When I was a full-time music therapist, usually employed to work with children and young people with emotional, behavioral or intellectual disabilities, one of the games I would lead a group of children in was called “Alike and Different.” The group would chant “Alike and different, alike and different, we are alike and different” while clapping hands on the beat. Then each person would have a turn in between the chants to say how they are like the person on one’s right — they both have hazel eyes — and different with the person on one’s left — one person has brown hair and the other is blond.
I am writing this column while seated in the middle of a conference on people who live with intellectual disabilities or challenges, in which I was one of the speakers. I focused on faith communities and people with disabilities, based upon my latest book “BEyond Accessibility” (New York: Church Publishing Group, 2010). In the discussion after my presentation, and in follow-up conversations hours after the talk, I am amazed at how many issues that we — who are LGBTQ people and parents — share in common with people either living with a disability, or are a parent, sibling or advocate with people with disabilities. We are more alike than different.
How are we alike? I have heard many stories of parents and people with disabilities who have been kept out of faith communities simply because who they are and how they were created. There are stories of faith community members that have actively kept group homes of people with disabilities out of neighborhoods, issuing violent threats and hate mail against workers and the family members of people with disabilities if the group home is established. I have heard stories of religious leaders of faith communities — usually pastors and priests — who have actively kept young people with disabilities and their families away from faith communities because the person with a disability is different. By “different,” I mean that the young person with a disability may speak louder than others in a prayer, or sing louder during a hymn, or fixate on issues maybe in a children’s sermon or the sermon itself. The person with a disability may walk around during worship…and they may leave abruptly.
The experience that many at this conference focused on people with disabilities face is more “alike” than “different” from what parents who are LGBTQ and our children have faced. Equal opportunities in terms of housing for LGBTQ people have been an issue in the past; there are many stories of rude neighbors who have openly ostracized LGBTQ parents and our children. And, faith communities have not been the most open or welcoming places for our families and us.
Many people who work in the area of justice and equal rights have been focusing on the intersection of our identities. After all, we are more than our gender, sex, sexual orientation, ability or limitation…to name but a few aspects or characteristics of our being. We are intricately wrought and marvelously made in all our fascinating complexities. But, for today, I am struck by how much we — who are LGBTQ people and parents — are alike than different. Hopefully, because we are more alike than different, we can bond together to work jointly to make this country, this world and a more just and civil place for one and all. : :