Disabled and differently abled (DDA) people are those whose activities and abilities are restricted by the condition of their bodies and/or minds. Disabled refers to such physical condition as a problem that disrupts one’s potential to function when compared to that of a typical individual. Differently abled frames the condition as a matter of different capabilities rather than simply a lack of them, thus encompassing those considered disabled as well as those who are atypical.
Within the LGBTQ community, DDA people often avail themselves of resources and communities open to the general public. Some, however, feel the need to form their own communities based not only on atypical ability, but also sexual orientation and gender variation. Blind, deaf, and physically disabled LGBTQ people have created their own communities within larger communities.
One of the bigger concerns for the DDA in the Gay community has been figuring out how to meet others like themselves. It is often difficult for them to use the usual social networks, such as nightclubs, because aspects such as sight, hearing, and mobility are important in many LGBTQ venues, especially when searching for friendship and romance.The internet has been a major means for establishing personal as well as community connections for DDA people.
History: Gay as Invert, Deaf Protocol
In the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, Gay-related activists countered arguments that homosexuality was sinful and criminal by framing it as a psycho-physiological disability, abnormal but harmless. They used the term invert, which referred to those suffering from sexual inversion, the reversal of sexual orientation and gender characteristics from the assumed polar opposites of male/masculine and female/feminine.
Eventually, the Gay community refused to be considered defective in any way, paralleling the more recent change in attitude toward those with different physical and mental abilities from “crippled” to “disabled/challenged” to “differently abled.”
In a similar dynamic, the community of those with hearing loss subverted notions that they were disabled by claiming that their culture, with its own languages (Sign in its various forms) and social circles, rendered them as able as those who can hear. In addition, the community distinguished the physical condition of hearing loss (deaf) from the community (Deaf), a protocol that is being used by some within the LGBTQ community (Gay rather than gay) as well with the various identities in what is seen as the spectra of orientations, bodies, and genders.
LGBTQ Deaf Community
LGBTQ Deaf people have formed organizations around the world. One early group was the the Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf (RAD), a nonprofit organization founded in 1977. RAD’s mission is to
establish and maintain a society of Deaf GLBT to encourage and promote the educational, economical, and social welfare; to foster fellowship; to defend our rights; and advance our interests as Deaf GLBT citizens concerning social justice; to build up an organization in which all worthy members may participate in the discussion of practical problems and solutions related to their social welfare. (www.deafness.about.com)
There are also online organizations such the Deaf Queer Resource Center (DQRC) founded in 1995 by Dragosani Renteria. Self-identified as a Deaf Chicano transman, Renteria felt there was the need for a virtual resource center in addition to the organizations in the San Francisco Bay area with physical locations. DRQC also maintains a site in remembrance for those who died of AIDS (www.deafaids.info). In addition to RAD and DQRC, there is DeafQueer.net (website for hosting Deaf Queer nonprofit organizations).
LGBTQ Blind Community
Blind Gay people can turn to Blind LGBT Pride (formerly BFLAG). Affiliated with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and having chapters across the USA, its annual convention coincides with that of the ACB.
A major challenge for Blind Gay people is participation in LGBTQ folklife, which is heavily dependent on visual cues for encountering romantic partners in both real and virtual venues. The noise level of many clubs and festive venues may be too great for Blind people to communicate with others. Don Brown of Blind GLBT Pride describes the challenges of blind men:
In Gay men’s culture, cruising [discreet flirting, sometimes from a distance] is heavily dependent upon one’s ability to establish eye contact. For the most part, blind and vision impaired men not having the ability to engage in this highly valued means of communicating are often excluded from the larger group and thereby not provided an opportunity to fully engage in Gay culture.
Having first established itself officially in the 1990s, the Blind Gay community has fewer organizations than the Deaf Gay community. The painful isolation experienced by so many of blind LGBTQ people has inspired special concern for inclusion of all orientations, gender variations, and physiologies in the Blind LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ Physically Disabled Community
Organizations for the physically disabled began a web presence in the twenty-first century. One such organization was an online site Queers On Wheels, founded by Eva Sweeney in 2004:
Queers On Wheels is an organization that aides the sexual well-being of the physically disabled community, and welcomes people from all sexual identity groups, including those who identify as GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer). We provide literature; teach classes and workshops on sexuality and disability, work one on one with our clients to provide whatever they need, and offer networking opportunities for physically disabled folks. (www.queersonwheels.com)
Queers On Wheels dealt with issues concerning sex that would be controversial but important for addressing the needs of physically disabled people, such as these topics for a workshop on sex:
How to hire and maintain healthy working relationships with aides
How to talk to a girlfriend or boyfriend about one’s disability
How to deal with having aides when one is dating
How and when to discuss safer sex with a significant other
How to adapt sex toys such as vibrators and dildos and many other sexual devices
How to masturbate if one needs assistance
British cartoonist Dave Lupton has been putting humor, social commentary, and activism into his work for DDA communities, especially people with wheelchairs. About himself, he says on his website (www.crippencartoons.co.uk):
Somewhat slowed down by having to use a wheelchair for a while, Dave found himself surrounded by ideas for cartooning based upon Disability and Disability issues. It wasn’t long before the alter ego “Crippen” emerged and the rest, as they say, is history.
Allen, John. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People with Developmental Disabilities and Mental Retardation: Stories of the Rainbow Support Group. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Lane, Harlan L. et al. A Journey Into the Deaf-World. San Diego: DawnSign, 1996.
Sipski, Marca and Craig Alexander. Sexual Function in People with Disability and Chronic Illness: A Health Professional’s Guide. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen, 1997.