Director of Litigation,
Protection and Advocacy Inc.
director of the Women’s Disabled Alliance;
who is the
Project Return: The Next Step
and a PAI board member, and Keith Dubois, who is the
Assistant Coordinator for the Friendship Line at Project Return:
The Next Step. I'm going to introduce them a little bit more in a
evolved out of a decision that
PAI's board of directors
made last year to include among the groups that we serve as
underrepresented communities— the gay, lesbian, bisexual,
transgender community or
community – a term that I will talk about in a minute. And they
made a commitment to make it a priority to do outreach to the GLBT
community of persons with disabilities.
And so we began
to think a little bit about what it would mean to do outreach,
what were the experiences of people with disabilities who also
identified as — what some people with disabilities now call
themselves — "queer"; or
other people refer to as
or "lesbian" or
"bisexual." There are some
definitions in your
And we wanted to ask them to come and talk to us about their
experiences at the intersection of those two communities, what
some of the primary issues were in those two communities, and how
we as an organization can more effectively serve people at the
intersection of those communities.
And I really
want to thank a couple of people who really helped make this
happen. Certainly, Bill on the [PAI] board has provided
substantial leadership around this issue along with
board members who did a lot of work for this. We first did this
workshop at the PAI board of directors meeting to help the board
itself become more educated about these issues.
helped put that workshop initially together as well. Thank you,
Guy. And Margaret Jacobson and Ann Menasche both helped developed
some of the materials that are in the bibliography. We began to
look for readings that were at the intersection of disability and
gay issues, and actually managed to find quite a few of them, many
of them provided by Corbett as well. A lot of work went into it.
the Intersection of Disability and GLBT
I think a lot
of us—or many people— might jump to AIDS—people with AIDS are
people with disabilities, many of whom are gay. Of course, there
are a lot of stereotypes, among them, that only people who are gay
get AIDS. But the issues are so much broader: harassment,
discrimination in housing, benefits, employment; double, triple
discrimination if you’re also a person of color. Stigma,
stereotyping, invisibility, access. Some very interesting issues
about how people—I think many of us would be familiar with the
idea of invisible disabilities and how people deal with that—well,
that issue comes up all the time for people who are gay and
lesbian. Are you invisible? How do you identify? When do you
identify? What does that mean?
[There are] [a]
lot of issues about personal autonomy and decision making and
authority. Homosexuality was a disability under the
DSM and there are still
DSM categories around gender
identity and gender dysfunction. There was a time in
which homosexuality was defined as a disability but we have looked
beyond that time for the most part. But it was not uncommon and
still is not that uncommon for people to be institutionalized
simply because they are gay or because of their sexual
certainly dealing with — I know the [PAI] Personal Autonomy
Workgroup— is dealing a lot with issues of sexual autonomy for
persons with disabilities and those include the right of gender
identity, gender orientation and developing relationships with the
people you choose regardless of their gender and all the various
sexual expression in institutions and facilities for people with
barriers to get health care and health insurance. There are
tremendous issues for our youth around increased suicide and
depression among gay and lesbian kids. There are a lot of issues
that we're probably not going to have time to talk about much,
individuals born with gender characteristics from both genders or
some combination or
transsexual gender issues;
people who choose to identify or make choices about how they want
that to happen and what medical services they need for that;
issues of social isolation; depression; difficulties of accessing
information; all the issues of what's "normal" that people in the
disability community struggled with for a long time, yet multiply
for people with disabilities who are gay; and all kinds of family
issues, family member choices, access to families, how you define
the family of your choice; unusual health issues. There is a
number of statistics showing, for example, that breast cancer has
a much higher incidence among the lesbian community than it does
in the heterosexual community. Why? Where's the intersection of
that disabling disease and sexuality?
And, as we
begin to have our new traumatic brain injury funds, on a
TBI issue, one of the
most well known gay disability issues was the
Sharon Kowalski /Karen Thompson
case out of Minnesota, where one of the women in the
partnership was in a car accident developed traumatic brain
injuries; and her partner was not allowed access to care for her;
and all of the legal hurdles they faced trying to deal with her as
a person with disabilities who also was a lesbian.
So, clearly, we
have a lot to work on and I really want to turn it over to the
speakers to tell you in their own words, and then to get some
discussion among us.
