“If we do not give up”: Reflections on Disability and LGBTQ+ Advocacy
When I was younger, I went over to my neighbor’s house where he had friends over. Little did I know that they were whispering to each other about how they thought I was “retarded.” The girl who was sitting next to me heard them and informed me of what they said. Since I was so young and did not know what the word “retarded” meant, I went home to ask my mom. She did not answer me at first; instead, she wanted to know who had called me that.
The events of that day were hurtful for both my mom and me since I am not “retarded” after all. But, from that moment on, whenever I’m getting dressed, I make sure that I always look good – that my hair is always combed and not messy, and that the buttons on my shirt are buttoned correctly so there is no reason for someone to say anything unkind. Even so, I do not believe that being called a slur should be acceptable in our society. By working to develop good character, we can learn to accept and support one another, even when we may walk, talk, look, or love differently. I even wrote a song about this experience called “It’s Okay to Be You,” which describes my journey with accepting my disability and how it affects my physical coordination and fluency of speech. I also feel comforted by one of my favorite songs: “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves, which I recently played and sang on the piano.
Ever since then, I’ve been committed to advancing the cause of disability pride at my school, Bucks County Community College. For the past two years, I was fortunate to run the school’s Disability Pride Club, where disabled students and their allies can meet on Zoom to socialize, talk about how their disabilities impact their lives, and become good friends. Most importantly, we were able to honor a former student and Disability Pride Club member of ours named Steven who unexpectedly passed away last year. One of the things that we did in Steven’s honor was host a virtual memorial so we could all share our many memories of him. While it was a sad day indeed, it gave us the opportunity to develop a strong bond with one another, just as Steven would want.
At Disability Pride, we strive to live out Steven’s legacy by safely living life to the fullest. Steven was involved in so many other clubs, including our school’s LGBTQIA+ club, to the point where his dad said: “Steven used to get up at 6 am to ride the SEPTA bus to school, and then he would arrive home at 9 pm. I was not even aware of all the great things he did!” I remember attending meetings for the Student Government Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee that we were both a part of, and Steven played a reserved, yet supportive role. He advocated to fix broken handicap buttons on campus. He wanted to make the College more inclusive and accessible for all. My favorite memory is when he sat with one of our friends at lunch and then helped walk him to class afterward.
As a shy child who stuttered, I did not even imagine that I would befriend Steven or join a Disability Pride Club in college. In elementary school, I was content with walking slowly and standing in the back of the line and elsewhere to follow others around since my disability tightens my leg muscles and impairs my coordination.
Because of the challenges I’ve had and continue to experience, my desire to be still and listen to others’ stories in Disability Pride Club may be what led me to enjoy studying theology as I continually strive to become a stronger advocate for the disability and LGBTQIA+ communities. Last year, I attended a homiletics lecture given by Dr. Kathy Black, who is a disability theologian and Chair of Homiletics and Liturgics at Claremont School of Theology. I learned that some Christians in Church history believed that having a disability was a sin and that disabled people should not show themselves in public. This could be because of the passage from Leviticus 21:16-24 in which God said that people with deformities were not permitted in His Temple. Yet, in response to a question from His disciples about the spiritual state of a disabled man, Jesus said that the man’s disability was not a sin (John 9:3) and that God affirms people with disabilities just as they are as part of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:22-26). I believe Jesus feels the same about eunuchs (Matthew 19), a possible reference to LGBTQIA+ people as well.
Instead of telling people to change, suppress, or hide who God created them to be, I believe it would be best to embrace the new knowledge we have learned from the field of biblical scholarship and advocate for the full affirmation of LGBTQIA+ people, including those in the disability community. By doing so, we can base our theology on a correct interpretation of Scripture that properly bears good fruit and reflects the love of God. I am so excited about a new, informative documentary coming out this year called 1946, which encourages us to move forward in this way!
When LGBTQIA+ people are fully affirmed in the Church and elsewhere, they bear witness to God’s creativity and the variety of ways in which fruits of the Spirit like love, joy, and kindness can be expressed to others. Similarly, people with disabilities may experience gender, sexuality, and life differently because of their diverse bodies and minds. I think the intersectionality of the disabled and LGBTQIA+ experience is something we should celebrate!
In conclusion, my hope and prayer is that we would seek to foster the kind of love and pride for others that Steven exemplified in his daily life, and that in turn, we would continue to advocate for a more inclusive, accessible, and unified Church where all people, especially those part of the disability and LGBTQIA+ communities, are affirmed and celebrated for who they are. I know we can do it with God’s help. As Scripture says in the book of Galatians: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”
Christian Huber (he/him) is a person with a disability who is passionate about advocacy. He loves to meet new people, ride his bike on sunny days, listen to pop and gospel music, and learn about progressive Christian theology.