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Beyond One-Dimension: An Open Letter to NAD

(The following letter was submitted to the National Association of the Deaf Board of Directors.)

Dear NAD Board Members,

Thank you for your wonderful declaration of support for queer marriage equality. Such a declaration coming from the NAD Board would have been unfathomable 15-25 years ago. The major difference between then and now is that people have become more educated, aware and are taking a stand against inequality. It takes courage to be an ally. And it is allies uniting together against all forms of oppression that will ultimately change the world.

Our joy at NAD’s declaration was, unfortunately, short lived when we learned that NAD has offered a legislator who has actively infringed upon and sought to eradicate the civil and human rights of women, queer people, and people of color a platform to speak at its upcoming conference. And what will this legislator be presenting about? Civil rights, of all things.

The decision to invite South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard to speak at the conference was clearly not well thought out and reflects poorly on the NAD as a civil rights organization.

We urge the NAD to rescind its invitation to Governor Daugaard. We understand that political repercussions may be a concern, but not rescinding the invitation may cause irreparable harm to the NAD’s reputation as a civil rights organization. Unlike an elected official who will eventually be termed out of office in a few years, the long-term ramifications of losing the respect, trust and support of the deaf community and other civil rights organizations is something that NAD may never fully recover.

We further urge the NAD to move away from being a one-dimensional, single-focused organization to an aware organization that is truly committed to social justice and equality for all deaf people.

Other civil rights organizations have learned the importance of the movement-building insights of intersectionality. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, based in Washington, DC, for example, is a model civil rights organization committed to social justice. As stated on their website, “The Task Force understands that racism, classism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and transphobia are experienced by many members of our community, which is why so much of our current work revolves around racial and economic justice.” And they walk the talk. Not only in their daily work but also at their annual Creating Change conferences. Flip through their recent conference program book (attached) and you will find workshops on such topics as anti-racism, gender inequality, sexism, economic inequality, Jewish movement building, transphobia, and labor issues, to name a few.

It is clear that NAD needs to educate itself and think differently about how it views identity, equality, power, and privilege. These are not other people’s “issues”. These are all of our issues.

To quote KW Crenshaw (a Black feminist law professor at Columbia), who coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989:

“People complain that people keep dragging ‘side issues’ into ‘their movement’ and they don’t understand that these issues are the movement. Because a movement that commits oppression in the name of liberation is not a good movement, to put it bluntly. We are more vocal about these issues because we have learned the cost of shutting up, because we constantly have to remind people, because the minute we stop, everything returns to the way it was, the status quo is reestablished, and the real structural and institutional problems that create inequality go, once again, uninterrogated.”

I’m attaching some links and handouts regarding intersectionality and the matrix of domination for those on the board who may not be familiar with these concepts.

As a civil rights organization, NAD must take a more active role towards eradicating injustice in all shapes and forms against its members. NAD is not being an advocate nor an ally by aligning itself with a legislator that has actively sought to oppress the rights of others.

We are all learning and growing. Every single one of us. We make mistakes. How we deal with our mistakes speaks volumes about our character. It takes courage to humble ourselves and acknowledge when we’re in the wrong. And it takes leadership and integrity to right our wrongs.

NAD Board members, I have every confidence in you that you will do the right thing.
Respectfully,

Dragonsani Renteria
Founder
Deaf Queer Resource Center
http://www.deafqueer.org

Recommended Reading:

NGLTF Creating Change Program Book (PDF)
Wikipedia: Intersectionality 
A Primer on Intersectionality (PDF)
Wikipedia: Matrix of Domination
Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination

"There is no hierarchy of oppressions." -Audre Lorde