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.


Jen said...

Thanks for marching- it does make a difference.

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theknapper said...

Thanks for this.....yes we've come a long way and we need to continue to support people to be who they are.

Anonymous said...


I really enjoyed the video. You have a beautiful voice (both spoken and written!) your message goes straight to the heart! Keep up the good work x

Lene Andersen said...

I live in a building where I and several other tenants with physical disabilities receive attendant care from the same agency. Over the years, I've seen much effort from the staff to try to control the love lives of the consumers of the service with varying degrees of success. Nothing quite as egregious as what you describe, because there's a clear hierarchy among disabilities in terms of what we're allowed. But there's still that thing we have in common. Where the ablebodied get to have not just an opinion, but a vote - sometimes a veto - about the rights of people with disabilities. Yet another example that we don't really have rights - we have privileges. Because rights cannot be taken away at someone else's whim or discomfort.

Sorry. Got ranting. Thanks for this post. And thanks for marching.

Terri said...

One of the "best" agencies in our region requires that anyone receiving their services agree that they will never date, marry or express their sexuality in any way. Many people think this is their right, some think it is the easy way to handle things. I think it is appalling--I want so much more choice for my daughter.

Anonymous said...

Oh Dave, that's heartbreaking.

I very lucky with my aide. Nikki and I talk about and joke about the men in our lives - my boyfriend, her fiance. Nikki and my boyfriend are on good terms, and like and respect each other.

I cannot imagine how shattering it would be if Nikki or my care agency decided I ought not to see my boyfriend - the man I love, the man I expect I'll spend my life with.

Officially, I'm sure my sexuality gets expressed more than the service technically allows. In cleaning up the bedroom, I know Nikki has found toys. (And I'll tell you, I blushed to the hairline when I'd realized she must have seen them!) But again, I am lucky - Nikki thinks of me as a competent individual capable of directing her own life and is supportive of that vision of me.