I'd like to start with Corbett O’Toole who has been doing a
tremendous amount of work around this. It's actually pretty
interesting. Corbett was, I think, the impetus and one of the
coordinators for the very first conference held in San Francisco a
couple of years ago [Queer
Disability Conference] for what was identified as the
"queer disability community"— a very large conference really
focused on exactly this issue.
director of the Disabled Woman's Alliance and has done a
tremendous amount of speaking and thinking around the intersection
of this issue. She's also been part of the disability movement for
many years. She was staff at the first CIL [Center
for Independent Living] in
and worked at
DREDF [Disability Rights
& Education Fund] as well. So, Corbett…
What Dara put into a context is that I'm really….. old. I've been
disability rights movement
since 1973. I've been primarily based in the Berkeley
community. I was working at the first CIL that was in Berkeley [Center
for Independent Living in
Berkeley], not at the
very beginning, but within a couple of years of that; was involved
primarily with disabled women's issues, which as those of you who
sort of know your disability history, we're sort of under the
radar in disability. Although the independent living centers and
the work being done on the college campuses was focused on
disability, and a lot of the work was being done by women, and a
lot of work was being done by feminists, and a lot of work was
being done by lesbians, there really wasn't any discussion about
and…" Issues — We'll get to those later
And, in fact,
when issues would pop up, for instance, when a disabled woman who
had been battered and needed access to a domestic violence shelter
that was not accessible, the answer sort of was, "Well, we'll get
to your issues later." And, certainly, the "later" was going to be
we'll do the disabilities stuff first and then we'll start
thinking about the "disability and" issues – disability and
gender, disability and other disabilities that are not physical
disabilities or blindness, disability and race, disability and
queer some way, way way later.
Over the years,
I've really become very concerned that that silence that initially
a lot of us bought into has become sort of the status quo. It's
become the status quo not only in independent living centers, but
it's become the status quo in agencies such as PAI or other
agencies that serve disabled people, and has become the status quo
in disability studies, which is the academic arm of thinking about
disability. So, a lot of my work in the last 5 years is really
focused on looking at how can we start to think about these issues
and start a dialog that, quite honestly, I wish had started 25
years ago, because it's certainly been happening among those of us
who are disabled and queer for the last 30 years. It just hasn't
been happening at the systemic level.
Child with a Developmental Disability
I also am a
parent of a child with a disability. In 1993 I had the opportunity
to adopt a girl from Japan who has
cerebral palsy. So, I've
also moved my life from being in the disability community and
doing a lot of education work with parents to, in fact, becoming a
parent with a child with a disability. My partner and I were in
the process of splitting up at that time, and so we adopted the
kid together. I adopted her, but we shared custody and had lots of
contact with her and we've both signed all the IEPs [Individualized
Education Program Plans] and we both been actively
involved with her life.
So I've also
had to interact with systems that I as a person with a physical
disability – I have
polio – wouldn't have
had to interact with. For instance, my daughter is in the
Regional Center system.
You know, we're dealing with a lot of stuff that I wouldn't
personally be dealing with. So, that informs some of the work that
I want to talk about.
People Who are Disabled and Queer
I think that
one of the things that have happened is that there has been an
enormous silence about people who are both disabled and queer. And
I want to piggyback on something that Dara said. There was an
important study done by the Institute of Medicine a few years ago
on lesbians and healthcare. [Lesbian
Health: Current Assessment and Directions for the Future 1999]
They found that very few people, who are actually women having sex
with women, actually use the word "lesbian;" that the behavior was
much more common than the identification.
Hi, I'm a lesbian; can you serve me?
I want to
mention that to you in terms of service and thinking through these
issues, because I think that one of the mistakes we make sometimes
is that we think that people are saying, "Hi, I'm a lesbian; can
you serve me?"; that there are no lesbians in the room, that there
are no lesbians in our client pool; that there are no lesbians in
institutions. We know that that's not true. We know that
statistically that's not true.
And, what I
think we have done as a group of people thinking about disability
is sort of bought into this systemic silence about queers with
disabilities. Or if we think that there are any —as Dara has said—
we think that there are a few gay men with HIV or AIDS. We don't
think that they're people of color going into the local
independent living program. We don't think that there is a deaf
person that's working in the grocery store. We don't think about
who really is the population of people with disabilities.
When we did the
first international queer with
disabilities conference, and we chose those words with
a lot of thought – queer and disability – we had people come from
all over the world to speak to us. And we ended up with about 200
definitions of how people saw their disabilities, and we ended up
with about 350 definitions of how people saw their "queerness." So
although I am a woman who only has sex with women, I'm certainly a
woman who in a traditional, and when I was coming up in the
lesbian community, would have been identified as a lesbian. I
actually put myself in the context of
queer now, because I think
that it encompasses those of us that are having a whole range of
alternative sexual behavior that often is stigmatized.
Issues Visible in Disability Work
I really want
to push us to start thinking about making queer issues visible
inside our disability work. And I want to point out that not only
are queer disabled people invisible now in our work, but I've been
doing a lot of research looking back at the books that document
the history that I personally lived through – the history of
disability in the San Francisco Bay Area – and the 504 [Section
of the 1973
Rehabilitation Act] accounts don't talk about queer
disabled people, the history of disability in the United States
and the Joseph Shapiro No Pity book [No
Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement
(Random House/Three Rivers Press, 1993, 1994)]doesn't
talk about queer disabled people. In fact, those of you who just
came back from the race workshop, it doesn't actually have a
reference based on race anywhere in the book. So, there’s a lot of
multiple invisibilities that are happening that I think are
significant enough for us to start to think about.
