Feminist Hero Friday: Mia Mingus

by Abaki Beck

Our feminist hero this week is Mia Mingus, a queer, physically disabled Korean adoptee writer and organizer. She is a strong advocate for disability justice, prison abolition, transformative justice, and ending sexual violence. To this end, she is a core-member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, which works to create responses to child sexual abuse that do not rely on police, prisons, and the criminal legal system. She also runs the blog Leaving Evidence, and is a popular public speaker. Her work has received various accolades; she was named an Asian and Pacific Islander women’s Champion Change by the White House in 2013 and won the Creating Change Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2008.

Mingus is passionate about interdependency, transformative justice, and striving to build communities where people are free of violence. Indeed, concepts of home, belonging, and community are huge themes in her work, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. For Mingus, home is a place free of silence, isolation, and trauma. She is perhaps most well known for her disability justice activism, a crucial part of intersectional activism and liberation. Though often excluded from even progressive social justice movements, Mingus argues that ableism must be included because it is so interconnected to all struggles. According to Mingus, “it undergrids notions of whose bodies are considered valuable, desirable, and disposable.”  

Disabilities are often framed as a “lacking” or something that should be overcome. Instead, Mingus argues that disabilities should be seen as a political experience, and a community with specific histories. For example, for much of history, people with disabilities (whether mental or physical) were institutionalized and removed from society, or were denied access to education or employment. These histories and structural inequalities continue to impact people with disabilities today, and should be recognized with other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism.

Often, when we think about disability justice, we think about two things: access and discrimination. It is true that people with disabilities often face discrimination in employment and education. Additionally, people with disabilities often struggle on a daily basis with accessing offices, restaurants, apartment buildings, and more. While access and discrimination are both crucial issues, other disparities face disabled folks as well. For example, they are at higher risk of violence than their non-disabled peers, and children with disabilities are four times more likely to be victims of violence. When fighting to end physical and sexual violence, disability justice must be part of that conversation.  

In particular, Mingus critiques the focus on “access” in disability justice. In a 2013 interview in the Feminist Wire, she noted:

Access has to be done in service of something.  What I mean is that access for the sake of access is not necessarily libratory, but access for the sake of connection, breaking isolation, love, justice and liberation is libratory. There is plenty of access being done that is not libratory.”

For Mingus, disability justice activism should not start upon encountering inaccessibility, but should be incorporated into everyday movements towards liberation. How do we productively incorporate disability justice into all fights for liberation - such as ending violence against women or combating police violence?  How do we challenge ableism in our everyday lives? How do we create truly loving, embracing communities?

To further engage with our Feminist Hero and her work, here are a few critical and informative pieces she wrote for her blog, Leaving Evidence: