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Views & Voices

Is homosexuality a ‘handicap?’

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My mother just turned 86, and my father turned 88. I am now parenting my parents in many ways. This past week, I was working at my parents’ house to move them closer to me so I can care for them on a more consistent basis.

I love my folks very much. I have noticed for many people, myself included, we have one parent that we tend to put on a pedestal and one who seems to know each and every one of our hot buttons, how to find them, and how to do a regular happy dance on them.

My dad is my pedestal guy. We can have a knock-down, drag-out fight, and an hour later, all is forgiven and flowers seem to spring from his every step. My mother, on the other hand, can catch me with the wrong turn-of-phrase and I will see red for days.

Red colored my vision the other day as I was packing a box of old papers in preparation for their move. The files I had to go through seemed endless.

As I neared the bottom of one stack, I came across a beaten brown manila folder that stopped me dead. It was labeled “Rob’s homosexuality.” This was certainly a subject for discussion that my parents and I have had for over thirty years now. I was not aware, however, that it had warranted its own special file.

Even so, the folder was a pleasant surprise. In it was a letter from early 1992 that I received from my cousin asking me pointed questions about my sexual orientation. The file also contained a copy of my response to him. (My cousin must have sent these to my parents; I don’t recall giving the letters to them.)

The last item in the file was a letter from my mother to her cousin, written in November 1992, a full decade after I had come out to my parents.

The letter my mother wrote was a follow-up, apparently, to a visit they made to their families that summer.

From the story the letter told, my parents had done their own coming out, about me, to the rest of the family. It did not go well. In the letter, my mother described the “distinct disapproval of some factions of the family.” Her cousin had not been one of them, instead offering my parents acceptance and support.

In the letter, my mother elaborated on her own viewpoint. She stated:

“It is a complex subject, but the main issue of misunderstanding with society at large seems to be the matter of ‘choice.’ As Rob succinctly explained it, he ‘chose’ to be heterosexual since no one chooses to be the butt of scorn and rejection, but that it just isn’t there for him…After a number of unhappy years of struggling with his own private hell, he finally came to the conclusion that God made him this way for a reason—that rather than giving into suicide like a number of his friends, his life IS worth something . . . The bottom line is that we have not seen Rob this happy since he was a little boy.”

The impact of this understanding from my mother twenty years earlier floored me.

It reflected a decade of fights and evolution on her part, not only in terms of  her perspective, but also her willingness to come forward about it to our relatives and defend me in the way she did. The fact that she did so at a time when homophobia was at an all-time high was not lost on me.

Then, like the screech of a needle being ripped across a melodious LP, or an MP3 recording skipping—depending on your generation — there it was — the phrase. She wrote:

“Having been through the gamut of emotions and ten years of soul searching, study and counseling, we have finally arrived at a peaceful acceptance. We are now convinced that Rob was born with a handicap and all we can do is love and support him in the same way we would with any other kind of handicap.”

Handicap? Really?

There is nothing in me that believes that an LGBT person is handicapped by his or her sexual or gender orientation. We have no challenges caused by who and what we are.

That being said, and with a few days’ reflection, there is one aspect in which I can see homosexuality being treated as a handicap, especially from a legal perspective.

That “handicap” would be in the area of a couple’s biological fertility. Just as some heterosexual couples are biologically and hormonally blocked from  procreating, gay and lesbian couples experience the same kind of “handicap.”

Each person may be completely able to procreate with some partners, just not with the one with whom they happen to be sharing their lives. One course of action for the heterosexual couple is hormonal therapy, surrogacy, or adoption. For the gay or lesbian couple it may be surrogacy or adoption.

This of course speaks to the major crux of the current anti-gay, anti-marriage equality position: that gay and lesbian couples should be denied marriage because they are unable to physically procreate with their spouses.

If one defines this as a handicap, however, that nullifies this point as a legal argument against marriage. In all other cases dealing with handicaps, viable accommodations and work-arounds are mandated.

Handicap issues are not grounds for disqualification when the accommodation mitigates the issue. People with physical challenges are not prevented from driving or walking into buildings; handicapped parking and walk ramps are provided. Persons with workplace challenges by law must be given accommodation and access so that they can effectively exercise their professions.

Even if a gay or lesbian couple has an inability to physically procreate, and that condition is seen as a handicap, the legal precedent is to protect their rights, and enable them to participate fully.

As too many studies to cite or count have amply demonstrated, gay and lesbian people are fully capable of parenting.

Blogger Angela Peene of observed, “The definition of ‘handicapped’ is having a condition that markedly restricts one’s ability to function physically, mentally, or socially. In the social context, because of the condemnation and exclusion LGBT individuals have received in the past decades, maybe they could qualify under this heading.

However, I am sincerely hoping that this label of handicap is on its way out. Equality is in the air.”

There is an argument that homophobia might qualify, but that is another article.

So, Mom, I am going to give you this one, especially in light of your complete willingness to evolve these past three decades. You have stood up and allowed yourself to challenge an avalanche of misconceptions from your past, and many from your current peers. You are brave, you are fair, and you are my honor and one of my greatest heroes.

If you want to think of my homosexuality as a handicap in terms of my biological fertility, so be it. As we often assert in our fight for equality, a family is made from love, and love makes a family. And it’s a well proved fact that you adore your two grandchildren (my sons), who came to us by adoption.

Now, if you can just try to remember that I hate being served lima beans, then we will be good. Love and kisses forever.

Opinions and advice expressed in our Views & Voices columns represent the author's own views and not necessarily those of LGBTQ Nation. We welcome opposing views and diverse perspectives. To submit a article, column or video, contact us here. Due to the volume of submissions received, we cannot guarantee publication.