The handbook [session
materials] that you got
today is [makes you] probably among a handful of not gay people in
the disability community that have any idea where to find any of
these resources. This is like gold. It doesn't exist very easily.
I want to give
you some examples of how these are playing out among people that I
know in the communities I am working.
After watching the Gay Pride parade, a deaf, queer woman wearing a
deaf queer t-shirt falls down and breaks her arm. She's taken to
the local emergency room; she's still wearing her Gay Pride
t-shirt. She waits for hours before being seen. Why?
Example 2. At
the 1992 NCIL Conference (National
Council on Independent Living Conference), the
directors of the CILs inform me that their agencies are refusing
to serve people who they perceive to be either gay or people that
have HIV and AIDS. Why?
Example 3. When
a blind man asks his vocational rehabilitation worker to help him
get a job at the new gay center —he had heard about this job and
was interested in applying. When he goes back to his follow-up
appointment, the entire office staff, as well as a number of
clients in the waiting room, already know that he's gay.
Example 4. Two
adult women with developmental disabilities come to (and, in this
case, I'm actually using cognitive disabilities) an independent
living center asking for help for them to be able to live
together. (They've previously been each living at their parents'
homes.) They had already approached 6 other agencies for the past
year and each one has phoned their parents and said, "Please come
get your kids. We think that they don't understand what they’re
doing." And are treated by those agencies as a humorous anecdote
for the office.
Example 5. A
severely physically disabled woman wants to do online sexual
flirting with another woman, but because she uses voice input for
her computer, she's extremely careful for fear that if her
attendants hear her speaking and talking sexy with another woman,
that they will either harm her or quit.
Example 6. A
lesbian mother of a disabled child receives a phone call from the
new director of special ed for the school district. The mom is
informed that the new director does not consider her ex-partner to
be a real parent, even though the child has been in the district
for 8 years and both moms have signed all the IEPs
Individualized Education Program
Example 7. A
blind lesbian goes to a sperm bank. The sperm bank does an intake
and then states that they are refusing her sperm because they
believe that she would not be a good mother. She sues them and
loses. That case just got resolved about 2 months ago.
Affecting Access to Services
talking about a person who's disabled and queer as the individual
or whether we're talking about a person who's disabled and queer
as the parent of a child with a disability, my daughter is as
equally impacted by my queerness as I am by her race. And the fact
that my queerness creates access or lack of access to services for
my daughter depending on whether or not I'm "out" or not,
depending on whether or not I can keep my house "queer-free"
enough, that when whoever walks in – the IHSS [In-Home
Supportive Services]assessor, the social worker from
regional center or
whoever ––– that I have to say that is this a place that if
they're homophobic my daughter can still receive the services she
should be receiving. We are both equally impacted by each other's
situation. I just wanted to make that point.
Being queer is
not an irrelevant of any person's life, but in fact, an intrinsic
and defining part of it. It has shaped individual lives and it has
shaped disability history.
Bill is past president of the
California Network of Mental Health
board chair of Pacific Clinics;
he's been on our [PAI] board and the board of the
National Mental Health Association,
and, again, as I said, he's been on the forefront of beginning to
raise these issues for PAI. Bill, I’m going to let you tell your
story the way that you’d like.
I've been gay since I was six years old. And, you say, how do
you know that you're gay when you're six years old? I didn't
know what gay was when I was six years old, but I knew that I
was interested in boys, other boys, I was not interested in
women. An interesting thing happened to me. I had a cousin who
just came out since we did this last time, and he told me he
knew that he was gay when he was six years old, too. So, we
figured it was the Harrington gene, because we both have the
When I was six
years old it was 1951, and those were very closeted times in the
United States. There was a man who was very respected on our
street, who was caught with a young man, and it was a major
scandal. He was caught with a young man in a restroom and it was a
major scandal on the street. And, I know my dad, who was
collecting for the YMCA at that time; they were having a fund
raising campaign, and he said, "Well, I can't use him to collect
money this year because, you know, this is so horrible that he is
homosexual." And, I heard that and that made me worry about it
even more because I knew even then that I was a homosexual.
I was raised in
a very religious family and did try when I was going through high
school and college did try to be heterosexual. I really tried to
be heterosexual, but it just wasn't working.
And, in college
I decided that I was gay and I came out. And, what brought that
about was that I fell in love and then nothing mattered. And, then
I went to New York right after I graduated from college. I went to
New York City, which was, I don't know, a smorgasbord for being a
gay man. It had all sorts of gay men. I lived in Greenwich Village
during the 70s and all my life I was surrounded by people who were
gay. I had gay people at work, because I worked in the theater.
