By Lorraine Longhi, June 2015 Issue.
Within every minority group, there are questions that go unanswered. For persons with disabilities, sexuality is often a taboo topic, uncomfortable for some to broach. Within the LGBT community, questions about what will happen after someone becomes disabled, and who will care for them as they grow older, are easy to ignore or sweep under the rug.
That’s why the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL), a center that empowers people with disabilities to live independently, is looking to connect these two groups with the first-ever Disability and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Forum.
Set for June 19, the forum will discuss concerns faced by both communities, including discrimination in the workplace, accessibility in public spaces and dealing with sexuality.
“We want to educate the LGBT community on the disability community, and educate the disability community on the struggles of the LGBT community,” said Nicholas Love, a disability advocate for ABIL. “Our struggles are very similar. There’s a lot to be done, so it’s important that we introduce these two communities and get to a place where we’re talking to each other.”
Formally titled the “Shared Struggles for Justice, Inclusion and Empowerment,” the forum will examine the intersection of both communities, through shared stories of individual struggles followed by dialogue on what it means to be a member of one or both groups of people.
“The same struggles that happen in the LGBT community in dealing with pride and acceptance of yourself and your body happen in the disability community,” said Amina Kruck, vice president of advocacy at ABIL. “How to come to grips with yourself as being functioning, loveable and touchable is a big deal and something we all have to work through.”
Individuals with disabilities face daily challenges similar to those in the LGBT community, things as simple as parenting, riding public transportation, finding reliable employment and having the means to go out and socialize with others.
“I like to label certain people as a triple threat: You’re gay, you have a disability and you’re aging,” said Ivan Rivera, a gay man with a disability who works with ABIL. “Which one do you say you are first, or which one do you hide? Or do you hide all three?”
Part of ABIL’s process is identifying the parts of discrimination and oppression that individuals have internalized and assessing how they can turn these negative circumstances around to become empowered. Space in the all-day event’s itinerary will be allotted for individuals to have discussions among themselves, to hear stories of other people with disabilities, to tell their own and to be heard.
The forum will feature films and discussions profiling the disability civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movement, as well as a constituent panel of LGBT individuals with disabilities to share their own lived experiences.
For one of these individuals, Steve Norton, a gay man who suffered a stroke two years ago, learning to live with his disability was akin to coming out of the closet again.
“I’d lived my whole life as a gay man, and two years ago I became disabled,” Norton said. “Now I had to figure out how to live my life with a disability and as a gay man. ‘What’s my life going to be like now? Am I going to be attractive to someone now?’”
Now a mentor and volunteer at ABIL, and accepted member of Phoenix’s LGBT community, Norton said he hopes this forum will shine a light for individuals who are still hesitant to discuss their disability.
“I’m hoping that it brings to light that there are people in the gay community who also have a disability,” Norton said, “and that we are good looking, we are sexual and we are people.”
The forum will also feature a discussion by the Arizona Center for Disability Law, a stand-alone, nonprofit corporation, on civil rights for persons with disabilities.
“I think the law is one of the most important ways that we can make change for minority groups in society,” said Sarah Kader, an attorney for ACDL.
A resources and issues panel will also take place to educate attendees on the issues currently facing the transgender and LGBT youth communities, information on assistive technology and resources on HIV/AIDS and aging.
“It gets difficult as you get older,” Rivera said. “If something happens to my partner, how do I care of him without somebody saying I can’t? We need to make sure that we’re protecting each other so things like that don’t happen.”
According to Love, ABIL is invested in supporting and providing resources for individuals with disabilities on talking through these issues and establishing an identity that exists beyond their disability and beyond their sexuality.
“Once we start talking and becoming aware of these problems, we become active allies, not just allies who care but don’t know what to do,” Love said. “This forum is a call to action.”
The Shared Struggles for Justice, Inclusion and Empowerment Disability and LGBT Forum is free to all attendees, but registration, at abil.org/2015DisabilityLGBT is required. Continued Educational Units (CEUs) will be available for an additional cost and vendors are invited to participate for a $50 fee (for details, contact Nicholas Love at 602-443-0705).
Shared Struggles for Justice, Inclusion and Empowerment – Disability and LGBT Forum
9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 19
Disability Empowerment Center
5025 E. Washington St., Ste. 200, Phoenix