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Introduction — (6:15)

Dara Schur, Director of Litigation, Protection and Advocacy Inc.

Let me introduce briefly: Corbett O’Toole, director of the Women’s Disabled Alliance; Bill Compton, who is the director of 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 minute.

History of this Workshop
This workshop 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 GLBT 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 "gay" or "lesbian" or "bisexual." There are some definitions in your packet. 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 Stan Price and other 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.

Guy Leimus 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.

Issues at 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 orientation.

We are 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 disabilities.

There are 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, about "intersex" individuals; 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.

Corbett O’Toole (10:22)

Dara Schur: 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.

Corbett is 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 Berkeley and worked at DREDF [Disability Rights & Education Fund] as well. So, Corbett…

Corbett O’Toole: What Dara put into a context is that I'm really….. old. I've been into the 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 those issues.

"Disability 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.

Parenting a 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.

Silence 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.

Making Queer 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 504 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.

Examples of Issues
I want to give you some examples of how these are playing out among people that I know in the communities I am working.

Example 1. 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 Plans.

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.

Queerness Affecting Access to Services
Whether we're 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 the 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 Compton (14:35)

Dara Schur: Bill is past president of the California Network of Mental Health Clients, currently 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.

Bill Compton: I've known 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 same gene.

Closeted 1950s
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.

Everything was gay
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 and the Stonewall happened, the 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.

Mentally Ill 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 happen.

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 city of 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 the time.

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.

"Fruits and Nuts"
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 started that.

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.

What Advocates 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.

Thank you.

Dara Schur: Bill, thank you.

Keith Dubois (16:44)

Dara Schur: 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.

Keith Dubois: 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 cerebral palsy as a result 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.

Christian 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.

Keith, we’re 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?

Statement of non-discrimination
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 coming.

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.

Dara Schur: 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.

Karyn Hernandez (15:56)
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 college.

Special Ed
I was in special ed 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.

She was always very open-minded and liberal until I told her that I was gay
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 PFLAG  group or 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.

It’s ingrained in you…if they found out they’d have a heart attack and die
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.

I’m not 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.

I'm starting 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.

And, I 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.

Include us
So, again, 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.