QUESTION: I have been part of this community for years, and seeing continued growth in all avenues, rather it be by platforms such as yours, party promoters and most recently web series. there has been a large group of people that always seem to be overlooked, that group being lesbians with physical disabilities. we speak DIVERSITY, but that is shown by including women of all races and colors. Question: How could we get exposure too? we know how to love, we are successful and have made numerous accomplishments while having the challenges that we face, not only in being discriminated against by our own people of color but also and most importantly the women in our own community. CAN THIS GAP BE CLOSED?
Helen -- Atlanta, GA
First and foremost, Helen, I want to thank you so much for posing this issue and question to Create Love. As someone who is newly embracing changes in my body that affect my mobility, I am excited to explore this particular issue in this space of "creating love". I want to begin at the end by answering the final portion of your question, "can this gap be closed?". This question must be answered with a resounding YES! Yes, the gap can be closed because it represents those spaces that can be filled by extending more compassion and love to one another. Yes, the gap can be closed because we have in our midst the power and knowledge needed to close it. Yes, the gap can be closed because people like you remind us that the battle for equality is not won until we are all included.
Now, I want to explore what it means to be disabled. In my quest to answer your question and research the data, I found it challenging to gather accurate data on disabilities unless the definition is clear. To that end, I decided to reference the definition stated by the US Census Bureau, as follows:
In the 2000 Census, disabledpeople were defined as those who have difficulty "performing certainfunctions (seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs, and lifting andcarrying), or ... performing activities of daily living, or ... with certain socialroles (doing school work for children, working at a job and around the housefor adults)."
DID YOU KNOW THIS? According to the United States Census Bureau there are an estimated 48.9 million disabled people in the United States. Furthermore, 15% of the world's population, 1 billion people, live with disabilities across the world. This constitutes the largest minority group in the world.
When you are able to wrap your mind around these statistics it is unimaginable that this many people could ever be made to feel invisible by any group or culture. However the sad truth is that we too often see the world filtered through a schema that is, sometimes unknowingly, narcissistic. In other words our attention is often drawn to those things that we understand through own experiences. Yet full inclusion requires us to challenge this bigotry within ourselves. And there is no better place to start than within our heart.
You are absolutely right that too often when we speak of diversity we are limiting the scope of what it actually means. The common use of "diversity" is regarding race and/or ethnicity. However, we are not always in tune to the broad scope of diversity and inclusion. Sidebar – this is actually one of the reasons that I do not really care for the use of the word "diversity" in community work. Nevertheless, I don't know that this lack of inclusive thinking is any more profound in the lesbian community, but rather that the lesbian community is a microcosm of larger societal issues. Please note that is no excuse, but rather an unfortunate reality. It really boils down to a social justice issue.
I have considered myself an advocate, activist and social change agent for more than 25 years. However, it is in the more recent years that I have been challenged to broaden my own scope of inclusion. What I believe is that we live in a xenophobic culture that shies away from things that are different from who we are. Moving beyond this place in our culture requires us to be intentional on a personal and social level. Below I have included some thoughts as to how we can begin to make change in both areas:
- We must recognize and accept that we all experience privilege in some form or another. And in those places we must challenge ourselves to be inclusive. As it relates specifically to the issue of disabilities, or those who are differently abled and/or challenged, we must be intentional about creating spaces for those lesbians to show up with dignity. For example, if you are planning a meeting that is open to the general public take a second and think about how people with different abilities would be able to access that space. Then be sure to include any special instructions if needed, i.e., where the elevator is located, how many flights of stairs there may be, etc.
- On a personal note, I am adjusting to having stage 4 arthritis in both knees, but I do not have a disabled sticker on my car. Thus, I am usually very frustrated when I arrive to an event or meeting and the parking is cumbersome for people with mobility challenges, yet no one thought to mention that in the instructions. As an adjustment, I usually get to a meeting very early so that I can navigate within my own comfort level. I am not a victim, so I will always find my power. However, it is more welcoming when the organizers have thought of people like me in the planning.
- We must challenge ourselves to ask questions about the inclusion of others. We do not have to be a member of that group to be concerned about its representation.
- When we experience discrimination of someone who is differently abled, masked as the target of a joke, we must be clear that there is nothing funny about it! We cannot allow discrimination, oppression and exclusion to masquerade as humor. Not on my watch!
- We must take a moment to educate ourselves about disabilities, specifically lesbians with disabilities. Don't assume you know what you think you know. After all, the wiser we become the more we know that there is so much that we don't know. There is nothing wrong with the ignorance of not being taught, as long as you are willing to learn. At the end of this article are some great links to begin educating and resourcing yourself about lesbians with disabilities.
- We must work to see and embrace the idea of lesbians with disabilities as beautiful, sexual beings. They are worthy of quality relationships and do not deserve, nor want our pity. They are powerful, accomplished and vital members of our beloved community.
- On a personal level, lesbians with disabilities must embrace a positive self-concept, body image and sexual identity. They must be unwilling to be invisible by any means necessary!
As we negotiate space with multiple identities it can sometimes feel like a precarious place to be. As a result, we have all felt like a sister outsider at some point, even to the ones who have professed to embrace us. The key to participating in a change revolution is the willingness to live our lives out loud; the willingness to be unapologetic about who we are in all of our identities; to express our intelligence, spirituality, sensuality and personhood in every minute and every moment and every space possible.
Again, Helen, I appreciate you for your question and the opportunity it gives for all of us to reflect on this very important topic. It is my hope that you continue to live your life out loud and know that we hold you up and support you even when the larger community falls short. I wish you great success as you continue on your journey to create more love in your life!
Imani Evans, MA
We look forward to seeing you at the 2014 CREATE LOVE CONFERENCE for women who love women on March 8, 2014!