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VCDR 2022 “Eugenics Apology” and Reconciliation

From the VCDR 2022 Legislative Platform

Now that the State has apologized for the harm done by Vermont’s Eugenics law to persons with disabilities, indigenous Vermonters, Vermonters of color, and others; VCDR supports the creation of one or more truth and reconciliation commissions to examine and begin the process of dismantling institutional, structural, and systemic discrimination in Vermont, both past and present including all those affected by Vermont’s Eugenics law and to raise awareness about the ways in which ableism, racism and prejudice against  these Vermonters continues today.

VCDR believes that the first task force established to further the apology for Vermont’s eugenic practices must honor the legislative intent “to examine and begin the process of dismantling institutional, structural, and systemic discrimination in Vermont” by including all the groups harmed by eugenics who were named in the apology, including people with disabilities. This groundbreaking task force must be inclusive, in recognition of the harm that was experienced in the past and that still shadows public policies and practices today.

Since state-sanctioned eugenics policies targeted the poor and persons with mental and physical disabilities, and individuals, families, and communities whose heritage was documented as French Canadian, French-Indian, or of other mixed ethnic or racial composition and persons whose extended families’ successor generations now identify as Abenaki or as members of other indigenous bands or tribes, all these groups must be part of the foundational work to recognize and make reparation for the history and legacy of eugenic beliefs and practices.

Date: February 24, 2021
To: House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs
From: Ed Paquin, Executive Director, Disability Rights Vermont,
for the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights
In re:

J.R.H. 2 – Joint resolution sincerely apologizing and expressing sorrow and regret to all individual Vermonters and their families and descendants who were harmed as a result of State-sanctioned eugenics policies and practices

Dear Committee Members,

Vermonters pride ourselves in the wonderful and strong community that we have built over the years. We glory in the history of our 14 years as a republic and in being the 14th state. We’ve maintained traditions of strong local government and take pride in our citizen legislature and our ability to resolve or at least make progress on challenging issues through civil debate.

We would fool ourselves, though, to think that we are above the ugly history of discrimination and cruelty based on disability, race, national origin and economic status that has tarnished our nation and is rightfully gaining more of the attention it deserves today.

J.R.H.2 lays out the hideous action of a former General Assembly that was supported by academia and a society that was more than willing to place itself above others, even going so far as to wrest control of their reproduction, their right to raise their children, their right to live where they choose and their right to be free from unjust institutionalization and incarceration. And all to preserve the dominance of a culture that fashioned itself as able to judge the very worth of the future existence of other citizens. There should be little wonder that Vermont helped provide inspiration to the genocidal ethic of the Third Reich.

Bias today might be less explicit, but it nevertheless still exists and it is crucial that we recall and address the past because the effects of the past continue in more than just attitudes, as is acknowledged in J.R.H.2. We need only look at cases like “Ashley X” in which the dominant culture sterilized and deformed a child believing their judgement to be above any appreciation of her personhood.

VCDR Supports the passage of J.R.H.2 and appreciates that you have included a recognition that beyond apology, further legislative action is needed to address the current, real results and fallout of eugenics. The disability community supports a beginning to truth and reconciliation.
Thank you for your work to address this alarming element of our past and for your continued willingness to shape a future that is more just.