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.