bag", The Guardian, December 27, 2011.
  27. ^ "FDA meets on school electric shock device used on disabled students, warns of violations", January 11, 2013.
  28. ^ Food and Drug Administration. "Transcript of Open Public Hearing of the Neurological Devices Panel, Medical Devices Advisory Committee, U.S. Food and Drug Administration", April 24, 2014, pp.192-195.
  29. ^ Brown, Lydia. "Moral and Legal Bases for Banning Aversive Conditioning Devices Used for Contingent Electric Shock Lydia Brown Comment", April 18, 2014.
  30. ^ Brown, Lydia. "Judge Rotenberg Center Living Archive", last updated July 22, 2016.
  31. ^ Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective, "Leadership".
  32. ^ Brooks, Emily. An Interview with Steve Silberman, Author of NeuroTribes, The Toast, March 29, 2016.
  33. ^ Brown, Lydia X. Z. & The Autism Women's Network. All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, 2016.
  34. ^ Adams, Heather (March 9, 2020). "After FDA bans Massachusetts school from using electric shock devices, advocates seek public apology, reparations". masslive. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  35. ^ Dattaro, Laura (2020). "Largest study to date confirms overlap between autism and gender diversity". Spectrum. doi:10.53053/wnhc6713. ISSN 2770-0976. S2CID 251633487.
  36. ^ "Gendervague » The Trans Language Primer". translanguageprimer.com. August 17, 2021. Retrieved May 16, 2023.
  37. ^ "Gendervague: Autistic + Trans". www.halifaxpubliclibraries.ca. July 22, 2021. Retrieved May 16, 2023.
  38. ^ Institute for Educational Leadership, "IEL Celebrates White House Champions of Change", 2013.
  39. ^ Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, "Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council Welcomes Lydia Brown as New Chairperson: Brown is Youngest Developmental Disabilities Council Chairperson in Country", October 2015.
  40. ^ a b "National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC)". National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC). Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  41. ^ Giovanniello, Sarah. "Lydia Brown: Looking Beyond the Pathology Paradigm", Broad Recognition, November 18, 2013.
  42. ^ Lee, Jiwon. "Activist challenges social perceptions of autism", Yale Daily News, November 5, 2013.
  43. ^ Yu, Fei. "Disability Awareness Month", The Watchdog, September 30, 2014.
  44. ^ Parker, Elizabeth. "Queer and disabled activist Lydia Brown speaks at OpenGrounds: Georgetown University student discusses experiences with autism, self-advocacy", The Cavalier Daily, April 8, 2015.
  45. ^ Coghlan, Nora. "Queer Culture Week Comes Out to Grinnell", Scarlet and Black, November 13, 2014.
  46. ^ Cohen, Ariel. "College Works To Promote Neurodiversity", The Flat Hat, April 15, 2013.
  47. ^ Tavares, Frank. "My Experiences at the Inclusive Astronomy 2015 Conference: Part 1", AC Voice, July 23, 2015.
  48. ^ Vo, Tony (July 9, 2015). "The International Examiner – Column: Students of Color Conference—25 years of movement building". www.iexaminer.org. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  49. ^ "QueerIAm". Office of Diversity and Equity. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  50. ^ "Student Honored for Disability Advocacy at White House". June 26, 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  51. ^ "Past Awardees". Washington Peace Center. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  52. ^ "2014 Activist Awardees". Washington Peace Center. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  53. ^ "Mic50: Lydia Brown", Mic, 2015.
  54. ^ Jennifer, Scuro (2018). Addressing ableism : philosophical questions via disability studies. Reynolds, Joel Michael,, Havis, Devonya N.,, Brown, Lydia X. Z. Lanham, [Maryland]. ISBN 9781498540742. OCLC 995285877.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  55. ^ Religion, Disability, and Interpersonal Violence. Johnson, Andy, Nelson, Ruth, Lund, Emily. Springer Verlag. 2017. ISBN 9783319569000. OCLC 995767208.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  56. ^ All the weight of our dreams : on living racialized autism. Brown, Lydia X. Z.,, Ashkenazy, E.,, Onaiwu, Morénike Giwa,, Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Lincoln, Nebraska. 2017. ISBN 9780997504507. OCLC 991619149.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  57. ^ Barriers and belonging : personal narratives of disability. Jarman, Michelle, 1966-, Monaghan, Leila Frances, 1960-, Harkin, Alison Quaggin, 1958-. Philadelphia. February 11, 2017. ISBN 9781439913888. OCLC 969434384.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  58. ^ Brown, Lydia (2016). "'You Don't Feel Like A Freak Anymore': Representing Disability, Madness, and Trauma in Litchfield Penitentiary", Feminist Perspectives on Orange Is The New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays. ed. April Kalogeropoulos Householder & Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, pp. 174-193.
  59. ^ Brown, Lydia (2015). "How Not To Plan Disability Conferences," QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology. ed. Raymond Luczak, pp. 304-307.
  60. ^ Brown, Lydia. "Compliance is Unreasonable: The Human Rights Implications of Compliance-Based Behavioral Interventions under the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities", Torture in Healthcare Settings: Reflections on the Special Rapporteur on Torture's 2013 Thematic Report, Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, 2014, pp. 181-194.
  61. ^ Brown, Lydia (2014). "Disability in an Ableist World", in Criptiques ed. Caitlin Wood, pp. 37-46, May Day. ISBN 0991573404.

External links[edit]