Reader born with dwarfism: "Life has gotten better" since Florida banned dwarf-tossing
A few readers have written Buzz in response to our story about Rep. Ritch Workman's efforts to repeal several state laws, including Florida's 22-year ban on dwarf-tossing in bars.
Bob Whittemore, an Arizona man born with a type of dwarfism called Achondroplasia, is one of those readers outraged by the idea. He emailed his concerns to us, Workman, the Washington Post and Visit Orlando officials. Excerpts of his essay are below.
Have you ever been out on a beautiful day at a shopping mall with your spouse or significant other, when, from out of nowhere, someone with a video camera jumps in front of you, giggling, and beings to video you?
Have you ever, after a productive day of business, walked into a bar with your colleagues and customers to celebrate the day, and are suddenly grabbed by a total stranger who wants to pick you up and throw you as far as he can, because it would be a “hoot”?
The incident with the drunken clown who wanted to toss me happened back in the 1980's, in an upscale bar in Southern Florida. Yes, I said “upscale”. You don't have to be an uneducated hick to do stupid things; copious quantities of alcohol makes many people stupid – from Ivy League professionals to those who will proudly tell you that they attend church every Sunday.
The incident with the video camera happened last year, and was fortunately cut short by an observant police officer, who discretely stepped in and took the young man aside and inquired why he was harassing us.
What is it about me that would provoke these strange incidents?
I am a 55-year-old man who has been married for 30 years. I am an award-winning writer, video producer, and event planner. I bring meetings to cities that infuse millions into the local economy. I am an occasional Presbyterian who regularly votes independent and likes to support social causes. Oh, and I was born with a birth defect: I have a condition called Achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism.
In case you're still wondering, the common denominator that triggered these incidents is not the fact that I am a Presbyterian.
Fortunately, shortly after the incident in the Florida bar where the drunk tried to "toss me," Florida passed a law making the highly-publicized crowd-drawing sports bar "sport" of "dwarf tossing" illegal.
Since then, I can truthfully say that life has gotten better. In fact, life is great – I am truly blessed. Employers measure me by my results, not size, architects are making the world more accessible, actors with dwarfism are getting dramatic roles because of their acting talent, not their "strange appearance," and the world seems to be getting a tad more compassionate.
To quote Paula Golladay, who works with an association for people who have had a limb or limbs amputated, "All we ask for is respect. Nothing more, no special privileges, no pandering by the media."
Speaking of pandering, it seems that some people want to go back in time. On October 3, 2011, Florida Representative Ritch Workman introduced HB 4063, legislation that would repeal a state ban on dwarf tossing.
Really? I mean, seriously?
Workman explained, “As much as I despise the idea of dwarf-tossing, it shouldn’t be illegal. It should be up to the little person whether they want to be hired to do that, and up to the bar whether they want to employ such people, and up to the patrons to whether they want to go there or not.”
Baloney. This flawed logic could be used to justify all sorts of illegal or immoral behavior, and it doesn’t ring true. Rather, it smells of a cheap headline-grabbing stunt, in the same spirit of say-something-shocking to get ahead Rep. Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) “You lie!” and Ben Quayle (R-Arizona) "Barack Obama is the worst president in history."
This political stunt, if allowed to move forward, will end up with people getting seriously hurt. Many people who are born with dwarfism have serious spinal issues. I recently had back surgery on six levels on my back, due to severe spinal stenosis. I bounced back after surgery, due to talented doctors and physical therapists, and now travel more than 75,000 miles per year for business, but if one drunken idiot inspired by Representative Workman’s bill grabs me a decides to toss me, I could easily be paralyzed for life.
Oddly enough, I am in Florida this week on business – my third business trip to Florida this year. And, while I am here, I had planned to check out a few of the resorts in the Orlando area for a 2,000 room night conference in 2013 that will bring much needed hotel, rental car, airport and other sales taxes to the Sunshine State, not to mention the direct revenue to restaurants and entertainment venues.
The other three cities that are competing for this two-year chunk of business are in states that don’t have dehumanizing and dangerous bills such as Mr. Workman’s.
Representative Workman’s bill dehumanizes and trivializes a segment of our population, making it socially acceptable to treat people as inferior members of our society. Worse, it encourages a truly frightening group of people who thrive on hate. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of active hate groups in the United States has risen a staggering 54% since 2000. People who are born with a difference are often victims of this hate – Google the words “midget” and “hate” to see what I mean, and you will also see where some of the videos and photos of people with disabilities that are taken surreptitiously (or not) end up.
While most in our society are advancing in the areas of inclusion and diversity, people who spread hate disguised as politics have encouraged a disturbing minority into negative behavior.
When you make a joke of a population segment, Representative Workman, you empower others to do the same. With power comes responsibility – as an elected official, you should never forget about the boats in your wake.