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December 9, 2004

In Memoriam

I learned this morning that Mary Frances Platt died in a hospital on September 15. The explanation provided was "complications from disability." Many may remember her for the anger that drove her to fight tirelessly for justice, yet that passion was infectious and transformative. Nonetheless, the moments of gentleness and affection that came after we'd duked out a solution to some seemingly intractable problem are what I remember best. I always thought we'd bump into each other again and find another project on which to work...

A memorial is apparently being planned for this spring in Northampton...

Mary Frances is one of the two individuals who've had the most profound impact on my life. I met her during organizing for the National Lesbian Conference, held in Atlanta in 1991. While I had always been concerned about issues of racism, both class and disability were new areas (and oh did I have a lot to learn!) Mary Frances saw a budding ally in me, and taught me more than I can ever say about accessibility - attitudinal as well as physical and economic.

We worked together on access issues for several women's music festivals, and she's the one who recruited me to the Social Justice Education program where I earned my Master's in 1996. Time spent with Mary Frances was never dull! While most of the memories are about work and activism, there were many mellow (and conspiratorial!) times at her camp near Pelham, MA. I'd say, mary Frances' spirit was too big for her body, and with that body (!) - you know I'm saying a lot. Peace, now, my friend.

Here are some additional links I can find to info about her on the web:

by cripfemme at Blogit

by pitbull poet at no pity

and some of Mary Frances' writing:

Homesick Song

The Belchertown Crip Railroad

No Big Brother Here

The new Refugees

The Terry Schindler Schiavo Crippled Kickball Team

Rebecca, Me, and the Freak Show

Posted by Steph at December 9, 2004 9:12 PM

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~ via email:

"I fear that Mary Frances & I had more bumps than gentleness, and part of what I remember & value is in her influence on wonderful people like you."

I continue to think about Mary Frances, especially in terms of what she taught me about "fighting fair". Her style of NOT "beating around the bush" helped me develop confidence that dealing with things directly could turn out well in the end. It's taken many years to develop some adequacy in the requisite skills, and I still seek to refine them. I honor her, though, for being one of the first to draw me into such engagement.

Posted by: steph at December 13, 2004 2:11 AM

~ also via email from an SJEP faculty member:

"Thanks for sharing."

Posted by: steph at December 13, 2004 2:15 AM

I received a copy of Mary Frances' obituary from the good people at Lesbian Connection:

MARY FRANCES PLATT: age 51, passed away at her home on September 15 from complications related to her disabilities and from an infection acquired during a hospital stay. She had been in the midst of packing to travel to the Florida Keys, where she hoped to get well. A longtime disability rights activist, Mary Frances was a founding member of Women Creating Accessible Community, and sheíll be remembered for her groundbreaking work in creating access and raising awareness of disability issues at womynís festivals and events across the country. She won a landmark case in Massachusetts that allowed disabled people to bring their service dogs into doctorsí offices, and her beloved service dog, Lucy! was with her during all of her hospital stays. A widely anthologized writer on womynís disability and lesbian issues, her work is included in THE FEMME MYSTIC, THE SECOND COMING, Joan Nestleís POWER OF DESIRE, as well as in a number of feminist publications (Maize, Sojourner, Ragged Edge, etc.). She also wrote a childrenís book, which is forthcoming. In her later years she was very active in the movement against Physician Induced Death, understanding the particular vulnerability of disabled people in relation to this issue. Services are being planned for next spring in Northampton, MA, and we welcome your interest and input. For more information or to share stories, etc., contact Jennifer Bagnell, PO Box 2247, Amherst, MA, 01004, or email spandexqueenjen@aol.com. You can find a link to her reminiscences at www.raggededgemagazine.com.

Posted by: steph at December 24, 2004 9:44 PM

Here is a link to a "Requiem" for Mary Frances by Josie Byzek:


Josie's done a much nicer job of expressing the sentiment I share, that Mary Frances' spirit was too big for her body.

She keeps crossing my mind, different times, different places, different memories. The huge fight we had in Indiana on the way to the Nat'l Women's Music Festival. Wow. THAT was a doozie! Sitting on her scooter while co-facilitating anti-ableism workshops. Playing with Magic (I never met Lucy). Questioning access everywhere. Is it accessible? Why not? How to make it so? She taught me that access didn't have to be ugly either; I wish she could have seen the ramp I designed for my home in Vermont, how it wraps around the porch, framing it. I'd have never thought of INTEGRATING it on my own. Making a ramp beautiful. Creating access as an invitation, not an inconvenience.

Posted by: steph at December 24, 2004 9:53 PM

Here are comments left at http://webeone.org/getout/MaryFrances I've copied them and am pasting them here because a spammer cut off some of them:

"I vow not to stop until this body has left this plane." Her words still haven't stopped.
Mary Frances Platt has left our company and we will miss her.
----------------------------------------------------------------------Mary Frances,

I never did get to meet you. I wanted to. I read a lot of your work through posts on Ragged Edge.

Your work was and will always be invaluable. Your work provided me a place to step into courage and persistence. A place to belong.

Your contributions in media brought me to understand vision, persistence and soul.
The hard work, the continuing efforts to move forward with all ones fullness.

Josie Byzek poem is a gift of who you are and what you brought to the PWD community as a lesbian woman, media maker and writer.

I thank you for your contributions and work. I am sad to have never met you but your soul lives on and will live on; through all of who you are and what you shared with us as a community.

You will be missed

Helen Walsh
Diverse Disability Media

Josie Byzek offers this poem:

A Requiem for Mary Frances Platt

My sister,
You gathered to you those who no one else would know,

Because you felt compelled.

Because you know what it is to be left out, pushed out,

Told you don't belong by those who are just like you.

God damn you took up space! Fat, crippled dyke you'd say, and we gasp --

She said it out loud. You always said it out loud.

Your ideas, your mind never could fit any over-sized super-charged scooter.

No blankets on a bariatric bed could ever cover the expanse of your heart.

Your soul was too damn big, too open wide, to fit

Any tight philosophy, any constricting policy,

Any pumpkin-like van, any carpet-less apartment,

Any wild and person-less national park.

My sister,

Only heaven is sized for such a soul.

We were cyberfriends. I think we actually only met twice, maybe three times. We supported each other around our shared belief that size discrimination is as unacceptable in the disability community as discrimination against people with disabilities is in our larger communities. She was edgy, opinionated and tough. We needed her and she leaves one hell of a void! Please remember that Martin Luther King Jr's quote, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", includes the most oppressed, regardless of why they are oppressed. Mary Frances, I'll miss you, but I won't forget you! You made a difference, and that's the best thing any of us could hope to achieve in this lifetime.
Marcie Roth

I met Mary Frances at the ADAPT action in Memphis, TN. She was camped out in her van in the parking lot and visited with all of us who passed by. I admired her independence and economy at coming to a protest any way that she could. We chatted several times and shared points of view on many things. Thereafter, I followed her postings from time to time on Mediatalk and found we had even more in common. She is remembered.

Kathleen Kleinmann, kathleen@tripil.com
Mary Frances was a strong and passionate member of Not Dead Yet who participated in a number of actions, including the Hemlock conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Singer action at Princeton. In folk singing tradition, she developed several songs for Not Dead Yet. My favorite was sung to the tune of "Ain't Satisfied," a song from the women's movement. One verse and chorus are:

The Hemlock Society,
Their lies we saw right through,
Some of us knew all along,
They kill crips just like you.

We're not dead yet,
We love our crippled lives,
We want to live,
Not to be euthan

Posted by: steph at December 24, 2004 9:59 PM

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