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By Sharon Gittleman
SYLVAN LAKE – Many LGBT people, of a certain age, know the loneliness and anger that comes from feeling isolated and alone. Today, there are gay and lesbian people in our community who are still trapped in that unwelcome segregation.
Experts say one person in ten has a hearing loss in the United States. By age 65, that figure rises to 30 percent of all men and women in our country.
DEAFC.A.N. Youth Program Director Sheri Ann Garnand understands what it means to be both deaf and gay.
“I was in a hearing world,” said Garnand, using sign language and a sign interpreter. “I felt I didn’t fit in. I’m from Kansas. Kansas is very conservative. It was a closed door. I wasn’t exposed to a variety of cultures- gay, black, Chinese or others.”
Garnand’s eyes were opened when she studied at Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C. college for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people.
“I’m on a gay swim team – Team Detroit Aquatics. They are all hearing,” she said. “I told them I was deaf and they understood my feelings and my struggle because they went through the same thing being gay. Gay people are used to being mocked.”
Garnand realized she was gay when she was 27 years old.
“It was a process,” she said. “My deafness came first. The gay issue was the last thing.”
Today, Garnand helps deaf people, both gay and straight, find their way in the hearing world through DEAFC.A.N. DEAFC.A.N. is a private, non-profit organization established in 1981, to provide direct client services to individuals and families, including interpreter referrals, parenting programs and counseling services.
“The deaf community is very small,” Garnand said. “It’s a tiny spot on a big white paper.”
As youth program director, Garnand plans activities to help deaf kids feel less isolated. She also serves as a caseworker assisting deaf adults.
Many hearing people don’t realize the difficulties faced by deaf children and adults, said Garnand. Deaf people in the U.S. communicate with others using American Sign Language, a language of symbols conveyed with hand and arm movements. The grammar of this language can be very different than written or spoken English. For instance, word order may not be the same – “a brown house” in written English is properly “the house brown,” when signed.
“When I read something in English, I have to translate it into signing,” said Garnand. “I see the signing in my brain.”
Deaf people have an easier time understanding visually-based information, rather than the printed word.
Communication is a big problem when health issues, like AIDS come into play.
“If you had a doctor who only spoke Spanish to you, he’s probably a good competent doctor, but if you only speak English, would you feel confident about your treatment?” asked DEAFC.A.N Director Marcy Colton.
Deaf people with AIDS or other serious illnesses sometimes think, why bother continuing with treatment – they can’t communicate so they stop going, said Colton.
DEAFC.A.N. recently received a grant from AIDS Walk Detroit to fund their Deaf AIDS Project. The project provides case management, information about living with HIV, emotional support, sign language interpreting services, transportation and advocacy for deaf people with AIDS.
“We know where we can make referrals to deaf-friendly agencies,” said Garnand. “Deaf people trust us.”
All DEAFC.A.N. services are provided free of charge and are kept confidential.
“My purpose is to make a link between the hearing world and the deaf culture,” said Garnand. “We want to educate deaf people and hearing people.”
To find out more about DEAFC.A.N. and the services they provide, contact them at (248) 332-3331 by phone or by TTY at (248) 332-3323. You can also learn more by visiting their web page at http://www.deafcan.org on the Internet.