Sunday, July 04, 2010
Pride Marches On
A Transcription by Tessa Armstrong (thanks Tess) of the YouTube video
Today is Gay Pride Day in Toronto. It’s celebrated a week later than everywhere else in the world because the G8 came to Toronto and Pride got stuck in a taxi on the way from the airport. Nonetheless, today is Gay Pride Day and I found it very interesting to listen to the news to hear several spokespeople tell us that Gay Pride is a celebration now, no longer a protest because civil liberties have been won for gay people in Canada. I found this quite surprising as I serve a minority of people with disabilities whose sexuality is still very much held captive by their care providers.
I thought immediately of three people that I met over the course of my career. The first is a guy whose name was Sean, and Sean when he was 16 years old was dealing with his sexuality. And he sat down with a staff member, and he told that staff member that he thought maybe he was homosexual, that maybe he was gay. That staff member had a violent reaction and beat him within an inch of his life. He was hospitalized and shortly thereafter there were claims that he had made a pass at the staff, and that he was sexually out of control. He ended up in a treatment facility, being treated as a rapist.
And I thought of Helen. And Helen was a woman with an intellectual disability who was very, very, very much in love with one of her female staff. Now Helen didn’t know what to do with this, so she simply came out. She told that female staff, and as it happened that female staff was a closeted lesbian. And because of her fear of her own job, and because of her fear that maybe she had done something to solicit this interest from Helen, she just tore a strip off Helen and she told Helen that she was dirty and that she was disgusting and that what she was suggesting was just unthinkable and ungodly. And Helen, a kindly woman with Down Syndrome was destroyed, just destroyed by this attack.
And then I thought about Mark. Mark was a man with an intellectual disability who I met, who one day when we were talking, and I was talking quite blithely about things like love and relationships, told me quite seriously that love is wrong because people hurt you for it. And then he told me the story of falling in love with a man with a disability when he lived in the institution. They carried on a secret affair for a number of months in the institution and he described how he hid in stairwells with his boyfriend and they engaged in sexual, loving behavior beyond the prying eyes of staff and others. And one day somebody must have noticed them going to the stairwell, because they reported that he and his boyfriend had met, as they typically did in the stairwell. And the staff pounced upon them and they were pulled apart and he saw his boyfriend being carried down a hallway and out of the ward and he never saw him again. He himself was placed into time-out for two days. Two days of solitary confinement. And when he came out, he tried to find out what happened to his boyfriend and no one would speak to him.
Now these all happened a number of years ago, and I would suggest that there has been advances made in certain organizations that recognize that people with disabilities have a right to adulthood and to sexuality. But I would say that many organizations throughout the world still forbid sexuality to people with disabilities and still forbid people with disabilities to be sexual, let alone homosexual.
Today I am going to be marching in the parade with my organization, Vita Community Living Services. And it’s, I think one of the very first organizations to march in the Gay Pride Parade, and with us will be a number of people with disabilities. And it is just such a signature moment in my life, to be celebrating this moment of pride and solidarity with others with disabilities. Different disabilities than mine, but disabilities that have lead to confinement, not only of body but also of heart.