Learning About Queer and Trans Disability During Deaf History Month
Deaf History Month celebrates the accomplishments of deaf and hard of hearing community. Learn more about how queer and trans community navigate disability.
Published March 22, 2022
Introduced by the National Association of the Deaf in 1997, National Deaf History Month is celebrated annually from March 13-April 15. This stretch in the year was chosen to celebrate three historic events in Deaf education:
- Apr. 15, 1817: The first public school for the Deaf in the U.S. opened.
- Apr. 8, 1864: Gallaudet University is founded.
- Mar. 13, 1988: Gallaudet University — the first postsecondary institution for the Deaf and hard of hearing (HoH) — hires its first Deaf president due to student and community activism.
During this period, it is important to discover and listen to diverse voices, including those of queer and trans people. Keep reading to learn more about these stories and learn about resources that highlight queer and trans people with disabilities during National Deaf History Month.
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What Is National Deaf History Month?
Each year, people celebrate the accomplishments of Deaf and hard-of-hearing people during National Deaf History Month. It is rare that this event is acknowledged on college campuses, even in queer and trans spaces. Technological advancements and increased awareness have allowed more Deaf and HoH students to attend college, many of whom are undoubtedly queer and trans learners, as well.
Therefore, National Deaf History Month is a great time to also dive into queer and trans Deaf and HoH media. Students can find queer and trans Deaf and HoH creators on social media to celebrate them and learn more about this segment of the Deaf and HoH community. You can also advocate for greater inclusion for LGBTQ+ Deaf and HoH perspectives in campus libraries, LGBTQ centers, and academic programming.
Why Is Queer and Trans Deaf Visibility Important?
It is important that we acknowledge and learn about Deaf history within queer and trans communities for a number of reasons. For one, queer and trans Deaf and HoH people exist and always have. Drago Renteria, known as the father of Deaf queer activism, is the founder of the Deaf Queer Resource Center and has been working to support Deaf and HoH queer and trans people for several decades. Renteria kicked off National Deaf LGBTQ Awareness Week in 2018 and has confronted queer antagonism within Deaf communities and audism within LGBTQ+ spaces.
Because some queer and trans people are also Deaf or HoH, it is important that LGBTQ+ spaces and resources are accessible. Many students take advantage of campus events and speakers without a second thought. However, other learners may need accommodations to attend and enjoy the event.
Speaking from my own experience, hearing Leslie Feinberg speak as an undergraduate student 20 years ago continues to be one of the highlights of my life. Thankfully, the event included American Sign Language interpreters, making it accessible for many Deaf and HoH attendees.
However, including interpreters at events is the bare minimum. Hearing people must learn how to interact with our Deaf and HoH peers and make them feel welcome in LGBTQ+ spaces, student organizations, and campus centers. It takes courage to step into those spaces — ensuring LGBTQ+ centers and groups include accommodations for Deaf and HoH students can make them more welcoming.
Learning a few common signs that are used among the queer Deaf community to talk about their intersecting identities and having participants include their pronouns on name tags, can go a long way to help Deaf or HoH people feel more comfortable at your events.
Resources to Learn More About LGBTQ Deaf History and Experiences
We must learn, raise awareness about, and connect with queer and trans Deaf and HoH people. Here are some places to start:
Books and Media
"Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader," edited by Raymond Luczak, is an anthology of over 85 stories, interviews, and poems by Deaf and hearing people worldwide.
In his book "Continuum," artist, actor, and trans Deaf activist, Chella Man — who can be seen in the second season of "Titans" — uses his lived experiences to advocate for self-acceptance and self-representation.
Olivia Janae's book "The Loudest Silence" is about friendship and desire between a young hearing cellist and her Deaf manager.
"Mean Little Deaf Queer" is Terry Galloway's memoir chronicling her queerness, Deafness, and mental health.
"Deaf Utopia," is a memoir by model and Deaf activist, Nyle DiMarco, written with Robert Siebert. DiMarco acted in the third and fourth seasons of "Switched at Birth." He also produced Deaf U, a reality series about the experiences of Deaf and HoH students at Gallaudet University.
You can also check out "SIGN," a short silent film about the relationship between Ben, a hearing man, and Aaron, who is Deaf.
If you like podcasts, check out "I'm From Driftwood" for an episode on LGBTQ+ People with Disabilities. In one episode of the podcast "Homophonics," the host interviews queerlectro pop group Alter Boy.
On YouTube, you can keep up with the Stews. This lesbian couple comically shares their unique experiences, as one partner is Deaf and the other is hearing. Finally, Nyle DiMarco and Chella Man's videos "On Being Queer and Deaf" and "Teach Us Queer Sign Language," position Deafness as an asset that has informed their queerness.
The Deaf Queer Resource Center is a national nonprofit that works to support and empower Deaf LGBTQ+ folks. It also works to inform hearing people and bring more visibility to marginalized Deaf LGBTQ+ communities.
Queer ASL is an educational platform that allows queer and trans people to learn ASL from queer and trans Deaf and HoH signers in a safe space.
The Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf (RAD) is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to establish and maintain a society of Deaf LGBTQ+ people to encourage and promote educational, economical, and social welfare within their community.
This year, take a moment to celebrate all that queer and trans Deaf and HoH people have accomplished, not because they're Deaf and HoH or despite that, but because they're as fabulous as the rest of us and then some.
Feature Image: Sladic / E+ / Getty Images
Resource Guide for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students
College Guide for Students with Disabilities
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