How a Vancouver-Based Program is working to Create a Community for Deaf and HOH Queer People
Jamie Marie // Contributor
Talia Rouck // Illustrator
“Parallels [between Queer people and the Deaf comunity] are endless really, and I find that discussing this with our students has an impact and fosters mutual understanding and connection.” (Zoée Montpetit)
The struggle to find connection and community for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) individuals can feel like a very isolating experience. QueerASL, founded by Zoée Montpetit, is a program dedicated to creating a safe and accessible community in Vancouver for Deaf and HOH Queer people. Montpetit is a Deaf queer person originally from Victoria, BC, where she first started QueerASL as a club in 2009. QueerASL began as a way for Montpetit to “open up more communication accessibility for [her]self in queer communities she is] a part of.” After moving to Vancouver, QueerASL began to expand and grow as a program.
In my own experience growing up queer, I often struggled to find places where I could connect with people in my community. After losing some of my hearing from a health issue, I began to feel even more isolated. I found myself quite drawn to Montpetit’s work as I learned the opportunities QueerASL provides to connect and learn more about my community.
QueerASL offers workshops teaching four different levels of ASL that increase in difficulty, and are all taught by queer and trans Deaf individuals. They teach ASL by learning the alphabet, finger-spelling, facial expressions, vocabulary, and grammar structures. When Montpetit started QueerASL, it was a casual drop-in ASL club held in her living room. Over the years, it’s grown and evolved to include multiple levels, homework videos led by local queer and trans signing communities, accessible locations, and new Deaf Queer instructors. QueerASL is offered by donation only, which makes Deaf culture and education more accessible to queer and trans indivduals.
Like most programs, QueerASL classes have changed as a result of the pandemic. As restrictions remain in place for social gatherings, in-person class environments are considered high risk so QueerASL has moved to pre-recorded lessons, homework videos, and Zoom practice meetings. The use of Zoom for practice meetings has beenuseful to teach ASL as it allows “students get a chance to interact with others in a fully accessible environment [with] no lip-reading needed as [Zoom meetings] are completely voice-off and interact with Deaf queer teachers,” Montpetit explained. “We intend to retain our online classes even when the pandemic is over as we recognize that our in-person classes are not accessible to everyone, such as folks with classroom anxiety, conflicting schedules, those who live far away, etc.,” said Montpetit. They also intend to start a hybrid of in-person and online classes in the future.
ASL is not just for Deaf and HOH queer people. “I find that [I am] hearing queers resonate a lot with some experiences that Deaf people go through, as there’s many parallels in our life experiences,” Montpetit reflected. “Hearing queers often go through this process of coming into their identity as a queer person—Deaf people go through a similar identity process, especially if they grew up in a more hearing environment.”
The next cycle of classes starts in March, with registration open in early February.
You can find their classes and mailing list at http://www.queerasl.com.