In this tenth episode Ginny Grant begins by introducing the show and providing context about herself and Reframing Autism. Ginny then introduces Jarad McLoughlin, who is an Australian Autistic LGBTQIA+ and disability advocate and activist.
In the conversation, Jarad reflects on his Autism journey after receiving a diagnosis as a young child. He discusses some of the barriers to understanding and accepting Autism at that time, including the lack of information, resources and role models. He talks about how he finally came to accept and embrace his Autism in his teenage years along with being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Jarad discusses his contributions to several not-for-profit organisations, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and People with Disability Australia. Finally he shares two of his proudest moments as an advocate.
Ginny: Hello and welcome to this episode of Amplified: Autistics in Conversation with Reframing Autism.
I’m Ginny Grant, an Autistic advocate, writer, and Reframing Autism’s Communications Manager, and I am the host of this podcast. Today I’m thrilled to be chatting with Autistic, LGBTQIA+ and disability advocate and activist, Jarad McLoughlin.
I’d like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands on which I’m recording this podcast today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. Reframing Autism extends our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this country to heal. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
For those of you who are new to this podcast series, Reframing Autism is an Australian-based not-for-profit organisation which is run by and for Autistic people and their families and allies. It is dedicated to creating a world in which the Autistic community is supported to achieve acceptance, inclusion and active citizenship. And we are all about nurturing and celebrating Autistic identity.
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Welcome to Amplified, Jarad! Would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?
Jarad: My name is Jarad McLoughlin. I’m thirty-six years old. I come from South Australia but I was born in Queensland, in the outer … the outskirts of the Brisbane CBD, in South Brisbane. I am … For over nineteen years I have been a disability LGBTQIA+ advocate and activist. Most of it has been confined to doing a lot of like, um, work within being a volunteer, advisor, consultant for many not-for-profit and government departments, agencies and organisations. I’ve also served on a few government boards and councils and committees and I’ve also dabbled in a bit of freelance journalism and radio broadcasting work with a couple of community radio stations which are Radio Adelaide 101.5 FM and Fresh 92.7 FM. And thank you for inviting me to be on your podcast. I really … I really do feel gracious and honoured that you wanted me to be a part of it and to give me another outlet to … to espouse my thoughts and perspectives and opinions about how it is to be a Autistic person.
Ginny: Thanks so much, Jarad. Let’s start with your Autism journey. Can you tell us a bit about when and how you learned you are Autistic?
Jarad: Well, my … I was diagnosed with Autism … well, at the time it was known as having … was known as having Autism Spectrum Disorder as the clinical term or label was … I got my diagnosis in … I think officially in around … between 1989 and 1990. So from the ages of three to five I was told … my parents were told that I was not like the other … I wasn’t like any other neurotypical toddler. I … I had a neurotype which was not like anyone else’s … and from the time when they gave me the diagnosis, the way they … they broke it down or they gave … how they summarised the symptoms and how they articulated and even ascertained what it was … what it was that I had, they kind of put it out that I was – and sorry to use a bit of ableist language in this – that I was mildly … mildly retarded, retarded, which is not great to say to any child who has just been given, who has been, like, been handed down this diagnosis. And for someone like me and around the time when I was told that I did have Autism, there … my parents and my family didn’t really have … they didn’t have the available resources and services and initiatives that we really … that I think families and even individuals who are on the spectrum today do take for … for granted. Like we didn’t have any advocacy groups. There were no specialist services or programs either by … either that were operated by government or not-for-profit organisations and charities and agencies. So you were pretty much left to your own devices and having to handle how to look after your child who is … who does have the characteristics and traits of someone who is Autistic or who does have a neurodivergent brain. For me, my childhood … the way with my family was … it was a little dysfunctional. They … they did love me in their own way and … and I think because they didn’t have enough information and knowledge about how it is to be Autistic, or they didn’t know how they could go about accommodating my needs within the … within like environments including at home or at school. There wasn’t anything … there were no, like, strategies or … mainly there was no manual … manual for parents to know how to … how to look after and tend after your Autistic child.
Ginny: Sure. Can you tell us about how you came to accept your Autistic identity?
