Blind Pride is the largest organization of its kind in the world serving vision-impaired people in Canada, England and Japan, as well as the United States. The current membership is now over 200. Blind LGBT Pride is a 501 (c) (3) non profit organization.
The purpose of Blind LGBT Pride is to provide for the betterment of the lives of those who are visually impaired and who are LGBT By providing a forum for the views and concerns of visually impaired persons interested in issues facing those who are LGBT; by providing information about publications of interest to members that are produced in accessible format and by encouraging the production of such material in accessible format; & by providing education on accessibility awareness.
In 1996, the first of four annual gatherings of persons interested in issues faced by those who are both, gay or lesbian, and who are blind was held. These meetings were open to all interested persons. Attendees included sighted and blind, gay and straight, ACB members, board members and guest speakers.
The first gathering was informal. A room was set aside by the convention coordinator at the request of Rob Hill. It was announced only in the convention announcements and not in the convention schedule. This first meeting centered on a discussion of our needs as a group, and getting support as individuals. There was also talk of forming a special interest affiliate. We made it clear that at that time, we were in no way speaking for ACB as an organization.
This year’s activities reflected needs expressed at the ACB convention in 1996. Several conference calls after the convention were used to plan for future events and for discussing organizing a gay/blind group. During the Houston convention in 1997, a private suite was used for two social events. The first was a get-acquainted time and the second was a farewell party. The mid-week program session featured two invited presenters. A representative of the National Library Service announced a special project to be carried out in Seattle to produce book titles of interest to the gay community. She also brought large print and computer disk copies of a bibliography listing available through The National Library Service with lesbian and gay topics. The second speaker was the president of the Houston chapter of PFLAG. She told of her chapter’s initiation of a program of education about gay issues that have had national impact.
The meeting was listed in the formal ACB convention schedule for the first time.
The 1998 program session focused on discussion of personal and social problems faced by blind gays and lesbians. It was a time of mutual support. A guest from the Orlando gay community center told the group of activities and resources for gays in Orlando. There was again discussion of developing a special interest affiliate for blind gays and lesbians within ACB.
There were 2 meetings at the 1999 convention. The Sunday meeting was to get acquainted with each other. There was much discussion among the 14 attending regarding BFLAG’s requesting formal affiliation with ACB. On Wednesday, BFLAG hosted an attorney from the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Her job is to work with those who are victims of hate crimes and to advocate against such crimes. Some in the group reported incidents of harassment and assault related to their blindness. Those attending voted unanimously to move ahead to request formal affiliation of BFLAG with ACB as a special affiliate.
The name of the organization, BFLAG, Blind Friends of Lesbians and Gays, was adopted and officers were selected. Rob Hill, as the President-elect, was to present the formal request for affiliation at the January 2000 meeting of the ACB Board of Directors.
The year 2000 marked BFLAG’s affiliation with the American Council of the Blind (ACB.) The ACB board approved the request for affiliation on February 20 of that year. The affiliation certificate was presented during the first session of the ACB convention in Louisville, KY in July.
BFLAG During the week of the convention, BFLAG hosted an affiliate launch party. It was well attended by members and supporters. Support sessions were also held throughout the week. The group also hosted Greg Phipps, a faculty member of the University of Louisville, who made a public presentation on the nature of homosexuality. Rob Hill became the first President of BFLAG.
Once more, BFLAG members gathered at the ACB convention. Members found mutual support as the scheduled informal discussion sessions were again held. The BFLAG Social, which was beginning to look like an annual event, took place on Sunday afternoon, and was widely attended.
The first Sunday of the convention was marked by the BFLAG Social. It was very well attended. BFLAG began meeting people from the Houston GLBT community. Several volunteered at the BFLAG social, and several became members. BFLAG’s growth continued. Plans were made to increase programming at the next convention. Support and discussion groups were held as well. Rob Hill became the first past president and Connie David became the second President of BFLAG.
2003 held several accomplishments for BFLAG. This was the year that the organization was granted its 501C3 status. BFLAG was also awarded ACB’s Membership Growth Award, in recognition of the largest percentage of membership growth in 2003. A banner was developed for BFLAG by one of its members, and BFLAG’s presence was noted in at least one Gay Pride Parade.
This year was also a year for enhanced public relations for the organization. A committee of the board developed lapel pins and other items featuring the BFLAG logo. Lots of local gays and lesbians were involved as volunteers who assisted with convention activities. A panel comprised of members of the local PFLAG members and other volunteers discussed various aspects of being gay or the parents of a gay child. There was also a presentation from a local community service organization serving GLBT persons in the Pittsburgh area. For the first time, BFLAG procured almost 100 volunteers for the convention thanks to PFLAG Pittsburgh and GLENDA (Gay & Lesbian Neighborhood Development Association).
Our History: 2004
BFLAG’s efforts to open a discussion with other GLBT-related organizations continued. BFLAG received grants to enable the group to cover the cost of a suite dedicated to BFLAG’s use. Volunteers from BFLAG and from the Birmingham community provided coffee and pastry in the suite each morning of the convention for all there to enjoy. The suite was the venue for other activities, including the, now-annual social, and support meetings for discussion of common problems.
The first major fund-raising event for BFLAG was held at “The Club Atlantis” in Baltimore, Maryland. The proceeds helped pay for our suite and the food and drink we shared.
The mayor of Birmingham proclaimed the day of our annual meeting “BFLAG Day in Birmingham”. A membership list for members who wished to be included was formed to enable members to be in touch throughout the year. Programming, at the convention, included presentations on financial management and housing issues. Non-ACB guests took the BFLAG banner and the publisher of the local Gay Paper promptly replaced it with a hand made larger banner within 12 hours.
Again, the local community made a large contribution to our successful convention.
