July 28, 2011 | by Kathi Wolfe
Two minority groups with a lot in common

On a summer night, two lovers couldn’t wait to leave Tuscumbia, Ala., to get married in Boston. As they began their trip, a shot was heard. Waving his gun, the brother of the bride-to-be expressed disgust with their plans. Facing the disapproval of their families, and knowing that their marriage would be illegal in many states, the couple decided not to wed.

These thwarted lovebirds weren’t a same-sex couple dealing with trigger-happy homophobia. This couple, whose marital plans were nixed in 1916, were journalist Peter Fagan and Helen Keller, the deaf-blind author and American Civil Liberties Union co-founder. Then, many states prohibited people with disabilities from marrying. Some of these laws remained on the books until the 1970s.

Fighting for marriage equality is one of many things that the LGBT and disability communities historically (and today) have in common.

This month is Disability Pride Month, observed to celebrate the history of people with disabilities and passage 21 years ago of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits disability-based discrimination.

As a legally blind lesbian, watching the first same-sex couples getting married in New York, I’m proud to be queer and crip. (Reclaiming the pejorative word “cripple,” many of us proudly call ourselves queer and crip.)

Nearly one in five Americans (51.2 million) has a disability and from three to five million people are LGBT and have disabilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

We queer crips are of all races, classes, genders, orientations and occupations. Our disabilities include HIV, diabetes, cancer and depression (all covered under the ADA).

If you’re LGBT and a recovering alcoholic, you, too are protected by the ADA.

As a queer crip, the idea of Rep. Michele Bachmann being president makes me shudder. When you’re LGBT and have a disability, you run into people who not only want to “pray the gay away,” but folks who believe if you only prayed more, you’d no longer be disabled.

The sexual oppression of the LGBT and disability community has encouraged both groups’ marginalization, said Bethany Stevens, a policy analyst and sexual health expert at the Center for Leadership and Disability at Georgia State University, in a telephone interview. “Both [groups] are sexually demonized. This is the root of homophobia and ableism [prejudice against disabled people],” said Stevens, who uses a wheelchair and is marrying her partner Sara in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 5. LGBT people and disabled folk have a common history of being scorned by the government and medical establishment. The late Dr. Linda Laubenstein, who had polio, was one of the first to fight for HIV research funding in the early AIDS epidemic (when President Reagan wouldn’t say the word AIDS).

People who are queer and who have disabilities both experience bullying, said Calif. state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) author of the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act, which requires California schools to begin teaching gay and disability history, in a telephone interview. “Both experience the cruelty of harassment … for the mere fact of being different.”

Yet though LGBT people and disabled folk are marginalized groups, queer crips often don’t feel welcome in the queer community. This is partly because of the inaccessibility of many bars and other LGBT meeting places. But a key reason why queer crips are outsiders in the LGBT community, is because people “perceive us as undesirable and uninterested in sex,” Stevens said.

Not true. We not only have sex, we love it!

“Many able-bodied LGBT people have visualized their ideal lovers right down to their preferred physical requirements, never once thinking that their perfect lover may have a disability,” wrote Raymond Luczak, a deaf gay writer and author of “Road Work Ahead: Poems,” in an e-mail.

Years of prejudice won’t be easily swept away. Yet, let’s make a beginning during this season of Pride. I invite you to get know us queer crips.

 

4 Comments
  • Only one comment: too bad Helen Keller’s love was the co-founder of the ACLU. She’s dropped a step on my ladder of respect.

  • The word “queer” historically has been and continues to be a hate term. A recent CNN piece revealed it was one of the words used in the bullying that led to the suicide of 11 year old Carl Joseph Walker. News reports include it as being used during a bashing by the police in Florida, and during other hate crimes. While it may not be the preferred term of bashers today, it clearly remains one of the favorite words used, and part of why we know hate crimes are hate crimes is because the attacker yells names at the victim during the attack. It helps the attacker feel justified in punishing the victim if he believes the victim deserves to be punished for being different. And what word says “different” better than “queer”? While most news reports don’t quote the actual words used, when they do, that is usually one of them. Providing evidence in a hate crime is another reason to leave this word to the haters. I understand the concept of “reclaiming” it, but you can’t reclaim something that was never yours. It belongs to the haters. Let them keep it. Even the king of he N word, Richard Pryor, quit using the N word before he died because his years of experience as well as pleas from other black people taught him you can’t change a hate word into a positive word, and the attempt only gives license to use it to the haters.

    Another problem with the q word is that, having been used as a hate term during violent attacks, many of us who have been bashed, re-experience that violent attack when we see or hear that word. Hopefully you have never been bashed, but many of us who have been, experience various degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and certain situations and words trigger mental flashbacks and resulting physiological responses including the fight or flight response. Actual physiological changes take place, and they are not healthy. My triggers include parking lots after dark, as well as the words “queer” and “fag”. With time and years of therapy, I had hoped the PTSD response would entirely fade away, but now, 33 years since the first of my 3 bashings, I still experience a rush of the anxiety, flashback, and resulting blood pressure and hormonal changes associated with PTSD every time I hear or see “queer”, no matter how it is used. My adrenaline and the over 50 other hormonal changes that result, are still not back to normal after reading this article. And I know I am not alone in that. It remains a trigger for many of us. And that applies to those of us who were recently bashed as well as those who were bashed a long time ago, so it is not a generational thing, but something that continues to cause harm to gay people today.

    I hope this helps you understand why many of us don’t accept the q word and helps explain why a hate term can never be fully “reclaimed”, and why we need to use positive terms to describe ourselves.

  • Nice Equal, it would be nicer if you gave a damn about what this article was about though, people are using the word Queer, Nigga and Crip (which you didn’t mention) and yes some who put more energy on words then the person themselves will see it offensive but we need to get past being sensitve to words and being more sensitive to actions. If she wants to call herself Queer then let her, you know where she stands and you know her reason to say so respect HER and see it as also valid. You can’t dictate lives and cultures yet say you fight for equality, equality comes in all shapes and sizes and you have to choose your battles, if all you got out of this is being offended of the word queer, then you are a perfect example of why this word battle stuff is nothing more then a distraction.

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