A WEDDING CELEBRATION
Erik von Schmetterling
and Jimmy Schrode decided to get married the day they were jailed
in San Francisco for taking part in a disability rights demonstration
shortly before the 1992 general election. They are a Philadelphia
couple, and the idea of solemnizing their relationship in the midst
of the nation's most notorious nest of gays appealed to them.
They were with hundreds
of comrades from ADAPT, a militant disability rights organization
whose acronym stands for Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs
today and before 1990 stood for Americans Disabled for Accessible
Public Transportation. The
founder of ADAPT, Wade Blank, who occupies approximately the same
place in the struggle for disability rights as Martin Luther King
does in the struggle for African American civil rights, was an ordained
Presbyterian minister who was happy to perform the ceremony.
ADAPT had a ballroom
reserved for its convention doings in the Market St. hotel where
Dashiell Hammett had once placed Casper Gutman and his gunsel in
The Maltese Falcon. Erik rented
a dinner jacket, and Jimmy found some white satin from which he
could improvise a gown and head dress. I told him that he looked
like Maria Montez, and he was pleased. All of us were pleased that
we had been released from custody in time for a good party.
that day we had blocked traffic at the entrance to a hotel where
the American Health Care Association (AHCA) was holding its convention.
AHCA is a lobbying group for the nation's nursing home chains. ADAPT
wants 25% of the money for long-term care, which now goes directly
from the states to nursing homes, to be re-directed to home attendant
care. Home attendant
care is much cheaper than incarceration in nursing homes, and much
more to the liking of the vast majority of disabled people. The
nursing home industry, however, has grown enormously rich on taxpayer
money in recent decades and has great influence with its political
and media friends.
J. Quinn Brisben, ADAPTing)
Jimmy Schrode is an
in-your-face kind of person, an immense man who dyes his hair a
magenta shade which does not occur in nature. His taunts to the
police as we were arrested that day were so sharp that I feared
for his safety. Erik von Schmetterling is quieter, a gentle person
who was a physician until his disabilities forced him to discontinue
practice. He is deaf but an excellent lip reader and alert and active
despite increasing immobility. Erik
and Jimmy are a great team as well as a devoted couple, a great
asset on the eleven ADAPT actions I have shared with them so far.
Our arrests were not
bad, as arrests go. The police were thoroughly ashamed of themselves,
full of stories of their own about friends and relatives they had
had to commit to nursing homes when home attendant care would have
been a better option. We were confined for a few hours on a pier
with nothing taken from us, not even my cane, which arresting officers
sometimes fear as a potentially dangerous weapon. I had no trouble
making telephone calls to my wife, children, and grandchildren.
We were issued
citations for trespass charges that were later dropped and released
on our own recognizance in plenty of time for the evening celebration
highlighted by Erik and Jimmy's wedding.
As the 1992 presidential
nominee of the Socialist Party, I was the warm-up act for the wedding.
I reminded those present of the common struggles of all oppressed
groups and ended by recommending that they regard the major political
parties as Tallulah Bankhead regarded the bride and groom when she
remarked "I've had them both, and they're awful." Then I took my
place to witness the wedding.
A disability rights
group is a good wedding audience. Many persons confined to nursing
homes are not allowed to marry, one of the reasons ADAPT fights
for home attendant care. Abled persons are nearly always discouraged
by their friends and relatives from marrying disabled persons, and
disabled persons are discouraged from marrying each other and from
having children, even when there is every expectation that such
children will not share the disabilities of their parents. A wedding
is a triumph in the disability community. Every disability is unique,
and the disabled have developed an awesome variety of techniques
for satisfying their sexual needs. Some
disabled people share cultural prejudices with the abled, including
homophobia, but this ADAPT group was clearly enjoying watching Erik
and Jimmy declare their commitment to each other before friends.
My guest that evening,
a San Francisco Socialist with AIDS, greatly enjoyed the ceremony.
So did a friend seated near us, Irene Norwood. Irene is an African
American from Chicago, a formidable woman who usually brings one
of her nearly four dozen grandchildren to push her wheelchair during
ADAPT actions. She is a pillar of a West Side church not noted for
its tolerance of lesbians and gays, in the heart of a community
where gay-bashing is common. Yet she was clearly enjoying both the
camp and the serious aspects of the ceremony.
Wade Blank knew why that
was so and explained it to me later that evening: "Disabled people
and gay people have something in common that they share with almost
no other oppressed group: they are often rejected by their own families.
Groups like ours become families."
That was the last conversation
I ever had with Wade. He died in Mexico the next February while
unsuccessfully trying to save his son from drowning. ADAPT goes
on. In November, 1996, Erik, Jimmy, Irene, and I were together again
at an ADAPT action in Atlanta, and over 100 of us were arrested.
A pioneering group of gay disabled activists attended that action.
Irene died a few years later, but our ranks are always filled with
good Baptist church-women who know how to shout and love.
Erik and Jimmy are still
a happy couple. Both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich double-crossed
us on the bill now known as MiCASSA, which would fund home attendant
care instead of nursing homes, but the bill has been re-introduced
into Congress by Senators Harkin and Spector and stands a good chance
of becoming law. More than ever our struggle involves a community
of interest between lesbians and gays and the disabled. All of us
will be part of that struggle for economic justice that I have always
called socialism. The latest national ADAPT action took place in
San Francisco again, October 20-25, 2001. There will continue to
be local and national actions until we win. I hope to see you on
many of them.
J. Quinn Brisben
J. Quinn Brisben, a retired Chicago high
school teacher, has been active in various progressive causes since
the 1950s. His recent Atlanta arrest was his eighth with ADAPT,
his fifteenth in a social cause. In 1990 his wife and he took 3,000
condoms from ACT/UP Chicago to the Moscow Gay and Lesbian Union.
BENT: A Journal of CripGay