Thursday, May 27, 2010

South Florida group serves gay deaf people

From South Florida Gay News:

South Florida Rainbow Alliance for the Deaf, SFRAD is dedicated to the “social, cultural and educational welfare” of the hearing impaired community. Its president, Jordan Isea is only 28 years old but carries himself and the organization with a seasoned commitment beyond his years.

The group began one year ago when Isea got together with a few other deaf LGBT friends in Broward County. An earlier organization, Coconut City Society of the Deaf (CCSD), was the first Rainbow Alliance for the Deaf (RAD) in the country. They were in existence from the 1970s but due to internal conflicts closed shortly after Isea’s move to South Florida in 2006.

“I saw the benefits of a similar RAD organization in Houston,” Isea said from his home in Miami. “After seeing nothing happen for three years, I decided to work with some people in reestablishing a prominent deaf LGBT organization in the area. I wanted the new name to be easily identifiable for those who are deaf and hard of hearing in the region.”

Isea, whose family moved from Caracas, Venezuela to Houston when he was three years old, did so to guarantee him an education. In Caracas, at the time, education for the deaf stopped in the fourth grade. Given that Isea recently completed a Master of Science in Mass Communications the move proves that the hearing impaired can certainly earn an education, and in his case, foster the needs of what he feels is an “invisible community.”

“It’s hard to spot a deaf person anywhere unless you notice either a hearing aid or someone communicating using sign language. The communication problem is a major concern. Especially when I noticed some deaf people don’t even bother being proactive in mainstream society because many do not even want to deal with the communication barriers that exists between the deaf and hearing communities,” he added.

At the core of SFRAD’s mission – and the mission of any organization for the deaf – is bridging the communication barrier. Many deaf people do not feel comfortable communicating with hearing individuals, which contributes to their needs not being met.

“It is for this [communication barrier] that for many deaf LGBT individuals identify as deaf first, gay second. That is,” Isea added on a more positive note, “until they’re able to overcome the communication issue.”

The barrier goes beyond social isolation, and often extends to health issues. HIV and AIDS among the deaf LGBT community is problematic. Due to privacy concerns, many HIV-positive deaf do not seek out the aid of an interpreter, to avoid gossip about the person’s status. As a result the deaf and positive individual mat not be correctly informed on what to do to address their health.

Bridging the barrier of communication is at the core of SFRAD’s mission. In addition to social events, including a Gay Tea Cruise on June 6 and an upcoming car wash at Equality Park, the group will teach hearing individuals American Sign Language.

“There has been a lot of interest in the classes primarily because it’s new, fun and affordable,” Isea told SFGN. “Classes are $15 for the whole year, which is pretty much the cost of becoming a member for most people.”

The group currently has 22 members, with 2/3 in Broward and 1/3 in Miami-Dade. Isea wants to expand the group to at least 50 members by the end of the year, and hopes to develop a Palm Beach County branch.