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  • Leeds LGBT+ Literature Festival

How Literature Helps Bridge the Gap Between the Deaf and LGBTQIA+ Communities

Being LGBTQIA+ has never been easy, and even in today’s progressive climate, it’s still difficult. However, if you’re juggling two separate marginalised identities, life is even more challenging. For example, I’m hard of hearing, as well as queer, and this presents several issues.

By Melanie Ashford

Being d/Deaf or Hard of Hearing and Being Queer

Being LGBTQIA+ is often all about community and getting to socialise with other queer people. However, if you have a disability that directly impacts your ability to communicate, or you’re a member of the Deaf community and use British Sign Language (BSL) as a first language, socialising is difficult.

For example, many areas still don’t have adequate community spaces for LGBTQIA+ people to meet, and where these places do exist, they revolve heavily around in-person communication. With the onslaught of Zoom meetings, instead of face-to-face meetings, being part of the queer community has become almost impossible for people with hearing issues or Deaf people.

I’m hard of hearing myself, and the only options I have in my local area are a queer coffee evening twice a month and a gay nightclub or two. Don’t get me wrong; I am fortunate to have even this much and to live in a country where I can be out and love who I want to love. However, the coffee club, which would be ideal for most LGBTIQIA+ people in the area, takes place in a noisy setting and leaves me unable to follow most of the conversation. Not to mention that since COVID-19 darkened our doors, the club has moved to Zoom, which I can’t hear at all. When in-person meetings resume, things won’t be much better for lipreaders like me, as we will almost certainly have to take on the facemask issue.

So much of the LGBTQIA+ community takes place in-person, or on Zoom, or at busy, crowded events that generate high background noise levels. D/deaf people are also automatically excluded from uncaptioned events and videos or podcasts.

For these reasons, literature makes an excellent bridge between the d/Deaf community and the LGBTQIA+ community, but it's worth bearing in mind that not all d/Deaf or hard of hearing people are comfortable with written English.

How Literature Helps Bridge the Gap Between Deafness and the LGBTQIA+ Community

If you find it challenging or uncomfortable to socialise in-person or via Zoom, literature is an excellent way to engage with the community. Literature offers a much broader sense of community than your local LGBTQIA+ space because you can engage with anyone who enjoys literature as well.

The internet is a fantastic tool for the d/Deaf and hard of hearing, as it contains a lot of text-based content and is the largest and most diverse social space on Earth. If you can’t find or even access, local queer community, try using hashtags on Twitter or joining Facebook groups. You can discuss what you’re reading, share tips on the best books, and make lifelong friends.

If the social aspect of having a passion for literature isn’t for you, then you can always pick up a queer book and immerse yourself in a fictional world. Access to books is crucial for anyone who is isolated or experiences loneliness. Books are also an excellent way of working through your own feelings about your sexuality or gender identity. They can help with issues relating to disability or being Deaf too.

Books provide a genuine connection to aspects of our identity like Deafness, disability, or queerness. They’re crucial to members of marginalised communities and can help bridge the gap between two intersecting aspects of your identity too.

Why We Need to Go Further to Accommodate d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in the Queer Community

Unfortunately, LGBTQIA+ spaces are not usually very Deaf friendly. If captions, BSL interpretation or the ability to lipread are not provided at queer events or meetings, the d/Deaf and hard of hearing are excluded from much-needed spaces.

Being hard of hearing is by default isolating, and community is crucial for anyone living with hearing issues, especially those who aren’t confident in BSL. As anyone queer knows, the community is vital, and many of us wouldn’t have survived or been able to come out without it. Deaf-friendly queer spaces are crucial, and we need to make more of an effort to provide these.

Books to Look Out For

Mel Ashford is a hard of hearing, demisexual lesbian from Wales, UK. She lives with a French Bulldog and a tortoiseshell cat. Catch her on Twitter at @ashford_mel or Instagram at @fantasywriterinpyjamas.

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