Until yesterday, I had no idea what the D/HH/DB LGBT Community was. By invitation, I attended a meeting, “as a community stakeholder,” on Tuesday morning at Washington D.C.’s Gallaudet University. According to the university’s website, Gallaudet is”the world’s only university in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.” After walking from my apartment in Eastern Market, through the rain, to the the rolling hills of the university’s campus on Florida Avenue and 8th Street NE, I found the Student Academic Center, a building with a food court alive with students rapidly signing conversations with one another. Then, again in a room full of people using American sign language (ASL), I was given a name tag, and met Alex Jackson Nelson (one of the event organizers) who greeted me in speech and in ASL. Here, I was in the minority as a “hearing” person and/or as a “non-signer”.
The deaf, hard of hearing, deaf and blind lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community is, honestly, a subsection of the LGBT community I had never truly considered in my work for LGBT equality. At Montgomery College, I knew of one deaf gay student who attended the People’s Alliance meetings (the LGBT student group on campus). He always had an interpreter with him, a service provided by the College’s disability services office. To me, his presence seemed normal (as sometimes there are students in our classes with special needs). Aside from this one student, however, I had no exposure to the deaf gay community and didn’t know they had any needs for greater access to the larger LGBT community and within their own community too.
The main point of the meeting was to establish an assessment of needs for the deaf LGBT community. As the DC Center’s blog states, the “stakeholder meeting was the first of several community meetings that will be held in order to get community input on the strengths and needs of the D/HH/DB LGBT community.” It is noticeable that the LGBT community is largely and almost exclusively a hearing community. For the deaf community to participate, they can use social media like Facebook or Twitter, but aside from these tools there’s a wall between us. Part of that wall is built by the lack of funding for interpreters that can bridge our communication gap. Kris Lee Pumphrey, the executive director of the Deaf Queer Kaleidoscope, spoke of the lack of interpreters even at doctors’ offices, and that the cost for interpreters is often the barrier. Other issues were brought up, too, concerning bullying (at Gallaudet) of LGBT students, the effectiveness of the university’s Safe Zone training, and the good news about the recently established LGBT student center.
We went around the room to share the strengths and needs for our respective organizations. As a representative of Montgomery College, I spoke highly of the interpreters offered by Disability Services; our Safe Zone training program; the anti-bullying statement that was approved by our Board and broadcasted on the college’s website; our out lesbian president whose very presence encouraged many faculty and staff to come out and, by doing so, formed MC Pride, the LGBT faculty and staff group; and our October LGBT History events on all three campuses. We have needs, too. Montgomery College needs greater access to communities like the deaf LGBT community (until now I had no idea there was such a subsection; though now I recognize how silly and ignorant that is). Unlike Gallaudet, we do not have an LGBT Center, a place where students can visit for resources, counseling, and fellowship with their peers. And while the Safe Zone program is striving, there is no requirement for all faculty and staff to participate in this training, which would make our entire MC community visibly LGBT safe.
Visibility was a major issue for the other organizations at the table, which included The DC Center, the Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN), Deaf Queer Kaleidoscope, Gallaudet University, and Access Interpreting (DC Center blog). Who has access to the information and resources these organizations offer? How do deaf LGBT students find them? One participant shared that one of her clients was shocked when she first saw a deaf person signing on TV, discussing addiction; she thought she was the only one! She had finally found someone she could relate to. Similarly, a representative of the provost’s office acknowledged that a major need for Gallaudet as a whole, in consideration of the university’s mission, is to have all resources accessible in English and in ASL. There is a mountain of information in English, he noted, but a mere hill of the same information in video and caption form.
I learned a lot about the deaf, hard of hearing, deaf blind LGBT community yesterday; I fear that I merely touched the surface here. After the meeting ended and as I walked out into the rain back to my apartment a few blocks away, I wondered why I had been invited to the meeting. Alex Jackson Nelson said we had all been picked because our names or our organizations were specifically mentioned to him. How can Montgomery College be of more service to the deaf LGBT community? Are there other subsections of the LGBT community that we fold into the larger community without recognizing their specific needs? For example, what are the needs for Latino, Asian, Native American, and Black LGBT people? What are the issues for gay homeless adults and teenagers? What are the needs for LGBT people with disabilities? My head was swimming with questions, which, for me, is a good start.