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Meeting at the Crossroads: Strengthening Inclusivity of the Deaf LGBTQI+ Community

Renowned Professor Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to refer to the ways in which the various identities that a person holds contribute to the marginalization they experience. For example, if a person is white and is a cis-man, he would have a very different experience from a black transgender man. This is because a black transman may experience layers of marginalization due to his race and gender identity. It is important for us to think about this operationalisation of power when working with persons in the LGBTQI+ community so that we can understand their unique experiences and the impact of their situatedness.

Recently, CAISO’s Wholeness and Justice programme, played a key role in the Sign Together Programme. There were three facets of this programme, one of which being training in basic counselling skills to LGBTQI+ persons who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This programme unearthed so many considerations that are extremely useful when working with this group that is experiencing intersecting and interlocking domains of marginalization and discrimination. Below we will explore these considerations.

1. Widening the scope of language

“Language is a city to the building of which every human being brought a stone” -Ralph Waldo Emerson. An acknowledgment of every human being’s inalienable right to co-construct this city should always be a guiding factor. Hearing people often believe that they have a monopoly on language, its uses, its rules, its context, its codes and its limits. As such, language can become marginalizing and oppressive, as the ways in which we construct ideas can privilege or exclude various groups. When working with the Deaf community, committing to inclusion is essential, and using language that can be translated easily by an interpreter is important. This is not about simplification, as the Deaf walk this earth with undeniable insight that comes from the richness of Deaf culture itself. Instead, this is about accessibility, and acknowledging the ways in which “hearing people” can deny access to the Deaf by presenting obscure ideas in convoluted and abstract ways. The ways in which ideas are constructed by the Deaf should impact how communication takes place, and hearing people must consider these constructions and treat them with the same dignity as any other group. How do we do this though?

We sit. We listen. We dialogue with the Deaf and their interlocutors. We challenge our own understanding of what language is and how it should be performed and constructed. We acknowledge that the ways in which we have been taught to communicate may be inherently limiting. We widen the scope of language by exploring new ways to communicate. This is not performative. This is not “accommodating” or “patronizing”. This is an act of social justice; breaking down the barriers that stand amongst us.

2. Teaching about Intersections

There is no such thing as a single issue struggle as we do not live single issue lives.”- Audre Lorde

It is important when working with the LGBTQI+ Deaf community to teach about intersectionality. We must acknowledge that being deaf and LGBTQI places different challenges when compared to the hearing LGBTQI+ population. Deaf LGBTQI+ persons constitute what is often considered a double minority, and do not often find spaces where they may experience being substantively accepted. In fact, many Deaf people share experiences of violations within the Deaf community; a space where they may anticipate acceptance in an otherwise largely heteronormative, transphobic, hearing world. As such, helping Deaf people to understand and act within and against the intersecting marginalizations is critical. Additionally, Deaf LGBTQI persons must also be taught about intersectional invisibility. This refers to the many ways in which they are ignored and made invisible. Their educational, psychosocial needs are largely ignored, and this is a violation. 

While teaching is necessary,it is not sufficient. Community Activists must be critically sensitive to and aware of these challenges to militate against these violations. Self advocacy, case advocacy, and cause advocacy are important here, as they must be supported in ways to engage in advocating for themselves and others safely. This process begins by developing critical consciousness, a process of unveiling the ways in which systemic discrimination and neglect are feeding their personal challenges. Secondly, Deaf LGBTQI require advocacy strategies with the unwavering support of allies, who are committed to an inclusive space.

3. Inclusive and Participatory Teaching

Inclusive, good-quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies.”- Desmond Tutu

When teaching, consider participatory teaching and learning. This means that the methodologies used should be designed and shaped by the Deaf LGBTQI+ community. It is useful to remember that gestural, spatial, and visual modalities are often used for teaching and communicating in the Deaf community. As such, having the Deaf assist in building the pedagogy is critical and deeply empowering. Additionally, given the fact that so many members of the Deaf LBTQI+ community are denied formal education, their involvement in constructing the process represents a transformational social action practice, which re-distributes power to a group that largely would be silenced in this domain. 

However, it is not only their involvement in creating methodologies that are critical. The community should also be involved in constructing content and knowledge. Within the Deaf LGBTQI+ community lies the overlapping of vivid cultures, experiences, and epistemologies that can reliably inform curricula, theory and praxis. Their introduction into the landscape of knowledge is worthwhile.

We have explored so many ways in which we can uphold the integrity of work by creating more space for a community that has nor been given the attention it deserves. It is incumbent on us to conscientiously move against our own internal and systemic hindrances that limit the capacities of others. Using curiosity, compassion, and courage, we can interrogate our biases, become creative and cultivate ways of being for the Deaf LGBTQI+ community that supports their agency and humanity. It is our duty to meet them at the crossroads.

- Akilah Riley-Richardson, Clinical Administrator, Wholeness and Justice


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