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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Autistic Candidate Wins in Pennsylvania

In The Politics of Autism, I write:  "Support from the general public will be an important political asset for autistic people. Another will be their sheer numbers, since a larger population of identified autistic adults will mean more autistic voters and activists."  Previous posts have discussed autistic officeholders and political candidates in New YorkGeorgiaTexas, and Washington State

Ivan Pereira at ABC:
As an openly bisexual, autistic woman, Jessica Benham, of Pittsburgh, told ABC News she decided to run for a state legislature seat when she realized her communities have not been well represented in government.

Benham, 29, who co-founded and ran a grassroots advocacy group The Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, said other autistic and LGTBQ Pennsylvanians share her sentiment.

"I was hearing from my community that they wanted to someone who was like them to be represented," she said. "Their voice was long unheard."

Benham will fill that void in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives next year. The Democrat won the race for District 36 -- which includes parts of Pittsburg -- with 62.5% of the vote on Election Day, according to election results.

"There is a stereotype that public office is only for people with neurotypical social skills, people who are extroverted," Sam Crane, the legal director for the nonprofit Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told ABC News. "Ms. Benham's success might help others realize that's not typically the case."

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has a program for college and graduate students called the autism campus inclusion project, which trains autistic members on public policy and connects them with elected officials and policymakers. Benham is an alumnus of the program, according to Crane.

"One of the things that we tell our participants in ACI, our leadership training, is if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. We want to make sure that autistic advocates are involved in all of the policy discussions," Crane said.

Crane said she there have been other autistic members who have been elected to office at local levels including, Yuh-Line Niou, who serves in New York State Assembly.