Jarad: Well, um, it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I knew that I was not like everyone else, that I went through the process of … of accepting and not in the way embracing but … but having to manage and even adapt to being Autistic, because I was never going to be like the other … any other child or teenager going through like school and … and when I … had to go through a lot … I had to go through a lot of changes both within my family and within my schooling, including moving to another state after spending seven years at one school and even when I finally worked out what kind of routine I had to … wanting to put myself more in working through my … knowing how I could go about conquering the … the inhibitions and limitations that were for me, when it comes to wanting to socialise with other people who were my age at that time. And when I came to accept my disability being on the spectrum, it wasn’t … it wasn’t easy … it wasn’t as complicit for me to completely embrace or even accept who I was as a person, because when you grow up in an environment where you are told that you are lesser than who everyone else is and you are being told to hate or even by reviled by being on the spectrum, I didn’t see anyone who was like me. There were no role models I could … I could turn to anywhere, not in the media, not within anyone at school or even at home. There was no one who was like me. And I just had to go through this emotional and psychological exploration on my own. I had to work out who I was to be as … as the person that I didn’t … who wasn’t as … wasn’t as perceived to be what other specialist or experts wanted me to be or I didn’t fit the stereotypical archetype of how a Autistic person’s meant to act or behave. And I didn’t see myself … I didn’t see myself depicted as a … as some characters were in TV shows and films. Like, I wasn’t Rainman, I can tell you that. I was not that at all. No, no, no, no. So, I had to do a lot of like researching, exploring. I … it wasn’t until I left school in December 2004 that I even met another person who was Autistic or who was part of the neurodivergent community. So I … it’s like that old adage about being the only person in the village who is different to everyone else … like you’re the only gay in the village which I … kind of … subverts to me being also part of the LGBTQIA+ community as a … as a gay cis-gendered male as I happen to be. That’s who I … that’s the person I … that’s how I align within my sexual orientation and gender identity. But around when I left school, and I graduated in December 2004, I knew by then that I was Autistic and nothing was going to change. I couldn’t like cure, I couldn’t … there wasn’t a cure, I couldn’t treat it. You couldn’t get rid of it and to actually have that former mindset today … That’s … No one should actually have to feel that much self-loathing and self-hatred about who they are as a person. That is one of the most … I feel I’ve … being Autistic is one of the many facets of myself that I am proud to lay claim to. And I wouldn’t want … And I wouldn’t want to, to be … And I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that element, that part or element of myself for anything. You could not even bribe me a billion dollars for wanting to suppress or even regress my Autistic … my Autistic brilliance or excellence.
Ginny: I love that!
Jarad: And I am not ashamed to call it as I am. I am Autistic, just like I say to people, I’m gay. Even though you are going to go through a lot of … you are going to have people who are, like, homophobic and ableist and they are not going … well, you will want them to refrain, or even to … or even to desist or resist having those thoughts and ideologies within their subconscious because being a bigot or being a bully, it’s a learnt behaviour. You’re not born as someone who reviles or is disgusted or is repulsed by any other person who is not the same as anyone else, and nobody should be demoralising or demeaning you just because you don’t fit what … what society classifies or even categorises, characterises you as a human being. We’re all meant to be heteronormative but no, no we’re not. I am neurodivergent and I am … I am just the same as I was when I decided to live my own true authentic self ten years ago as being in the LGBTQIA+ community and I haven’t looked back. And I don’t want to.
Ginny: For sure. You’re a member of several boards and advisory groups of disability and LGBTQIA+ organisations. Can you tell us about a couple of those roles?
Jarad: Mmm. I can do that for you. I can focus on a couple of ones I’ve recently joined. One is with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. I’m on their board. I’m the acting Treasurer as of when this interview is being recorded. I was elected back in October 2020 but I do have a past association with or even affiliation with ASAN as I was one of the inaugural founding members of the Australian and New Zealand … the Australian and New Zealand chapter all the way back in … oh my God, over a decade ago. And I was there for about four or five years on their board – also in the role of Treasurer – like I say, I’m pretty much a glutton for punishment. And when I was with ASAN, my … my advocacy and activism repertoire and my standing within the community was building up. It was gaining … it was like … it was gaining prominence not in the way of me being very influential to talking to other people, to be a spokesperson for the community even for the disability or the LGBTQIA+ community themselves, but I was a voice if needed or if they wanted to reach out or to ask me to come on to do an interview or just to come and be like a speaker at a protest or a rally or even at a conference, seminar or symposium. If they want to extend an invite to me, I was happy to step in and to make my presence known to those people who wanted to hear about my … my experience and … my lived experience and knowledge of how I came to be who I was at that time. And you do put a lot into it. Even when I’m on boards including with ASAN or People with Disability Australia. I’m of course … recently got elected into that … into their Membership Engagement Advisory Group. I had my … I just had my second meeting around … yeah, about a few days ago on December … yeah, December the first. Being with PWDA and ASAN as a contributor and taking on roles that no one thought I could have … that I didn’t have the … the intellectual capacity or emotional capacity to do on my own, I know that I am shattering all those false pretences and presumptions that those experts and specialists within the medical … the medical field who feel that … they call themselves bona fide experts of Autism and neurodiversity which we know is not … is 100 per cent false, and there is no shred or skerrick of truth or accuracy in those statements. So for me to be a Autistic self-advocate and to go and to provide my feedback, my input with other organisations and businesses yada yada yada, et cetera, et cetera, I know that I am laying the groundwork so that future generations of Autistic and neurodivergent advocates and activists can be able to carve out their … be able to carve out their world view and mindset of how they’re going to go about supporting and defending and fighting for the rights of those in both the … both the disability and LGBTQIA+ community and to get more higher levels of representation in politics, in government, in politics and even within other institutions and professions. And we’re not going to be … pushed back by people who have ableist or even bigoted and discriminatory attitudes and beliefs and ideologies that says that a disabled person can’t speak for themselves or can’t be a … who can’t be a advocate or activist for themselves and to serve or to be a person who can give … who can be able to give their opinion or perspective on something on their own behalf.
Ginny: In terms of the Autistic, LGBTQIA+ and disability advocacy and activism work you have done, what are you most proud of?
Jarad: What am I most proud of? What is one of the achievements or accomplishments that I look back … that I look back on fondly?
Well, I think it would have to be two things. Me getting the Pride of Australia medal back in 2011 in the Young Leader category for my involvement with two organisations, and they were Julia Farr Youth, and I got to be a mentor in their youth mentoring program, the inaugural … during … in the time that they were developing and founding it. And I was also a part of the youth parliament program which is … which is still run today by … by the YMCA of South Australia or the YMCA of Australia. I think it’s a national … a nation-wide program for young people to wanting to learn everything there is to know about parliamentary etiquette and how to write speeches and to public … and how to do public speaking within a … within one of the … one of the most intimidating and the most glaring institutions that you can go to be that type of expert and totally … totally experted and probably be very stoic … stoic and very subversive … and very, um, kind of like knowing how to be a orator in knowing how to say things that you mean from the brain, from your mind and your heart. And I think that goes into the heart of being a politician role, parliamentarian or if you wanted to be someone who speaks as a activist and advocate. When I did those programs I did … I did get a lot from those, and a lot of people revelled and marvelled at how it was … I was breaking barriers or it was … that I was … that I was redefining how a parliamentarian or a youth ... a young person who is wanting to be a … a advocate or activist is meant to … to be … how they’re meant to be depicted within public life. And when we did these programs or when I did … when I was a mentor I didn’t think I had enough real-life expertise or knowledge to teach and to train another young person who was Autistic. But I tried my damnedest and … and from that I was nominated by the YMCA of South Australia and Julia Farr Purple Orange and yeah, I … I was selected as one of the finalists, and when I went to the ceremony I didn’t think I was going to win. I was really, really scared and nervous. There’s actually a photo of me on Facebook of me just crouching on the bench, just, you know, just staring into … I don’t know what it was I was looking at, but I was just really terrified and nervous that I wasn’t going to win, but even if I didn’t win I was still up there with everyone else who got picked and when they called … when they called my name out I was … I couldn’t believe it … I still can’t believe it. Over ten years later … over ten years after I was the 2011 recipient of the Young Leader medal in the … in the Pride of Australia South Australian Awards, I didn’t really feel that they saw that in me. And I didn’t really think I saw it in myself, but now today I do. And even though I did give a brief speech, I was very happy to say that it’s all about knowing how to share the experiences on how it is to be disabled and not to allow people’s bigoted and short-sighted and narrow-minded viewpoints and perspectives and opinions affect our lives. And I haven’t … I haven’t allowed that to affect mine.
The second achievement that I do feel like I’m very, very proud that I have accomplished was receiving a Bilby Award from the South Australian Community Broadcasters Association for an interview that I did on my radio show Destigmatised back in 2020. And that was with Tim Ferguson who is a sit-down comedian and one of the members of the Doug Anthony Allstars. I’m not sure if you … if you remember them?
Ginny: I do! I do!
Jarad: They might be … I thought they might have been before your time.
Ginny: No, they were of my time.
Jarad: Ah, good. They were within your timespan?
Jarad: Yeah, that’s good. Well, they actually started out pretty much a year before I was born, because yeah, they performed … I think they started performing back in 1984 in Canberra, and I was born around, um, um, just almost twelve months later. But yeah, even though I couldn’t get my trophy at the ceremony because we usually hold the Bilbies during SACBA’s annual conference but that was cancelled because of COVID-19 and at the time there was like a … a lockdown that we were under in South Australia, but we had to do it virtually online, and I had the same reaction when I received my … my … when I got the medal at the Pride of Australia award ceremony. I didn’t really think that I … they got the right person … that they called the wrong person. No, it was not; they … made the correct … they called out the right … the correct winner and yeah, I’m very happy I got my … I’ll actually show you it quickly. What do you think?
Ginny: Oh, so good!
Jarad: Yeah, and the award … Here I’ll read it out to you and for the listeners. SACBA … SACBA Bilby Awards 2020 Best Interview Radio Adelaide Tim Ferguson Jarad McLoughlin. And I … I was a bit bummed that they didn’t add in Destigmatised when they … when they engraved the trophy, but all the same I’m … I got no … I’m really happy that I won it and it’s there in my possession. And hopefully I’ll get to win many awards in the years to come if I get more opportunities to present and produce radio programs on community radio or even in commercial radio. Or I might get a chance to … to get a job somewhere at the ABC.
Ginny: Thank you so much, Jarad. And thanks to our audience for listening to this episode of Amplified. Please do listen in next time.
If you’re not already part of our social media communities, please join us online. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. We also have a website – www.reframingautism.org.au – which has a treasure trove of Autistic-created resources. Bye now!