(Joe assists me with getting to the stage area and returns to his seat as I start.)
That lovely man you just saw up here is my husband and next year we will celebrate our 50th anniversary. (applause)
It’s wonderful to receive applause now but back then was a different story. Our relationship was vilified. Our love held suspect. We lived our lives in silence carefully moving the the world outside our home.
And then when I stepped into human services I saw what happened when tyranny, when tyranny, weaponized disapproval. Because what happened to people with disabilities regarding their sexuality is simply unconscionable. We used torture as best practice. We took cattle prods and burned their skin, we shot lemon juice into their mouths. I met a little girl of 8 years old, with Down Syndrome, and in order to stop her from masturbating her therapist had said that they should shoot lemon juice in her mouth every time she touched below the waist. She had scars down both sides of her mouth.
People with intellectual disabilities have never been seen as truly human.
People with intellectual disabilities have never been seen as truly adult.
And people with intellectual disabilities have never been seen as capable of loving and of loving other people.
And you know in my work with people with intellectual disabilities, and the journey that we have had, we have seen remarkable progress but we still live in an era where the civil liberties of people with intellectual disabilities are not governed by law, they are governed by boards of directors of agencies and from one mile to another a person with a disability can lose all their civil liberties simply because of the disapproval of others.
When we first began the journey, and I first started speaking out about the rights of people with disabilities to be simply sexual beings, and that they had both genitals and heart, I faces fierce opposition. The books I wrote were burned, I was called a pornographer, I was banned from speaking in Oregon, and received death threats in Canada.
But I’ll tell you this. I am different, and I know I am different, I’m fat, I’m gay, I’m disabled, and the experience of difference is a wonderful thing because it gives us a well spring, it gives us a well spring of anger, and it gives us a well spring of hope and it gives us a well spring of justice. And if we use our difference properly we will use our voices well. And we have the responsibility, each one of us, to use the voices that we were given, to discover what difference means to us, to discover what we have faced as human beings and understand that it’s not okay. It’s not okay for people to live in spaces where they are not safe. It’s not okay for people with disabilities to be judged differently because they live and move in the world in different ways. We need to understand that the gay community, the LGBT community, is a very large community, and people with disabilities are members of that community. People with disabilities have got a right to membership, in this community. I so often sit at the intersection of disability and sexuality and watch the parade go by because there is no cut curb.
Thank you for this award and thank you for acknowleging, in giving it to me, that the lives of those of us with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, are of importance to you and that the LGBT community will work to confront prejudice and inaccessibility so that all of us can participate and all of us can contribute.