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Intersections in Queer and Disabled histories

brisakane's picture

(Trigger warning on inappropriate language used to describe disabled and LGBTQ+ people). 

In this week's reading of "A Disability History of the United States," I was particularly struck by the intersections in the history of disabled and LGBTQ+ people. This is first brought up on page 104, where the author discusses that physicans at Ellis and Angel island "characterized homosexuality as emanating from elements and forces outside the native-born white population." The language used to describe queer people is very similar to the language used to describe disabled people at the time -- this language promotes the belief that disability and homosexuality were caused by forces outside of the US population, which inherently impies its alien and negative status. More specifically, immigration laws at the time promoted that "the desire for sexual contact with others of the same sex to be proof of an inheritable form of insanity",  positioning queerness as a disability. This belief continued for decades after these immigration laws, with queerness being designated as a form of mental illness. It wasn't until 1973 that "homosexuality" was removed from DSM (Digagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). 

Being both queer and disabled, I found these intersections especially compelling. I have often been taught and have seen these two communities as having seperate and very different histories. Reflecting on the reading we did, though, it struck me just how intertwined these histories are. Both communities, while facing very different kinds of challenges, had similar societal standards in placing the responsibility on the individual, trying to "cure" the individual, and being institutionalized in conversion camps or "medical" institutions. While it is important to address the difference between these communities, I think it is valuable to see their history as inseperable. I wonder if it is some of my own internalized ableism (or homophobia) that wanted to so clearly seperate these communities and experiences. I did some more research on the intersections in this history and this is something that I want to continue to think critically about. 


sarahmayer's picture

I found this topic particularly interesting and powerful as well. Homophobia has always been very prevalent within society and has only recently been taken out of the DSM, which is widely used by many healthcare professionals. That being said, hearing the stories that queer people encountered at Ellis Island is shocking but honestly, not entirely surprising. The link that governmental officials made between sexual perversion and identifying as gay was made very clear throughout this chapter. I have often heard the LGBTQIA+ community being associated with sexual perversion, especially within the current political sphere. As an individual part of the LGBTQIA+ community, this chapter was very eye-opening and is something that will be interesting to discuss in class today.