Disability justice activist Stacey Park Milbern, a national leader in making the disability rights movement more inclusive of people of color and non-traditional gender identities, died May 19 of complications from surgery. It was her 33rd birthday.
“She called out the mainstream disability movement for marginalizing people of color and nontraditional gender identities,” wrote the New York Times in its June 6 obituary.
As her friend and fellow activist Andraéa LaVant told KQED, by simply being herself Milbern “was centering intersectionality.” She had muscular dystrophy and came from a mixed-race family: her father is white and mother is Korean. She identified as queer.
After beginning her activism in North Carolina, where she grew up, Milbern moved to the Bay Area at age 24. She subsequently founded the Disability Justice Culture Club, a community for organizing and promoting Milbern's vision of an inclusive disability justice movement.
Milbern became an outspoken activist on numerous issues, ranging from biases in the medical profession against people with disabilities to the outsized impact of police violence against marginalized communities.
In fall 2019, when the California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric shut down electricity to millions of residents in response to widespread wildfires, the Disability Justice Culture Club organized a mutual aid project called Power to Live to ensure people with disabilities continued to receive medical supplies. Most recently, the group has been heavily involved in facilitating access to resources for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Milbern was a board member of the WITH Foundation, a grant provider with a focus on providing accessible health care services for people with disabilities.
She was also the co-producer of Crip Camp: The Official Virtual Experience, the impact campaign for Netflix's popular documentary, “Crip Camp,” which began streaming in April. The film tells the story of an upstate New York summer camp in the early 1970s that served as a launching pad for the then-bourgeoning disability rights movement.
“What a blow to lose Stacey when our communities need her leadership more than ever, and at a time when her strength, insight, and grit were receiving increased recognition outside of disability circles, giving her a greater platform to advance her life's work,” the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) said in a statement. “We will not have the gift of learning where her charismatic leadership would have taken us. But let there be no doubt: What Stacey gave us, in a relatively short time, will continue benefiting others for years to come.”