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26 more reader comments:

  1. No. I’ve seen many talented people of all seualities and many amazing ones that are homosexual. what is this.. the holocaust? is the us being the Nazis while we’re the labeled the weak and defenseless? this is so wrong =(.. History repeating it’s self.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:25pm
  2. If it’s a handicap can I get a special parking place?

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:26pm
  3. I can’t even believe this. I’m honestly floored and disgusted.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:26pm
  4. sometimes it is, being transgendered without the ability to pay for all your surgeries and names changes is a HUGE handicap. I cannot get a job to save my life–one look at me and one look at my ID and its curtains. My transgenderism has disabiled me in MANY ways, thanks to the govts inability to take care of its people in the form of health insurance.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:28pm
  5. i have SMA… it will kill me. how dare ANYBODY call a gay person handicapped?

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:30pm
  6. Homophobia is a handicap like a retarded.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:32pm
  7. I dunno, is having a race a handicap?

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:32pm
  8. NO!

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:32pm
  9. HOW could anyone even think let alone say this. HORRIBLE. My LGBT friends and loved ones are awesome aWESOME people that I treasure, love and adore. And are more loving and forgiving than the majority of human beings.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:34pm
  10. no. they are NOT. I could list a few handicaps and this is NOT one of them.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:36pm
  11. If its a “handicap” then let me know what forms to fill out so I can git me sum benefits. And I’m not handicap, I’m HANDICAPABLE!

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:40pm
  12. I am trans and “handicapped”, which has nothing to do w/ my “fertility”. I don’t think I can see not being able to have biological children as a “handicap”. That in no way impedes one’s ability to function physically. You can still clothe, feed, and toilet yourself. You can drive, walk, run, play sports. You aren’t dependent on the care of others for your daily living. You are not dependent on doctors, medications, physical/occupational therapists for your survival. You don’t live with intractable pain for which there is no relief. Yes, infertility is definitely a loss, but it is a loss that can be remedied by many means. Once you are a paraplegic or a quadriplegic, or have MS, a stroke, or a TBI, you are impaired for life. Baby or no baby, I will NEVER be able to function normally or live independently for the rest of my life. I’m sorry. Not being able to have a biological child does not make you “handicapped”. Being disabled to the point of not being able to function makes one “handicapped”. Homosexuality is not a handicap, but you can be homosexual and be handicapped.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:45pm
  13. If it means getting “Princess Parking” during the holidays I am down.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:45pm
  14. It is so obvious that almost everyone here has commented based on a 4-word headline, and has not bothered to read the column. People, if you’re too lazy to read the article, fine, but don’t comment, it just makes you look ignorant!

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:46pm
  15. Is heterosexuality a handicap?

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:48pm
  16. If Homosexuality is a handicap, I want the license plate with the wheelchair logo (and the mirror tag) so I can park in the “cripple spots” in all the parking lots!!! :-D

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 2:58pm
  17. It could be, in one sense of the word “handicap” (meaning, as the author described, a specific situation in which you absolutely cannot accomplish something due to physical barriers. Obviously gay couples can’t reproduce sexually with their partners like fertile, straight couples can. That could be seen as a “handicap”). This issue is most people jump straight to the idea of wheelchairs, mental illness, and lifelong inability to do anything.

    I’m actually a little disturbed by some of these comments. For a community which has been so derided by the majority and who has had to fight for something as simple as being treated like humans, a lot of these comments don’t shed a very positive light on truly disabled people or summing it up to “WELL THEN WHERE ARE MY BENEFITS HAHAHA”. Then there are comments like Dana, who seems to read “handicap” as meaning someone horrible (and then says “My LGBT friends are AWESOME! They certainly aren’t HANDICAPPED!”) There are a lot of titles we should be disgusted by. But handicapped? Anyone disgusted by that title has never met a handicapped person.

    Everyone is handicapped in some way. LGBT people in many places are legally handicapped – we can’t get married. That is a handicap. We can’t reproduce sexually with our partners (without the intervention of medicine). There are lots of things we can’t do by nature of our sexuality. A handicap is not a death sentence and it shouldn’t be an insult. If you take it that way, it means that you see people who are handicapped and immediately assume they are useless – or if not, you certainly see some negative connotation.

    Having a handicap is hard, but it doesn’t have to be NEGATIVE. If anything, this is someone’s way of recognizing “It’s harder for you, than it is for me, but I know you can do it”. And that’s true. It is harder to be gay in this world – legally, emotionally, and socially.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 3:31pm
  18. Are you saying handicapped people aren’t those things Dana?

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 3:41pm
  19. IT’S A GIFT!

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 3:43pm
  20. I think that labeling homosexuality as a handicap would be detrimental to the community much as calling it a disease was. People outside the community would automatically label it with a negative connotation or something tat could be “fixed” just like they have been.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 3:50pm
  21. People inside the community are the ones labeling it negative now though. I know a lot of people in my life who are disabled, and I get very offended when I see people freaking out at the idea of being “handicapped” and subtly implying that they think that makes them second-class or subhuman.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 3:53pm
  22. Republicans of the social conservative variety try to make it so. Either that or criminals.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 3:54pm
  23. Please reread your statement and tell me what you did wrong.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 3:54pm
  24. Just because you’re handicapped doesn’t mean you can’t function…a lot of handicapped people can function perfectly fine outside of one aspect of their lives.

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 4:07pm
  25. Then I would like a check, medical card, and food stamps from the government. I would also like assistance to pay off my debt, and one of those shiny blue parking things..

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 6:09pm
  26. No she wasn’t. Saying a person is handicapped because of their sexual orientation or lifestyle is insulting, because it is indicating that they are “mentally unstable”, or debilitated. Nobody is putting down a handicapped person- but to compare a gay person to someone who is handicapped is offensive..

    Posted on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 6:21pm