Independent Living Movement Ireland

A tribute to Selina Bonnie from ILMI

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the sudden passing of our friend and comrade, Selina Bonnie who passed away this weekend. ILMI delayed in posting this tribute until now so that all of Selina’s family members in Ireland and abroad could be told of her passing.

Selina Bonnie Ilmi

It was with great shock that we learned of Selina’s passing. Selina was known, loved and respected by so many in the Movement and beyond as a real trailblazer in disability equality, pushing for equality for disabled people and specifically disabled women in so many spaces. Her passing leaves a void for all of us that will be impossible to replace.

As a professional, academic and activist, Selina has been actively involved in the practical realisation of disabled people’s rights in Ireland and beyond. In drafting a tribute, it is an impossible task to capture the range and breath of what Selina as an activist achieved, and even still that will fall short in capturing the impact Selina had on so many people’s lives and the deep emotional connections she made, and how deeply her loss will be felt by so many.

For those who know how confident and proud she was about her identity as a disabled woman, it was quite a surprise to hear Selina honestly recount that in her youth she struggled with her identity until her early twenties. Her pathway to disability activism came through her work in music, the arts and engaging with LGBT organisations. She was inspired to organise Ireland’s first disability and sexuality conference in the Mansion House, which was entitled All Different, All Sexual in 1995.
Disability and sexual equality became a lifelong passion for Selina, as she studied sexual equality in Leeds University, where Professor Colin Barnes supervised her dissertation entitled “Facilitating Sexual Expression Within the Independent Living Movement in Ireland”. She later lectured on sexuality at the summer school in Santander, Spain and subsequently wrote a chapter on disability and sexuality, published by University College Cork.

Selina’s involvement in the Independent Living Movement began in 1995 when she met Martin Naughton and from that moment, she became involved in CIL, becoming the Public Affairs officer and working with Martin, John Doyle, Dermot Walsh, Joe T Mooney and Christian O’Reilly on actions to advance independent living.

For Selina, being an activist wasn’t enough and so she became a “changemaker”, working within structures, building allies for change. Selina put this to practice in her professional life in her role as Access Officer in South Dublin County Council, starting in 2001. Selina has been instrumental in practically embedding inclusion into the work of SDCC and other agencies locally and nationally. Selina had a knack for alliance building and finding ways to get other people to take inclusion and access seriously saying, “if you can speak to architects and planners in their own language, real progress can be made”. Selina led many important local and national initiatives, including the coordination of National Accessibility Week.

Selina joined the board of CIL in January 2018 and she played an active role as CIL transformed into ILMI, especially in ensuring that ILMI’s language and vision was strongly informed by a social model analysis of disability and that all of our work would be informed by a commitment to intersectional Disability Equality.
Among Selina’s many, many talents were that she was a meticulous proof-reader. As part of her role in South Dublin County Council, she would plain English-proof documents, and she was hugely generous and patient in doing so for all ILMI’s key policy documents where her attention to detail was second to none.

Selina’s ability to see the bigger picture was always evident in her involvement in how ILMI should develop as a DPO. With her expertise in reproductive rights, she was a proud ambassador for the University of Galway Re(al) Productive Justice project and led ILMI’s involvement in the Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Coalition in the last number of years, speaking passionately about her own lived experience as a “survivor of the Assisted Human Reproduction system in Ireland”.

It is no secret that Selina’s proudest and most cherished role was that of a mother. Her devotion to her beloved daughter is a shining example of her boundless love and strength. Selina’s personal journey fuelled her passion for reproductive justice, offering support and solidarity to those who all too often felt isolated in this experience.

Although Selina was a private person, she shared her experience of ableist attitudes she and husband faced in accessing AHR to ensure that other disabled persons and their partners would not have to experience as much heartache, exclusion and prejudice in the future. When Selina spoke to politicians and policy makers about her experiences and how legislation needed to be equality proofed to secure reproductive rights for disabled persons, they listened.

Selina was not only a brilliant academic, a trailblazer in reproductive justice for disabled people and a fearless activist. She was kind, patient and wise. As one peer said, “Selina didn’t say much in meetings, but that was because she didn’t need to. When Selina spoke, it was polite, but clear and so concise and to the point. And it usually gave the clarity that we needed to move forward”.
Another peer noted that even with her deep knowledge, Selina never was never arrogant about her wisdom. Her beautiful way with others meant that she very generously supported others in their critical thinking and analysis. “You never left a meeting or a gentle chat with Selina without feeling you had learned something from her, but in a very subtle way”.

Alongside all of her insight, strategic vision there was a very gentle, caring nature to everything Selina did. She would be the first to recognise other disabled people’s achievements or the need for ILMI to check in with people for support.
Selina was not only a proud disabled woman; she was also very proud of her Indian / Irish heritage and continually directed ILMI’s work as a DPO to be intersectional in its nature. She never sought the limelight but also never shied away from taking on key roles when asked, including leading a number of key online ILMI events in recent years. One of her undoubted highlights was the conversation that she held with her friend, the late Judith Heumann, a few days before Judith was to attend the Oscars for her part in the movie Crip Camp. Their deep mutual respect was evident on the night and the recording is one of Selina’s many contributions to ILMI that we can treasure.
Selina willingly shared her insight and wisdom in many ILMI spaces such as Strategies for Change, and she was one of the first volunteers for the online Conversations about Activism and Change. When Sarah Fitzgerald saw the opportunity to turn these into an ILMI book documenting Disability Rights in Ireland, Selina couldn’t have been happier. She was so proud to be part of the historic launch, and with her usual ability to summarise the occasion, she noted that it was a book written by a disabled woman, capturing the words of disabled activists, funded by a disabled man’s legacy that made the book so unique. She tirelessly championed the book in her work, and immediately ensured it was stocked in libraries in South Dublin and beyond and secured an event for the book at the prestigious Red Line book festival in October 2023, where she spoke with Peter Kearns about the significance of the book.

She was immensely proud of how ILMI had evolved as a DPO and was deeply proud of her contributions in making the organisation stronger. She was always delighted to see emerging disabled activists finding their voice and seeing other disabled people raise collective issues. For Selina, it was always about being strategic, it was always about having a shared Disability Equality analysis, and it was always about building a cross-impairment collective. Selina was a gentle woman who responded to the call of disability activism, with grace, generosity and dignity.

Selina had a wonderful sense of humour. She was a keen cook, she was passionate about music and she had a wicked sense of style and fashion. Family was everything to Selina and she always spoke with a deep sense of love and pride for her husband and daughter, and also her mother, father, siblings and extended family.

ILMI would like to express our deepest condolences to Selina’s husband Rob, her beloved daughter Saira Noor and her extended family.

Rest in power Selina.

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