The gay rights movement and the disability rights movement both started around the same time. They were fighting similar battles, struggling for equal civil rights, for justice, and for an end to discrimination.
Some 40 years later and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriage is legal, while people with disabilities still face a marriage penalty if they receive SSI benefits. The gay rights movement has come far and away stronger than the disability rights movement has, in the same amount of time.
Which led me to wonder:
What are Gays Doing that us Disabled Aren’t?
What’s working with the gay movement that isn’t with us disabled? Some thoughts:
1. Titles: “Gay” vs “Disabled”
“Gay” being another way to say “happy” and “disabled” being another way to say “broken”… well… yeah.
I wonder if that has anything to do with it?
2. A Rainbow vs. a Wheelchair
On the other hand, we in the disabled community have a personal mobility device. A wheelchair. Which is definitely a symbol of freedom to people who use it, but is perhaps not as universally-loved as an emblem like the rainbow.
The gay community cultivates it’s allies well.
From the badges to the cool rainbow tulips, from the pieces that staunchly proclaim support (“we’re not gay but we stand by you”) – these are BRILLIANT.
And why on earth don’t we have these in the disability community???
I mean, we need a way to spread the love, let people show their support and alliance with us, even when they don’t have a disability themselves. Right?!
4. Fun Stereotypes
So, we’ve got the broken, angry and pitiable – but inspiring! – disabled and the fun, clever, good dressers who can dance!
Was it Will and Grace? Another show? Pop culture had a big hand in it, didn’t it.
I hope that shows like Glee are going to do the same: help transform some of these super outdated stereotypes. Cuz, I gotta say, I’ve met plenty of gay people who can’t dance and plenty of disabled that are bad asses on the dance floor.
The gay community has a tremendous amount in common with the disabled community.
For one, we are both rampantly discriminated against and basic human rights have been denied us by dint of who we are, by the signs and expressions of our bodies, minds and feelings.
And we are both everywhere.
The gay slogan of “we’re queer, we’re here, get over it” could easily apply to us in the disabled community. We are here. We are not going away, we never will. May as well get used to it.
Moreover, we really ARE everywhere. If you count the full spectrum of disability – which is enormous, including the blind, low vision, d/Deaf, people with developmental, physical, learning and sensory disabilities. The ally communities which we have built in with our friends and families is marvelously gigantic. Pretty much everyone is said to be connected in some way, some how, to someone with a disability.
The gay community learned from the Civil Rights Movement and copies many pages from their books.
There was some serious strategic breadth; some unflinching uncompromising that went in the decades of hard-core gay rights activism that has led to theirs being the fastest of all civil rights movements.
And now I think we need to learn from the gay community.
Stay tuned: I’m starting a series by and for Allies, and get going with some Toolkits.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.