May 12, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 19
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Wednesday, Aug 12, 2020



by Marla S. Nonken - SGN Contributing Writer

Much has been said and a lot of energy has been invested in the obtaining of LGBT peoples' civil rights. We have succeeded in having passed legislation after an over thirty year struggle. We are stepping farther away from the bedrooms and closets and walking into our living rooms. As we continue to strive for the legitimization of our right to be treated as whole human beings, there are people who will continue to perceive Queerdom only as a bedroom issue and an abomination. They will do their best to hinder our ability to survive and thrive.

Disabled and able LGBT people continue to battle for open acceptance in the workplace, within families, in medical establishments, for our right to marry, to adopt children, and for other rights and privileges that some straight people take for granted.

LGBT people are a minority. As LGBT individuals with disabilities, we are a minority within a minority. People who identify as members of additional marginalized communities experience further oppressions from an already institutionalized patriarchical/corporate and capitalistic system.

LGBT people with disabilities have a wide array of barriers that we deal with on a daily basis, sometimes within and outside of the able and disabled LGBT communities. Recognizing that those barriers, both attitudinal and physical, exist in the first place is the first step to breaking down walls within our communities. Acknowledging that you can become disabled at any time can move us into a higher form of conscious awareness. When we step out of our safe and well-fortified boxes, we are lible to give ourselves an opportunity to listen to someone with a disability, finding ways that won't sound patronizing to her or him. This can go a long way in terms of building trust, respect and dignity.

Do what you can to not tokenize a person with a disability. We know that tokenism is unacceptable in our daily interactions with people from all marginalized communities. Remember that the person is not "the" disability. Like able people, we have varied interests, including diverse political views and opinions, and have intelligence and knowledge that we want to share with others. Depending on whom you meet, some of us may want to talk about our disability, some not. We are also sexual beings. Some of us may identify with other marginalized communities. Educate yourself about disability issues. Don't expect someone with a disability to do it for you all the time. There is more progressive and enlightened literature available, online and in bookstores. Be forewarned. Some disability information that is being written is unfriendly and inaccurate. It is reminiscent of the time when most literature about homosexuality was being conveyed as a mental illness. Ask around before investing your time and money.

Attitudinal barriers are as relevant as physical barriers, often more so. They may not be as monetarily expensive as paying for the installation of an elevator or as specific as publicizing LGBT events and informing people of a contact name and number to request accommodations or to ask if your events are located in accessible locations with disabled parking close by. Attitudinal barriers may not be as concrete as requesting LGBT groups and organizations to put in place a disability accommodation committee that will automatically have access to resources to obtain specific accommodations.

With attitudinal barriers come different, more hidden types of costs that can impact LGBT individuals with disabilities and our allies. They can hinder our self-esteem, sabotage our friendships, put us out on the street, perpetuate isolation, and shape how we perceive others, the world, and our place in it. They can also pull us down into the abyss where we are not able to fathom the purpose of going on with our lives any longer nor wish to struggle with constant pain. We get tired out.

Fighting attitudinal barriers can also offer us strength by way of gaining survival tools to use to challenge our own and other peoples' bureaucratic ignorance and the stereotyping of what and how they think a disabled person is supposed to be, act and look like. Many of us have needed to gain advocacy skills in order to survive. Some of us do anti-war, disability rights, LGBT rights, and other activism work as a result of realizing how our oppression as LGBT people with disabilities connects with other oppressions. Many of us are advocating for our visibility and accommodation rights from within LGBT communities. There are disabled LGBT people who remain hidden from view, locked away in institutions, in closets, homeless shelters, nursing homes, or houses and apartment buildings. They feel unsafe and tired of hostile environments and unwelcoming bureaucracies.

Another example of how attitudinal barriers come with costs is how they contribute to feelings of internalized self- hatred and how we blame ourselves for having a disability as a result of being made to feel guilty when we ask for help. (Hershey, Laura, The Disabled Left? Challenges from a Disability Rights Activist, RESIST Newsletter, page 2, September, 1996) It may come out as anger, frustration and rage. It may come out as feeling victimized by bureaucracies and uncaring staff, by feeling physically tired, unhappy with being financially dependent, by feeling frustrated and by how bureaucratic rules and policies are not flexible.

Within the LGBT communities, we have much work to do to dismantle our own physical and attitudinal barriers. Besides being aware of and openly acknowledging that LGBT people with disabilities exist, we want the LGBT community to be conscious of our need for accessible locations, affordable events, and environments that are chemically toxic-free. A "smoking gun" range war continues when we request no smoking and smoke free events. The smoking restriction law that was passed is only as good as it is enforced. Those of us who request ASL interpreters, transportation for and in marches, and other accommodations are, at times, overtly or covertly reminded of how expensive and time consuming our requests are. Some of us are perceived by others as a "walking interpreter bill", "too aggressive", "too assertive", and "too demanding". There are methods of negotiating fees and grants that can be written as well as contacting disability related agencies that can offer other information about getting accommodations. Some of us are virtually ignored or not believed that we have a disability. Many of us appreciate ramps and interpreters. However, accommodations go beyond these more "acceptable and comfortable" requests.

