As I write, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on same-sex marriage at any moment. Everyone I know, queer or hetero, is on tenterhooks, hoping, that, as seems likely, the court will decide in favor of marriage equality. Among those most interested in the court’s decision are those of us who are queer and disabled and/or LGBT parents of children with disabilities. To us, the court’s ruling will not only be historic, but a wake-up call to the LGBT community — a community that has often excluded or been largely unaware of people with disabilities.
April DeBoer and Joyce Rowse, one of the couples in the same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court, have adopted four children. Two of their kids have developmental disabilities. In 2011, the couple was driving down a road with three of their children when a truck almost swerved into them. “It was that moment, that realization,” DeBoer told the New York Times, “that we needed to get things in order.” The couple found that Michigan doesn’t permit two unmarried parents to adopt a child. This led them to be a part of the same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court.
DeBoer and Rowse are far from alone. No matter how the court rules, LGBT people will continue to raise families. And, as nearly one in five Americans has a disability (according to the U.S. Census), more of our children will likely have special needs.
Historically, the LGBT community has, by and large, turned away from those of us who are queer and crip. (Some of us have reclaimed the word “crip” as an umbrella term for people with disabilities.) Let’s start with sex. Many of us are frequently seen as without a sexual orientation, asexual or as objects of fetishized sexuality. “I never thought there were blind lesbians,” a man commented on one of my Blade pieces.
I’d bet that one reason we’re often not viewed as sexual is that our community’s inaccessibility makes it difficult for many of us to be out and about in LGBT places. Corbett O’Toole, 63, who uses a wheelchair and lives near San Francisco, has been fighting the lack of access in queer spaces from bars to bookstores since 1973. Yet, today, nearly 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed on July 26, 1990, there’s been little change. O’Toole, author of the new book “Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History,” told the Blade, “Information about events rarely tells if they’re wheelchair accessible. Conferences almost never have sign language interpreters,” she said. “You’re not told if printed materials will be in Braille – you have to figure it out.”
Often parents who are LGBT adopt children with disabilities, said O’Toole, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy. “It’s frequently difficult to advocate for what your kid needs in school, or medically, or from insurance or Social Security if you’re out. Often, these systems would deny my daughter services if they knew I was queer.”
DL Adams and her former partner Kate have a daughter named Olivia, who is on the autism spectrum. “We were the first unmarried couple in Texas to adopt a child,” Adams, who has a Ph.D. in special education, told the Blade.
Olivia, now 20, just completed her sophomore year at the State University of New York in Albany. Yet, parenting a child with a disability hasn’t been easy, said Adams, who teaches women’s and gender studies at the University of Toledo. Frequently, gatherings of LGBT parents and their children aren’t welcoming toward or accessible to disabled kids, she said. “Often these groups aren’t physically accessible,” Adams said, “with kids on the spectrum – they don’t try to make sure the spaces aren’t too stimulating. It’s isolating.”
Let’s start welcoming, rather than turning away, the adults and kids with disabilities in the LGBT community.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.