Journalistic machine David Montgomery beats me to the punch on some surprising backlash against Governor Dennis Daugaard from some deaf activists. The National Association of the Deaf invited Governor Daugaard to speak at their national conference this July on how deaf people can engage more in politics. Our Governor would make a good speaker at such an event: having grown up with two deaf parents, he signs fluently. He may be the most powerful signing elected official in the country.

Image from DeafPolitics.org

Image from DeafPolitics.org

But GLBT members of the deaf community went ape, citing Governor Daugaard's support for South Dakota's ban on same-sex marriage:

The NAD is a civil rights organization. As a civil rights organization, it has a duty to support all civil rights. The NAD’s invitation and subsequent response sends the following messages both explicit and implicit:

  • Not all civil rights matter.
  • Deaf people are more deserving of civil rights above other minorities.
  • Not all deaf people within the deaf community are equal.
  • Deaf people must choose between their deaf identity and the other facets of their identities be it gender, race, sexuality, etc.
  • As an oppressed population, we lack empathy for others whose rights and access are being circumvented.

If we support discrimination against LGBTs by inviting and allowing Daugaard to speak, how can we argue for our own rights? If the deaf are not willing to stand up for the rights of others, how can the deaf expect or ask others to stand up for our rights? [Octavian Robinson, "NAD Sends Mixed Message on Civil Rights," Deaf Politics Blog, 2012.05.23]

Montgomery reports Governor Daugaard has withdrawn from the conference, citing scheduling conflicts (everyone keep an eye on where the Governor is on July 6). If his withdrawal is tied to the uproar, I suggest that by pushing for Daugaard's removal from the program, GLBT activists missed a chance to speak face-to-face with the Governor, to explain the intersection between deaf rights and GLBT rights in the language of his parents, and perhaps trigger a come-to-Jesus moment. Our first response to our opponents should not be to exclude them, but to invite them to conversation. Only when they prove they are too radically absolutist to listen should we consider shutting the door.

Of course, Montgomery suggests Daugaard is far from radically absolutist:

What’s striking to me about this is that while Daugaard opposes same-sex marriage, he is not principally a culture warrior. I can’t remember him going out of his way to criticize homosexuals or alternate lifestyles (correct me if I’m wrong).

...Clearly, from a gay rights perspective, you could do far worse than Dennis Daugaard. You could also do far, far better, of course, if that’s your priority. But are Daugaard’s tentative views on the matter really cause for an uproar? [David Montgomery, "Daugaard, Deaf Associations, and Gay Marriage," Political Smokeout, 2012.05.31]

We may debate Governor Daugaard's exact location on the right side of the political spectrum. But perhaps the deaf GLBT view of South Dakota's Governor is tarred by an overarching view the rest of the country may have of South Dakota. We have painted ourselves through our gay-marriage ban, our radical anti-abortion legislation, and some of our nuttier regressive anti-science legislation as a backwater of ultra-conservatism. Maybe we've created such a bad image of ourselves that even a not-so-warlike Republican governor is seen as just another cog in a hateful, anti-civil rights South Dakota machine.