When I look at the big picture, I think there is a connection between disabilities, looksism, classism, racism, size oppression, anti-semitism, sexism, ageism, genderism, misogyny, and perceptions of religion. Within the LGBT able and disabled communities, there needs to be more recognition made of how we perpetuate hateful rhetoric, classism, and misogyny along with the other -isms. By acknowledging our own attitudinal barriers and how we contribute to them can make us a more powerful force for social change. We can defy society's need to keep marginalized people down so a selected few can keep their power intact.


Here are some concepts and ideas to think about. Some of them have already been created and implemented:

o Make your offices and buildings accessible inside and outside, especially if your organization serves people with disabilities and elders.

o Make it possible to have disabled parking spaces close to your entrance.

o Create funding along the lines of the United Way as an additional safety net.

o Develop flexible criteria when people apply. One size does not fit all.

o Staff alternative/traditional agencies and organizations with able and disabled LGBT people knowledgeable about disability issues.

o Include disability issues in trainings.

o Create a disability resource clearinghouse where LGBT people with disabilities access services such as finding affordable equipment and getting help obtaining it, finding affordable and accessible housing, advocacy services, hiring/train staff with knowledge about bureaucracies, finding appropriate and disability-informed healthcare providers, have listings of nonhomophobic healthcare providers who accept Medicare and Medicaid and physical healthcare/mental healthcare providers who are knowledgeable about disability issues, set up transportation for appointments, assistance with filling out forms, obtaining medications, help with food shopping, lawn care and pet care, and offer funding for ASL interpreter services.

o Install a TTY at your agency/organization. A TTY is a telecommunication device for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and who have speech limitations). You can obtain it through the state and it can be a tax write-off.

o Emergency services for finding social support, housing, financial assistance, food, and clothing, and equipment, which includes wheelchairs, canes, crutches, hearing aids, oxygen tanks, air humidifiers, and insulin.

o Create an LGBT hotline. Staff it with able and disabled LGBT people who are knowledgeable about disability issues.

o Create a Women's Crisis Line, organized, trained, and run by women for all women. Include disability issues, racism, classism, and other oppressions in trainings. Create emergency service listings. Staff it with able and disabled women.

o Make your indoor and outdoor events accessible. Publicize this in your announcements.

o Make your events affordable by offering sliding scale, scholarships, barter, and no fee.

o Create a liason/advocacy training to offer able and disabled LGBT people and other marginalized communities in order to gain skills to advocate for self and others when needing to obtain services from institutions and agencies: to promote and encourage nonsexist, nonclassist, nonhomophobic, nonageist, and nonracist behaviors.

o To survivors of health pandemics and the people who assisted them, offer financial support for medical costs for low/no income LGBT people, especially Lesbians with disabilities.

o When finding housing locations for LGBT people with disabilities and elders, be mindful that they may not be out of the closet and may not feel safe.

o Offer grant-writing skills at no/low cost to able and disabled LGBT people at accessible locations.

o Create a disability accommodation committee within your group/organization for your events, and at your workplace. People need to be knowledgeable of disability resources and issues. Include a contact person's name, email address, and phone number on your online publicity and flyers. Be aware that people who are deaf or hard of hearing may call you using the Washington State Relay operator.

o When having indoor meetings and events, contact the site beforehand to find out if bathrooms have been cleaned with toxic cleansing agents. Suggest nontoxic cleaning agents.

Being out as Queers, we can only extrapolate how many hurdles many of us have and continue to contend with. By stepping outside of our comfort zones within the LGBT communities, we may gain more of an understanding of how we can enhance the welcoming of LGBT people with disabilities as well as other individuals who identify as marginalized.

The Americans For Disability Act is more rhetoric than reality. It is being watered down and is a thorn on the side of Corporate America. "The law is only as good as its enforcement" (Luz, Ron, interview, 2006).

The federal government has long shut its door to citizens in need. They have failed us. They quit. (Luz, Ron, interview, 2006)

Able and disabled LGBT people have been and continue to be on the front lines for social and political change.

There is no room for corporate speak, conformity, and the "sanctification of profit" (Hershey, Laura, The Disabled Left? Challenges from a Disability Activist, RESIST Newsletter, Pg. 2, September, 1996) as we create a climate for social change.


If you feel that a health or social service agency has not treated you with respect because you are LGBTQ, please call Sally Friedman at (206) 727-6260 at Senior Services. She will call the agency and offer them Rainbow Training that can teach staff cultural competency for older LGBT adults.

World Laughter Day, Sunday, May 7th, 2006, 2 PM-3 PM outside Harborview Medical Center's Main Entrance View Park, 326 9th Ave., Seattle, Sponsored by Northwest Certified Laughter Leaders and Harborview Medical Center. Contact Kevin Wilhelmsen (206) 731-5344, Tita Begashaw (206) 731-3085

Laughing Class held every 3rd Thursday of the month, from 12:15-12:45 at Senior Services, 2208 2nd Ave., Seattle.


To my friend, Ron Luz, for his input and support.

To Jean Buskin-Jean's List-Peace and Social Justice Calendar (check out my disability accommodations lists I compiled at for her support and ongoing interest .

Thank you, SGN, for including the web page address in your newspaper and for your support.

Marla S. Nonken has been a musician and songwriter for over 40 years and has been doing grassroots political activism work, including dyke/disability activism, for over 30 years. She is also involved with Dyke Community Activists, a political action grassroots group, building connections locally and globally for radical social change. Any woman is welcome to join.

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