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Deaf LGBTs bemoan lack of interpreters
by Ross Forman

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For the LGBT deaf community, the party atmosphere of the annual Northalsted Market Days, held Aug. 7-8, was subdued—much like Midsommarfest, Pride Fest and even the Pride Parade.

The issue is that there were no sign-language interpreters on stages for the deaf, despite multiple requests from the deaf community for the past few years.

Many within the deaf community contemplated some form of protest for the two-day streetfest, but opted for acquiring signatures from attendees for a petition to present to organizers of all such events, city officials and others. On Aug. 7 alone, more than 200 festival goers signed the petition.

"The lack of interpreters being provided during the stage performances at Northalsted Market Days is contrary to many similar festivals in other cities that are even smaller than Chicago, such as Washington, D.C., Rochester, N.Y. and Austin, Texas," said Steve Lovi, 48, the co-president of the Windy City Rainbow Alliance for the Deaf ( WCRAD ) .

"Chicago has prided itself on being one of the most accessible cities for people with disabilities, including the deaf community. Having sign-language interpreters during Northalsted Market Days would be a boost to Chicago's image as a place to enjoy accessible entertainment venues," Lovi said. "Many people think that deaf people cannot or do not enjoy music. This could not be farther from the truth. There are many deaf people who can hear some of the music and feel vibrations from stage shows, but having an interpreter enhances full participation for deaf people alongside their hearing peers, friends and partners.

"I am very disappointed with the decision not to provide sign-language interpreters. In fact, a particular individual has been advocating for sign-language interpreters for the past two or three years during Northalsted Market Days stage shows without any success or assistance from either Special Events Management which produces Northalsted Market Days or Northalsted Business Alliance, which contracts Special Events Management to run this event."

Lovi said he went to the Beatles tribute band at the Roscoe Stage on Saturday, but, without an interpreter, said he, "felt very left out because I could not hear the lyrics. It would have been great to enjoy with an interpreter."

Raymond Rodgers, 42, who is deaf, lives in East Lakeview and is a company CEO/president, said the lack of interpreters at major LGBT events is a "huge problem!"

"All other major cities, such as Houston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and so on, are way ahead of Chicago in term of accessible in [ the ] LGBT community for deaf people," Rodgers said. "I've gone to many gay pride events in many cities and all of them are interpreted on stages. I'm very embarrassed here in Chicago, my own hometown."

In the past, many of us have made requests for interpreter but kept on being stalled and ended up without any interpreter. Grew up fighting with barriers, frustration and disappointments so kinda gave up making requests and not advocating for ourselves anymore.

WCRAD is non-profit organization that provides social, educational and advocacy opportunities for the deaf LGBT community. WCRAD has more than 100 members, associates and supporters—such as Lovi, who is gay and lives in suburban Lincolnwood.

"It is not so much about how many people in the deaf community are affected by the lack of sign-language interpreters during Northalsted Market Days, but rather, the overall number of people who are part of the deaf community who are not necessarily deaf themselves," Lovi said. "This could be in the thousands, as it includes family, friends and partners of deaf people who would otherwise attend Northalsted Market Days and stage shows."

Lovi said WCRAD was contacted by Special Events Management about two weeks prior to the event, but only after a deaf individual had been requesting sign-language interpreters for the past two or three years. "Special Events Management was looking for volunteer interpreters, which I consider rather insulting given the special skills needed to interpret musical performances and the recent passage of licensing requirements by the State of Illinois, which necessitates the need for advanced training with live stage settings," Lovi said. "Special Events Management claimed that the cost of sign-language interpreters was prohibitive, according to their budget this year, despite being offered discounted pricing by a local interpreter referral agency."

Windy City Times attempted to reach representatives from Northalsted Market Days, as well as personnel from Special Events Management, for comments for this story, but no one replied before the press deadline.

"As a [ Market Days ] vendor, [ no interpreters for the deaf ] definitely impacts WCRAD," Lovi said. "Our customers and visitors may be less inclined to attend Northalsted Market Days knowing that sign-language interpreters were not provided once again for the stage shows. The deaf community has a right to be able to access all features of Market Days, including the many talented performers at the Belmont, Roscoe and Addison stages."

Lovi said WCRAD sought signatures to their petition to show organizers "that we mean business in advocating for the need to provide sign-language interpreters for all [ of ] Northalsted Market Days [ in ] 2011.

"WCRAD, like all other deaf- and disability-related organizations, especially within the LGBT community, does not want any undue attention or added sympathy. We only want opportunities for full inclusion in all that we do, regardless of whether the law requires accessibility provisions or not."

Rodgers noted that many Chicago events get good grades for offering interpreters for the deaf, such as major events sponsored or supporting the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Equality Illinois and Chicago Commission on Human Relations.

Rodgers said events at the Center on Halsted used to be better in the past, with interpreters for the deaf. Same for events from the Triangle Neighbors Association, Human Rights Campaign and Howard Brown Health Center.

"Any deaf LGBT person who grew up here in Chicago [ and has ] not traveled to other cities, may not know the difference," Rodgers said. "Those of us who may have lived in other cities or traveled to other cities have grown to appreciate the equality in getting to experience one way or else, but are feeling oppressed or discriminated here in Chicago since we do not feel completely welcomed to their events nor get same level of experience as our hearing family and friends.

The addition of interpreters at predominantly gay events, such as Northalsted Market Days, was a hot topic. Here are comments from a few Market Days attendees:

"I wanted to bring my partner to watch the music performances on stage, but found out that there were no interpreters. Was really disappointed not to be able to enjoy any of the shows during the weekend. There are so many deaf gay and straight people in Chicago who come to Northhalsted Market Days; shame on the organizers."—Tommy Valentino, 51, of Westchester, who is deaf and gay.

"I am a hearing person with a deaf partner for more than 20 years. We have been regular consumers on Halsted Street for a long time as well as frequent attendees of Northalsted Market Days. With Northalsted/Boystown being a very dynamic community, I'm very surprised by the lack of interpreters at staged events. There are many gay deaf consumers in this neighborhood who are supporters of Halsted street businesses. Where is the equality when no interpreters are provided for such events like Northalsted Market Days."—Daniel Santiago, 50, of Chicago, who is gay.

"I enjoy going to see music-related events, but, if there is no interpreter, then it makes it really hard to enjoy. Whenever I go to San Francisco, they always have interpreters at festivals similar to Northalsted Market Days."—Jason Gaul, 35, of Chicago, who is deaf and gay.

"The city of Chicago is supposed to be one of the most accessible cities in America. Northalsted Market Days should be on the same level with providing sign-language interpreters too."— Ed Michor, 45, of Chicago, who is deaf and gay.

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