All my friends were gay. I went to parties that were totally gay.
And everything was gay.
I had been
involved, before I went to college, in
the anti-war movement, I
was involved very strongly in the anti-war movement. I was at the
1967 march on the Pentagon.
I was in
Chicago in 1968 and got
arrested, and so it was only natural that when I came to New York
raid on the Stonewall, which was a bar that I patronized, it was
only natural that I got involved in the
Gay Liberation movement,
and was one of the founders of the
Gay Liberation Front.
and on the streets of West Hollywood
Like I said, I was very gay and everything around me was
gay and that continued pretty much through my life until I came
out to California and ended up with mental illness, when the
voices started talking to me. When the voices first started
talking to me, like on the radio and TV, and then they started
talking to me at work, and then I told my boss he had sold out to
the devil, that I was going to lead him to the higher ground or
whatever, and I ended up being fired. And all my friends…
I ended up on the streets of all places West Hollywood and
found out the other side of West Hollywood, because West Hollywood
is very bad if you're homeless and mentally ill. I was on the
streets of West Hollywood for nine months. The friends that I had,
the people that I knew, were from my life before, none knew
exactly how to take me or what to do with me or anything like
that. "He's just nuts," you know. I was out there and I slept on
the street and it was a very lonely, sad experience. During the
whole time the voices were so bad that I could not really ask for
help, because when I would get on the telephone with somebody,
profanities would come out of my mouth, which I wouldn't say – the
voices would say, they'd speak through me. Believe me, this does
I was exiled to the street. I tried to get help from the
West Hollywood Sheriff's Department. I tried to get them to help
me, at least put me in the hospital, but they just ignored me. I
tried to get help from the LAPD and the Hollywood station and they
just ignored me too. I went to the mental hospital, County USC
which took public clients. I waited in the waiting room for like
three nights straight and they were no help to me either. They
wouldn't take me in.
All my life I've campaigned for community services. There
were absolutely no services for me in West Hollywood. And, I don't
think there are any services for the people of West Hollywood to
this day. West Hollywood sheriffs had a way of picking me up and
taking me over to Hollywood and saying, "Get out, we don't want
you to come back to West Hollywood." This is the gay city, the gay
West Hollywood. It was a
very sad occasion.
I ended up finding an unlicensed board and care, which took
me in, and I was able to get through to my conservator. I was
under conservatorship the whole time. But, like the conservator
couldn't find me because, nobody could find me because, if I
called them up, I wouldn't be there when they came because the
voices would move me. Because I had no sense of time because I
didn't have a watch. You don't know how it is not to have a watch
if you're out there on the street. Anyhow, I ended up in a board
and care and I ended up in a hospital and I was getting medicine,
and I've been like I am now ever since then, which I take meds all
In Board and
Care and back into the closet again
I still was very out, but I went into a
board and care. I went
into the board and care and I was smoking and smoking, and the
guys in the board and care were talking about all "those faggots"
out in West Hollywood and suddenly that made me go in the closet.
So, after all those years of being out and gay, I suddenly was in
the closet living in a board and care and scared, scared to
mention the fact to anybody that I was gay. It was like back in
the closet again.
Meanwhile, I had lost all my gay friends, so I was
isolated. I didn't have any gay friends and the people who were
mentally ill, the people that I was with now, were not accepting
of the fact that I was gay. I spent three years in that board and
care, and in the closet the whole time in the board and care.
And, then went out and got a job with the Mental Health
Association working with Project Return. I was sent to
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for an alternative conference in 1992.
And, at the alternatives conference they had a gay and lesbian
plank. They had workshops on gay and lesbians. I said, "Oh, my
god, they've got gay and lesbian workshops," and I took part in
them. Then, they said to me, "Why don't you start a group?" They
had started a group called the “Fruit and Nut Bar”, a national
organization. And they said, "Why don't you start a chapter in Los
Angeles?" So, I did, and it was called “Fruits and Nuts”, and it's
in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. And, that’s how I
We started having our meetings at the Gay Community Center.
We still have our meetings there, but that's sometimes not been
the best location, because you have people who are scared to go
into the room in the Gay & Lesbian Center where our club meets
because they'll be associated with being mentally ill. I mean,
they're just as closeted to being mentally ill, even though they
know they’re mentally ill, as I was to being gay in the board and
care. I don't know how to make this any better. I really don't.
I've been director of Project Return now for ten years. I'm
openly gay; everybody knows I'm gay; I don't tell anybody.
Everybody knows I'm gay. It's just like I was before, but what’s
different is I do not have all the gay friends I had before. I
have mostly friends in mental health and a few gay friends. I'm
involved with the AIDS benefit, which is a big benefit, which
raises money for AIDS and I have a number of gay friends at that.
