Britney Spears’ shocking testimony Wednesday should spark outrage. But disabled people, activists and advocates think that the public fury surrounding Spears needs to shift in order to see the larger issue.
“I hate the way non-disabled people gaslight disabled people about Britney Spears’ situation because guardianship and conservatorship is not unique,” Imani Barbarin, a disability rights and inclusion activist, said in a video posted to Twitter Wednesday.
In her video, Barbarin admitted that Spears’ claims are indeed “horrific, but again, it’s not unique.”
“This is something that disabled people are scared of all the time,” Barbarin emphasized. “Because there are instances in which disabled people will ask the wrong question to the wrong person, and wound up in a conservatorship or guardianship.”
Many disabled people and advocates also spoke out about the topic on Twitter Wednesday:
The 39-year-old “Toxic” singer has been locked into a conservatorship since 2008 after she was hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation. On Wednesday, the pop star spoke before Judge Brenda Penny — who is overseeing her legal arrangement — after asking for the chance to address the court in her own words. In her testimony, Spears alleged that she was forced to work, take lithium and be on birth control, even though she wants to have another child.
Spears ultimately described her situation as “abusive.”
“I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive,” Spears said. “And that we can sit here all day and say, ‘Oh, conservatorships are here to help people.’ But ma’am, there’s a thousand conservatorships that are abusive as well.”
Guardianship and conservatorship actually affect about 1.3 million adults across the country, according to a 2018 report by the National Council on Disability.
And Spears is legally viewed as disabled.
“We don’t know whether Spears identifies herself as disabled,” Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a staff attorney at the ACLU Disability Rights Project, told HuffPost via email in August 2020. “But we know that, by placing her under conservatorship, the court is de facto identifying her as disabled.”
Brennan-Krohn told HuffPost last year that although judges, families and lawyers often view conservatorships as “a benign way to help people with disabilities,” they’re more accurately “systems through which people who have disabilities — or are perceived by a court to have disabilities — lose their civil rights and decision-making capabilities.”
Sara Luterman, a disabled journalist who has written extensively about the subject, tweeted a more optimistic take on the discourse surrounding Spears’ case.
“If Britney Spears makes fighting guardianship/conservatorship in general her thing,” Luterman wrote, “it would be completely game-changing for the disability rights movement.”
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