The following article appeared in the Toronto Star. Share your opinion in the comments area below.
Gay, deaf and missing the message
Deaf people are affected by HIV/AIDS at higher rates than the hearing
Jun 22, 2007
As Toronto councillor Kyle Rae officiated at the opening ceremonies
at Pride Week Monday, he announced that all official events would be
interpreted into American Sign Language (ASL). Even singers were
asked to submit the lyrics to their songs so they could be signed to
deaf participants during their concerts.
The ASL news was heartening and inclusive but it failed to drive home
the more serious message â€“ that deaf people are affected by HIV/AIDS
at higher rates than hearing people.
Statistics are slim but some activists estimate deaf people are
affected at rates two to 10 times higher than hearing people.
They suspect the numbers are high because too many members of the
deaf community are missing the nuances of the safe-sex message and
the risks associated with intravenous drug use. U.S. Department of
Health statistics suggest one in seven deaf people has a history of
substance abuse, compared with one in 10 in the hearing population.
In August, the Toronto-based Deaf Outreach Program celebrates its
20th anniversary, says spokesperson Kevin Canning. For two decades,
the small, poorly funded organization, a branch project of the
Ontario Association of the Deaf, has struggled to get the complex
message of AIDS, HIV transmission and safe-sex practices to thousands
of deaf Canadians it fears donot fully understand the issues.
“HIV is spreading rapidly due to a lack of information and access to
knowledge,” Canning says by email.
Canning admits he has his work cut out for him as he travels
throughout North America spreading the message using ASL. There are
many deaf people living with HIV and many others who are HIV-positive
but don’t know they are infected, says Canning, who has been
associated with the outreach program for seven years.
Once he has the attention of deaf people, however, he knows he can
make himself understood. “Because ASL is a visual language,” the
concepts can be explained clearly, he notes.
The issues associated with being deaf and gay are many and layered.
There have always been challenges associated with coming out as a gay
person. But discussing that and the complexity of HIV transmission
and safe-sex behaviour when there is a “language” barrier is even
According to Virginia Gutman, chair of the department of psychology
at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a school founded in 1880
to provide higher education for deaf people, 90 per cent of deaf
children are born to hearing parents, and too often the parents don’t
Gutman, who authored a chapter on gay-deaf therapy in Psychotherapy
with Deaf Clients from Diverse Groups (Gallaudet Press), knows too
many gay deaf people are not getting the message about HIV
transmission and the importance of safe sex.
“It’s all about access to information,” she says. “If there is a
public service announcement on the radio, they are not going to hear
it.” Schools for the hearing public are not consistent in their
conviction to get the message out clearly and neither are schools for
“Ninety per cent of deaf children have hearing parents and not all
parents are committed to signing so they often can’t be counted on to
deliver the message accurately.” The physiology and the emotional
message around sex is often difficult to explain. Even the medical
care gay deaf people receive may not get the message across,
particularly if the doctor doesn’t sign, Gutman says.
Michelle Bourgeois, vice-president of the Ontario Rainbow Alliance of
the Deaf, (ORAD), says the challenges associated with being gay and
deaf vary but often include isolation and discrimination. ORAD, a
chapter of the U.S.-based Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf organization,
is a social network for deaf gay people, with approximately 100
people involved, that works to dismantle those barriers.
Despite being deaf, Bourgeois is upbeat: “Personally, I have had such
a great life so far because I am deaf and because I am gay. Every
year the level of accessibility gets better.”
Technology is helping.
Advances considered entertaining by the hearing public have been of
enormous benefit to the deaf. Text messaging and computer video
cameras have provided a “sea change” in the way deaf people can
participate in the world around them, says Gutman. Now, there are
gay/deaf websites, magazines and e-zines. There are gay deaf
organizations and clubs. Even online dating sites like deafloves.com
offer services to gay singles that help them make the first move.
(( Source: The Star ))