And, I have a few gay friends who have stuck with me through the
years from before. But, I'm not as involved in the gay movement as
I was before; I'm more involved in the mental health movement.
Being openly gay has had some disadvantages. In fact, I did
get hate mail for a while as director of Project Return: The Next
Step. The hate mail has stopped, though; I haven't had any hate
mail for a number of years, which shows that they saw that it
didn’t bother me, so they stopped doing it. At Project Return,
Keith works for us, who is gay. We have a transgender person who
is very high up on our staff. We have a number of other openly gay
people. We've been very welcoming to gay people. In fact, the
transgender person was so glad to find us that she said all her
job resume was her as a man before, and it was very hard to find a
job with her as a woman. She just welcomed the fact that we
accepted her as a woman, and as far as I'm concerned, she is a
woman. I can't imagine thinking of her as a man. So, basically,
that's the background.
Can Do For Us
What I think that you guys could do for us, I think that
you have to realize we're harder to find; we are very invisible;
the gay mentally ill person is more invisible than the gay person.
The gay person has come out through the years; the gay mentally
ill person has feared to come out. And the same goes for the
mentally ill person who is gay; they're also scared to come out.
We do have a double stigma. We could use focus groups. We could
use PAI to be there when we are discriminated against.
I mentioned that when I went to a brown bag lunch over at
the [PAI] Los Angeles office and I mentioned that I think it's
important to coordinate with
AIDS Project L.A.
because I think that PAI can do a lot if people know that PAI is
there for them.
I also had one other experience that's led to these
workshops. When I came to the board of PAI a couple years ago and
I said at my first retreat as a board member that I was gay, I
realized I was the only one there, or at least the only one saying
that they were gay. And I think that it's important that we need
to have more involvement. I'm on the board, but I think we need to
have more involvement of gay, lesbian and transsexuals on the
board of PAI.
Keith is the Assistant Warmline Coordinator of the Friendship Line
of Project Return [Project
Return: The Next Step]; he's the president of the
Quality Assurance Board of
Pacific Clinics, and I
think I'm going to let him tell you the rest of his story.
Good morning, everyone. Before I really start, I would really like
to thank PAI for inviting me here. It's been a wonderful
conference. And I'd like to thank the board for having workshops
such as this.
I'd like to say I'm an African-American, handicapped, gay
male with a mental illness. So, my middle name is diversity.
Dealing with those types of issues wrapped up into one guy like me
is quite something.
Growing Up Gay
and with Cerebral Palsy
I grew up in what is now called Central Los Angeles; in my
day it was South Central Los Angeles. I knew that I was different
from a physical point when I was five and the first time I went to
a daycare center and I was sitting right next to a little boy.
Back then I had a helmet on my head; I had braces that I had to
wear, because I have a mild form of
meningitis when I was
three. I was sitting next to a little boy and he clearly told me,
"I'm not going to be your friend," just like that. I knew then
that I was different. And, it was an uphill battle trying to make
friends when you walk different, when you walk just a little bit
slower than everyone else and talk just a little bit different
than everyone else does.
I began to know I was different from my human sexuality
standpoint when I was 13. When all my other male friends are
noticing all the other girls in the classrooms and stuff like
that, I was noticing all my other male friends. And, although I
didn't have language for it, I didn't think that the word "fag"
fit who I was. I knew I was different; I knew I had these
feelings; and I also knew that growing up in a faith-based
community, as many of us who are African American do, that
something was different. And inherently, if you grow up in a
faith-based community, something is very wrong if you're having
these feelings. So, it was very difficult for me to come to grips
with being gay and being all these things and dealing with them.
University — 12 Step Program to Change
When I was in college, I went to a Christian university.
The buzz on campus was that everyone in choir, at least all the
males in choir, were homosexual. Come to find out that there were
a few of my friends, after I had graduated, who were homosexual.
Not all the males in the choir, but a fair number of them. Later
on I began to work for the university, and I belonged to a
faith-based 12-step program to try to change my orientation from
homosexual to heterosexual. That, of course, wasted
three years of my life. Because we know now, we know
statistically, that that doesn't work. We know statistically from
folks who have been in those programs that it doesn't work.
So, in fact, all of my friends back then who were in that
program are "out" now. And, those are the ones that I see at
Gay Pride parades. You
know, these were the guys who were staunch on changing, and that's
what God wanted you to do; he wanted you to be straight.
Instead of shifting my orientation to my behavior, which I
thought was where the focus needed to be, i.e., dangerous “park”
behavior, which I was very much involved in. I became involved
with park behavior early in my twenties and dangerous behavior
like that, getting in other men's cars when they would give me a
glance or two. Sometimes that meant favors for monetary
compensation. I figured I could use the money and they could use
the companionship – it was the perfect partnership.
