Many changes are occurring within the public systems which are charged with supporting those of us considered to have disabilities. Many of these changes seem quite positive and are designed to ensure that people have real access to their own community and more control over their lives.
It is quite easy to dissuade ourselves from believing that those who are considered disabled also want (and need) the ability to explore their own sexuality and/or sexual orientation.
Truthfully, most of those who are dependent upon employed others for supports have very limited opportunities to live fully in their own communities and this general lack of possibility is even more pronounced when we consider the dearth of supports for human sexuality and sexual orientation.
The needs of those who wish to have an active and wholesome sexual life and of Gay and Lesbian Clients and Gay and Lesbian Care givers are most often dismissed and at worse, are subjected to isolating and unfair treatment within their own agencies. We hope that (Un)dressing Normal will allow us to begin the process of creating a dialog from which supports can be created which will work for all of us and will ultimately allow us to be the people that we simply… are.
This past year Kentucky has seen some positive work around these issues and an incident this past June in Hazard, Kentucky which might have resulted in an even further disregard of the rights of Gay and Lesbian Clients, ended instead with a settlement which seemed most positive, if not downright heroic. The affirmative measures taken by the Provider Agency were a testament to what can occur when we buckle down, do the right thing, and reach out for support.
That gutsy action provided the incentive to create this “(Un) conference”. We chose this format because it is fresh, innovative and encourages participation and learning in something other than a traditional hierarchy. We hope that you are as excited about the potential of this conference as we are and that we will see not only see you there but that you will share your insights and experience with all.
Bruce Burris Latitude Artist Community
Below is commentary written in July for the Lexington Herald-Leader which describes the events which eventually led to this conference.
Draft Commentary, Lexington Herald-Leader
Lessons learned from Hazard pool reconciliation LBGTI Clients with Intellectual Disabilities deserve respect and support
Kentucky, as we know only too well, plays a role on the national stage as the butt of many cruel jokes and condescending asides. Who hasn’t felt that “oh no, not again” feeling when faced with yet another derogatory joke, study, survey, celebrity anecdote and so on which our entertainment/media industries gleefully cultivate? Most recently Lexington was stung when named by a men’s magazine as the “most sedentary” city in the U.S., apparently based on a rather dubious study that did little more than combine the number of video games bought with the amount of television watched.
If Lexington may on occasion be stung, then little Hazard has often found itself at ground zero for this form of national hazing. In early June all the ingredients for a perfect media storm were brewing in Hazard, the result of an incident at a city swimming pool in which two gay men (both with intellectual disabilities) were expelled by an employee of the city who cited the Bible while admonishing both men for what, in his opinion, was an excessive display of “gay” affection.
National and even international media followed, as expected, and there was no shortage of outrageous and patronizing coverage. But what news sources failed to cover was the remarkable way in which those implicated (the city), those aggrieved (the couple), their Provider/company and its staff (Mending Hearts) and those who helped advocate and educate (Kentucky Equality Federation) worked together to find common ground and a viable solution.
To us – the most compelling aspect of this story is the way in which the Provider Agency, Mending Hearts, supported their constituents. They never shied away from the simple truth that their clients are gay, and, according to news reports, it was the agency itself that contacted both Hazard city officials and Jordan Palmer of the Kentucky Equality Federation.
In this there is much to learn by most everyone involved in supporting those of us considered to have intellectual disabilities in the state of Kentucky. It has been very disappointing to note how little programs/agencies and individual responsible for study and training in the field of disability have done in support of those with intellectual disabilities who are also of the LBGTI community.
The silence here pretty much sums up our culture’s lack of resolve and makes the practice of discriminating against gay clients – not to mention gay caregivers –acceptable.
Earlier this year we heard of a local agency that chose to separate two gay clients who shared a residential facility – rather than support the relationship, and recently a long-time Case Manager mentioned to us that she had never received any training on support of LBGTI clients. We believe this gap in education must be addressed.
Our thanks to those involved in the Hazard pool reconciliation for providing a wonderful example of how to support all people. This in turn invigorates and encourages the rest of us to stand up and do the right thing in our own day-to-day efforts.
Bruce Burris, Crystal Bader Owners, Latitude Artist Community