"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."—Martin Luther King, Jr.
The NAD is a civil rights organization. As a civil rights organization, it has a duty to support all civil rights. The NAD’s invitation and subsequent response sends the following messages both explicit and implicit:
- Not all civil rights matter.
- Deaf people are more deserving of civil rights above other minorities.
- Not all deaf people within the deaf community are equal.
- Deaf people must choose between their deaf identity and the other facets of their identities be it gender, race, sexuality, etc.
- As an oppressed population, we lack empathy for others whose rights and access are being circumvented.
If we support discrimination against LGBTs by inviting and allowing Daugaard to speak, how can we argue for our own rights? If the deaf are not willing to stand up for the rights of others, how can the deaf expect or ask others to stand up for our rights?
Civil rights vary from group to group but at the end of the day, the fundamental truth of civil rights is they are about full access to citizenship and equal protection under the law where no one group exercises special privileges above another.
On May 19, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) made a powerful assertion that civil rights are not flexible and attempts to codify discrimination in the law harms all. Standing by and allowing legal discrimination in any form without speaking up sets back the civil rights movement as a whole. The NAACP sent this message: we must stand in solidarity against all forms of oppression as a civil rights organization. The NAD needs to follow their example.
Mirror, Mirror… Echoes of the Familiar
Here’s a little tidbit, NAD. The LGBT civil rights movement is the fastest growing civil rights movement in history. Gays and lesbians hold tremendous economic and political power. Deaf people do not. It behooves the NAD to reach out to the LGBT community and consider them a potential source of powerful allies toward building a coalition that acts to secure civil rights for all groups, including the deaf.
The deaf community and the NAD should empathize with LGBTs and their struggle for marriage equality. A mere century ago, there were efforts to codify discrimination in the law by proposing that deaf people be prohibited from marrying other deaf people in the best interests of society. The arguments back then are echoed in the present day arguments against same sex marriage. Arguments include the premise that deaf couples/gay couples are not capable of raising children and that those marriages constitute a threat to social order, weakening society as a whole. Deaf adults back then, as gay adults do today, struggled with claiming the right to bear, adopt, and raise children. For all the struggles the deaf community has undergone to claim the right to marry and have children, we should be the ones most sympathetic to the marriage equality movement.
For all the struggles the deaf community has undergone to claim the right to marry and have children, we should be the ones most sympathetic to the marriage equality movement.
The NAD’s Response and an Appeal to the NAD
The NAD’s response to the concerns shared by those who opposed Daugaard’s position on same sex marriage was insipid. They asserted that their invitation was based on Daugaard’s unique insights as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) and as a governor. The deaf experience and his position as a governor enables him to share how we can become more involved in politics. There are many other politicians adequately qualified to speak on the subject of political engagement who also have a stellar record on civil rights. This speech is about political empowerment, not sharing cultural experiences. This also would have been a good opportunity to invite someone on board who may not have strong personal relationships with the deaf community or knowledge of its unique needs in regard to civil rights—thus creating a brand new ally/advocate who could still share the same powerful message on engaging the political process. Say, the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley.
Just as civil rights are civil rights, political engagement is political engagement. The last thing the NAD needs is intracommunity division or to send a message to the general public that some rights are more important than others. Unfortunately, this is precisely what Daugaard’s invitation led to.
The last thing the NAD needs is intracommunity division or to send a message to the general public that some rights are more important than others. Unfortunately, this is precisely what Daugaard's invitation led to.
The NAD response also magnifies the fact that NAD officers and board members operate from the position of white, heterosexual, cisgender, and primarily male privilege. The NAD’s response held no understanding of the real issues at hand. Civil rights are not the arena where we can say things like “we may have some disagreements.” Because someone out there just might turn around and tell us the same thing about the things that matter to us. Say, open captioning spoils the movie viewing experience of the majority so we’ll just have to disagree on that, shall we?
NAD, get onboard and understand that civil rights are civil rights- and they are nonnegotiable, whether or not they personally apply to you. Stand up for principle and declare support for marriage equality.
Second, your LGBT luncheon does not speak to a true desire to be inclusive of all your members, and is rather condescending in this context, truth be told. Offering up the LGBT luncheon is a red herring, meant to distract us from the thoughtlessness surrounding the decision to invite Daugaard and your inability to recognize your privileges. Hosting this luncheon then turning around and inviting an anti-gay speaker speaks volumes as to your commitment to equal treatment for your membership. After the LGBTs socialize and chow down on lunch, what are you going to do to include the LGBT sector of the deaf community in the NAD or address their issues? The NAD has a long history of marginalizing deaf minorities. This has not changed. It is time for you to stop giving lip service to inclusion and start taking real action.
It is time for you to stop giving lip service to inclusion and start taking real action.
The NAD needs to recognize that the messages it is sending in its response to our concerns is all civil rights do not matter, that the deaf do not stand with all other oppressed groups, and that not all deaf within the deaf community equally matter to you.
Remember. This message isn’t just being sent to your membership. This is being sent to the public at large.
Declare support for marriage equality. Admit that your message needs fine-tuning. Promise that your officers will examine the place of privilege they are coming from: white, heterosexual, cisgender, and primarily male. Renew your commitment to reform, change, and inclusion.
I urge all LGBTs, deaf and hearing alike and their allies, NAD and deaf community members who support civil rights for all, and all those who believe the NAD needs to stand unequivocally in support for civil rights to correspond with the NAD and make our position clear. Retweet this article, repost on Facebook, and write directly to the NAD.
Email: CEO Howard Rosenblum and President Bobbie Beth Scoggins
Twitter: @nadtweets, @nadconf, @howrose
Sign the petition.
Octavian Robinson is a PhD candidate working on the final stages of his dissertation about the deaf community's campaigns for citizenship during the early 20th century. His field of expertise is the expansion of citizenship in the United States and the advancement of civil rights for women, African-Americans, people with disabilities, and the American Deaf Community. When not writing, he basks under the Southern California sun with his four-legged sidekick and a pile of books.