But I find now that things I did twenty years ago, when
they were cute back then, they're not so cute anymore. And, I'm
very thankful that I'm the age I am now. I can think a lot better
with a clearer understanding of who I am.
I was living with five other guys— after my college years—
from my campus. I lived with them for about three years. They came
to me one day; two of them came to me one day, and said, "Keith,
we think you struggle with your sexuality." Well, clearly at that
point, I was tired of dealing with the issue of being gay. I
wasn't doing anything to bring any harm to them; I wasn't bringing
strange men into the house or anything of that nature. So, I said,
"What are you asking me? Are you asking me if I'm gay?" "Yeah,
we're asking you if you're gay."
At that point, they gave me two weeks to find a place. So,
I found a place with income that I have now. I was on
SSI. So, I found a
place, which I've been in for ten years now. I've been on my own,
or at least on my own, paying my own rent for ten years now. And
it's working out pretty good.
going to have to let you go
The university I went to that I started working for, I
worked for a mission-based organization on campus, and, as I said,
I was going to a 12-step faith-based program to try to change my
sexual orientation. My boss knew, my friends who I worked with on
campus and who I went to school with, knew (and at that point, I
was struggling with my orientation) knew that I was going to these
programs, and that was perfectly okay with them. Along with that,
I was continuing to go to these organizations. And, as long as I
was struggling with my orientation, that was fine.
Five months into my job, my boss comes to me and says,
"Keith, we're going to have to let you go." And, they let me go
because one of my secretaries found out that I was going to these
organizations, which implicated me as being gay. So, I lost that
job, and I found a…for about two years I worked in fast foods.
That was pretty bad.
The strange thing about losing my job at that particular
organization is the people who are accrediting these schools,
particularly faith-based schools, are now, of course, the new word
is "diversity." So, what they are requiring is a certain amount of
accountability for staff members and also students who are
homosexual on campus. So, at least the issue now, although it's
past my time, is being talked about. And, I think that's going to
free up a lot of kids on campus, who are otherwise unable to speak
about their orientation. So, I think it's a wonderful thing.
I worked for an organization here, down in Los Angeles, an
HIV organization, HIV education organization, called Ramazi, based
in Inglewood, California, to educate African Americans on the
issues of HIV and AIDS. I worked there for about five to six
months before they came to me and told me, on my birthday no less,
that "Keith, we're going to have to let you go." And, they didn't
give me a reason why. They just let me go. I started crying; I
started crying during the interview, and I could not stop. To save
my life, I could not stop. And, I don't know if it was because it
was my birthday or because of the fact that I was being fired and
not knowing why.
I stayed in bed
for a year
Well, they called the police and the police took me down to
Harbor-UCLA, where luckily I only stayed for three hours before I
was able to pull myself together and come home. I came home, I got
undressed and I stayed in bed for a year, and I could not get out
to save my life. I had some friends who came to me, some of my
very close friends, who happened to be homosexual, they came to
me. My phone was being turned off; my bills weren't getting paid.
They were right there and I had the money right here. I just
couldn't pay it to save my life
My friends came to me and said, "Keith we love you we do,
but your behavior is unacceptable. We're not going to accept it
and we don't think you should." Well, they quickly marched me down
to my local mental health center, which happened to be Pacific
Clinics at the time. And, at Pacific Clinics I said okay I'm
there, I'm here. What I'll do is I’ll take my medicine and I’ll go
home, and that's it. I won't get involved in any anger management
stuff that they have for me or any of these other groups that they
have for me. And, a year later after being there, I was running
more groups than I was in. So, who knew?
I am currently the President of a consumer-based
organization at Pacific Clinics called the Quality Assurance
Board. And, one of the first things that I did on their statement
of discrimination, which said that we do not discriminate on the
basis of age, disability, gender, things of that nature. And, one
of the things that they left out was sexual orientation. Well, at
my first opportunity as a member of the Quality Assurance Board,
you better believe that the first thing I had changed and had them
add to their anti-discrimination policy was they did not
discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Because it was on
the board, that policy is on…the anti-discrimination policy of
Pacific Clinics it just wasn't the anti-discrimination policy of
the Quality Assurance Board.
A year after coming to Pacific Clinics I had an opportunity
to take over a social club that is one of many social clubs that
Project Return runs called the Socialites. And, it's an
organization…our clubs are based for education and more social
stuff so we can get together as mentally ill people. I took over
that club and a while after taking over that club I became part of
the staff on the Friendship Line.
It's a good
thing at Project Return
Well, six months into getting my job at the Friendship Line
my boss calls me into the office, and I'm like uh-oh. 'Cause
anytime a boss calls you into the office it's not a good thing. I
was confident enough to know that it wouldn't be because I was
gay, so that was good. So that must have meant that something was
wrong with my performance if she was calling me into the office.
So, she called me into the office. You know, I'm mentally
ill; everyone who works at Project Return is mentally ill. So, I'm
pacing the floor and she says, "Keith, calm down, calm down. It's
a good thing." She calls me into the office and she says, "My
supervisors and I, we've been watching you and we really are
impressed with the job that you're doing. And, we'd like to offer
you a supervisory position." Well, you could have hit me with a
baseball in left field, because I was just totally didn't see that
So, I have now taken on more responsibility at Project
Return, which has put be up from half-time to, I'm at 30 hours
now. That'll be great for me to take on that responsibility.
When you think,
"I can't take one more case", remember me
I think one of the things that PAI, where I'd like to see
you focus in more is on … well, my issue, I think you're doing a
great job, even having forums like this, to even have the ability
to talk about being gay, talk about being part of the GLBT
community, not having to talk about it in a whisper, is a big
stride and it erases a lot of stigma. And, what I would like to
say is when you folks who are part of PAI and you get tired of "I
just can't fight anymore," and for those of you folks who are
doing this kind of work, and "I can't take on one more case,"
remember me and put a face on the issues that you're fighting for
and remember that you're fighting for people like me and we're
fighting together. We are folks who are fighting together.
What you can do
I'd like to see more, I'd love to see more PAI type of
things in communities of color. I spend a lot of time in West
Hollywood or I used to. And, for a community like West Hollywood
to say that they're so diverse and they have all these diversity
programs, there's not much diversity there. There isn't. And,
everything is based on, and if you'll forgive me for saying this,
gay white male syndrome.
If you're not a gay white male and you don't look a certain
way then you certainly do see the "you're not welcome here" signs
everywhere. And, I think it's time that those type of signs, like
the signs in the ‘60s that said "Blacks Only" or "Whites Only"
those type of signs need to be taken down with a vengeance. And, I
think programs like PAI, those are the type of programs, these are
the type of organizations who are tearing down those type of
signs. Thank you.
I have to say this is the second time I've heard Keith and Bill
tell their stories and the first time I've heard from Corbett and
I am really touched and honored that you felt comfortable enough
to share with us such personal histories to help us understand why
the GLBT issues are as much a part of our issues as all of the
other disability issues that we deal with. And, to really talk
with us in a very honest and open way about the intersection and
what it really means on a personal level and help us begin to
think about how we can then pragmatically reach out to this type
of people that we serve and work with and do some of the things
they have been suggesting. So, I've been really touched and thank
you for honoring us with the stories.
My name is
Karyn Hernandez and I knew that I was a lesbian, I mean, I knew I
was different as young as three. But, of course, I didn't have
language for it back then, and it kind of went underground until
I was in
for a long time. And, special ed for me was a
really mixed experience. On the one hand it was good that I had a
community at such a young age of people with disabilities, you
know. But at first the teaching and all that that really kind of
sucked. Special ed. I was finally mainstreamed when I was ten for
part of the day and by high school I was totally mainstreamed
completely. And, in high school I was beginning to wonder about my
sexuality. All my girlfriends were totally boy crazy, which I
wasn't. I really didn't understand it actually how they could get
so nuts about a guy. I just didn't get it, you know. But, I didn't
really start thinking and exploring with sexuality until college,
until I got to Cal Berkeley.
always very open-minded and liberal until I told her that I was
Once I got
to Cal Berkeley I started seeing a therapist and started, you
know, the process of coming out. It took me four years to come out
just to myself. Once I did that, once I did that it was a great
relief for myself. But, I didn't really tell anybody for about a
year after that. I called my parents and said I was gay and they
both cried. My family is…I'm half Cuban; my dad's Cuban, so I have
the Latin side, which is very religious as well there too. So,
being gay was not an option. My mom was always very open-minded
and liberal until I told her that I was gay and then it was like
"oh, my God!" You know? I guess once it hits close to home, it
changes. But, they both cried and they both said that I should go
see a Christian counselor so I could see the light, which I really
couldn't believe that they were saying this after so many years.
So my mom,
anyway, was so open-minded and liberal with other people. I did
tell my parents if they wanted to go to a
something that they could do that. Of course, they just thought
that I was the one with the problem, not them. So, they told me at
the time I came out to them, they told me not to tell my extended
family – my cousins and stuff – because, at the time, my youngest
cousin was two years old and they said that if I told my family
that I probably couldn't see her. And I wasn't willing to risk
that at the time. So, I never really came out to my whole family;
I'm still not really out to them actually. Whether they know or
not, I don't know.
To my family
she was just a roommate
But, once I
got to Cal and started coming out to people, of course, people
were fine with it and cool with it. After a year of being out I
did get a girlfriend who I've been with for five years; she's also
disabled, physically disabled. And, she wasn't out either at the
time, so for like the first six or nine months of our relationship
we had to do a lot of hiding and sneaking around because she was
still kind of dealing with it herself at the time. Then, like I
said, we ended up being together for five years; we got a place
together and everything.
And my mom,
my parents, my family, you know, to them she was just my roommate,
not my partner. Even though, at some point during our
relationship, they did know that we were together as a couple,
they did know that, but never really acknowledged it or anything
like that. But, like I said, she wasn't out for a while either, so
it was very kind of hard in the beginning.
But my mom
throughout the years, now she's kind of come around. I mean, the
way she talks about it or deals with it is by calling me up, you
know, and saying, "Oh, did you see Friends last night? They had a
lesbian on." Or, "Oh, did you see Melissa Ethridge last night?"
That's her way of kind of talking about it and dealing with it,
which is better than my father who just doesn't acknowledge it at
all. And he's still very homophobic in a lot of ways. It's not
really an okay topic with him.
ingrained in you…if they found out they’d have a heart attack and
But, like I
say, you know, the Latin part of my family has a big influence on
this too. So, of course, my Latin side of the family doesn't know,
of course, because you know they'd probably have a heart attack
and die, or something like that, which is fine, because like
you're used to something like that your whole life. And,
intellectually, you know that if they did find out they're
probably not going to actually die, like really die, but it's
scary because it's ingrained in you throughout your whole life
that if you say something, you know, that's going to happen. So,
I’ve never told the Latin side. As far as the other side of my
family, like I said, they don't talk about it. I don't know if
they do or not. So, it's just not talked about.
really out about my mental disability issues
But, once I
came out to myself, I was really relieved. My mental disability
stuff also kind of came out around the same time. I had a friend
who used to go to Cal and we spent a lot of time together and he
died while he was there. And, after he died, it kind of triggered
my depression issues big time. And, that's when I started dealing
with my depression issues, which, actually you know, I'm still not
really out about all my mental disability stuff too much.
be more out now, but it's still hard because there is such a
stigma around depression and
PTSD, you know, post
traumatic stress disorder, you know that. And, my family as well
they don't understand my depression issues at all. To them, why
should I have any problems, you know, why should I have any
worries? Which is silly, so I think my family is kind of in denial
about that too. So, I don't really have family support around my
depression and my queerness for that matter. I'm in therapy; I
have been in therapy for eight years now and I'm on medication and
my depression has gone up and down, way down sometimes, and there
are times when I don't really want to be around anyone, because
it's so hard, it's so hard to be around. And, sometimes I feel
like I don't really fit in anywhere.
I don’t fit
in the lesbian community; I don’t fit in the disabled community
I don't feel
like I fit in to the lesbian community at large because I'm
disabled. I don't feel like I fit in to the disabled community too
much anymore because I'm either gay or my mental stuff. And, then
to go into a disability crowd sometimes I feel like I'm not really
acceptable with either because I'm not as, because my depression
isn't as severe like their issues, for example. So, it's really
hard, and it's like I live in Berkeley and Berkeley's supposed to
be a really progressive place to be and in a way it is, but in a
lot of ways it isn't.
worked at the
Center for Independent Living
for two years where I used to work with Jean Lin actually over
there. And at CIL I was out, people knew I was gay and there was a
handful of gay and lesbian staff there too at the time so it was
okay, but the mental stuff I wasn't out about that at all at work,
or anything like that at all.
So, I just
want to say that I'm really glad that you guys are taking this on,
because it's important and we do exist. You know, we do exist. I
mean, it's important because we should be included in society, in
just everything. And, also, I'm an only child. So, being in
therapy for so long now, looking back now, I was probably
depressed my whole life, most likely, looking back at it now.
Because I'm an only child, I've spent a lifetime alone as a kid,
totally alone, by myself, sometimes sad or angry or whatever,
because my family had a hard time talking about feelings and
things like that.
So, I think
they felt like that since I had this physical disability, I think
that sometimes the emotional stuff is pushed aside because the
parents are so worried about physical stuff and they got debt to
take care of, paying for my education and this and that. So, I
think, in a lot of ways that they just got too overwhelmed, if you
want to say that, with the physical disability that they just
didn't bother with my emotional stuff at all.
So, I'm not
really, I mean, at this point, I'm 33 now, and, you know, like I
said, my family really is not very supportive of either my
depression stuff or my gayness. And I'm just grateful that I do
have a therapist who does understand. She's lesbian herself and I
actually started seeing her at Cal a long time ago. That was
probably the best thing I ever did for myself. Actually, I knew at
the age of 12 that therapy would be my way out. I just knew that
at a really young age, like that therapy had to be a way out. But,
of course, I had to wait until I could actually get therapy on my
own without my parents knowing. So, I had to wait until I went to
college, which I did.
I'm glad you guys are taking this on because it's a big topic that
is important and I think it's time that the queer community at
large too starts looking at us and starts including us in their
organizations and stuff like that.