We had much help in Las Vegas from the local community center and from the Lambda Business Association. BFLAG also provided speakers for 3 local events while in Las Vegas.
BFLAG joined with NABS, The National Alliance of Blind Students, to promote “Safe Sex” with a joint program. Our convention program saw activities every day of the convention with highlights such as a cruise on Lake Mead, a roller coaster extravaganza, an afternoon at “The Blue Moon”, and a stage show, “An Evening at La Cage”. We had well over 50 members attend the convention. Again, sponsorship assisted in keeping the cost down. For the first time, BFLAG T shirts, mugs and badge holders were available at the convention. In October of 2005, the BFLAG Board met for the first time in person outside of the convention city. The entire board met in Baltimore over a long weekend to plan for the future and also met with other organizations to build bridges to assist in growth, understanding and mutual benefit. Our relationship with PFALG was made solid and PFLAG is in the process of making their vast amount of literature accessible as well as promoting and assisting with BFLAG activities. BFLAG also met with representatives of CCLVI and ACB.
CCLVI and BFLAG started working on joint programming for the 2006 convention. In August of 2005 Butch Arnold became the third president of BFLAG when, due to illness, Connie David had to resign.
Thanks to P-Flag Jacksonville and P-Flag Florida our conventions grew. BFLAG joined with CCLVI on 3 program events, a seminar on coming out called “It Ain’t Easy Being Green”, a seminar on “Emergency Preparedness”, and a “Farewell Party. Thanks to Saint Luke’s MCC, BFLAG had a banquet, “spaghetti dinner” where we heard a historical account of MCC and honored Paul Edwards and Rob Hill with “Life Membership” The week also included a beach trip and an evening meal at “616”, a very friendly and supportive local bar. Once again we streamed our seminars and business meeting live over the internet. We had 54 members attend at least one convention event or another.
This year, BFLAG was represented in three “Pride Parades”, Washington DC, Baltimore Maryland and Houston Texas. The largest group of participants, by far, was in Washington DC. The group of about 10 members met both before and after the long parade for cocktails at “The Green Lantern”. Plans are well under way for the 2007 convention in Minneapolis. The Convention Committee met there for 4 days in November to lay the ground work.
The 2007 convention saw an increase in programming as well as many off site events. BFLAG members went to an amusement park, had 2 events at local bars and a banquet at the University of Minnesota. This year, BFLAG had its first benefit party and raised some much needed funds which were used to offset the cost of the convention to our members. A request to committee members was broadcast over the internet during our annual business meeting and members who could not afford to attend the convention joined in the day to day committee workings of BFLAG.
We had not been to the Galt House Hotel since 2000,when BFLAG was chartered as a Special Interest Affiliate, during the annual convention of the American Council of the Blind.
This year’s convention was a complete and total success. Our members participated during the general sessions and in a variety of both BFLAG and ACB programming. All side trips were well attended and memorable times were had by all. The 200th member was reported during the Louisville convention.
Don Brown was elected by acclimation to be the 4th President of this growing organization. He pledged to bring transparency to the organization and to increase the memberships opportunities to more directly participate in the organization’s decision making process.
It was at this convention that BFLAG’s membership voted to charter four affiliates. The following were chartered:
• BFLAG Washington D.C.
• BFLAG Texas
• BFLAG Tulsa
• BFLAG Mid Atlantic
This was the year of big changes for our organization. Following a lengthily discussion, the membership adopted “Blind LGBT Pride International” as the official name of the organization. The membership also voted to amend the constitution to provide members the opportunity to attend regularly scheduled board meetings. These meetings are teleconferences with members calling in through a toll-free number. Another change to the constitution was to include a code of conduct for board members.
Speaking of board members, 2009 marks the first year that there was a full compliment of board members in attendance. And, for the first time in our history, we now have two women on the board of directors.
Nearly 100 members participated in this year’s convention events. Despite the hot weather, members had the opportunity to attend outings to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Titanic Experience.
One important feature this year was the Blind LGBT Pride suite was open for most of the time and available to members as a central meeting place—avoiding people trying to find each other in the vast lobby of the hotel. Members were able to just hang out in the suite, enjoying refreshments and just getting acquainted. We plan to continue this custom in the years to come.
Blind LGBT Pride celebrated its 10th anniversary and one of its best attended conference and conventions in the Grand Canyon State. Arizona’s scorching July temperatures did not detour our members from making their way West.
Members and friends overwhelmingly attended our three free workshops and our 3 ticketed events.
First the workshops… On Monday afternoon, nearly 20 people attended a highly informative workshop led by Abigail Jenson, Executive Director of Transmentors International (www.transmentors.org). Ms Jensen’s introduction and overview led to a wide ranging question and answer session on issues faced by people in the Transgender Community. Health care, family dynamics, legal concerns, physical effects and related international issues were thoroughly discussed in this 1.5 hour breakout session.
On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of U.S. Department of Labor and a BPI member, Kathy Martinez, updated an attentive group on Federal Initiatives impacting LGBT Federal Employees. Assistant Secretary Martinez encouraged attendees to coalesce with other groups and make their wishes known to their elected officials.
On Wednesday afternoon we welcomed Terra Hartwell, from Native Out (www.nativeout.org) as presenter of our third and final workshop. Ms. Hartwell Presented a Native American cultural perspective on the two spirit tradition. She described Native Out’s vision as being an effort to create social change in rural and urban communities that benefit Indigenous Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two Spirit people. She stressed how many Native American/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian people have traditionally revered gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, Two-Spirit individuals within their communities.
As with the workshops, our three social events resulted in record attendance.
Blind Pride’s Welcome Party continues to be the place to be Sunday afternoon of Convention Week. Guests were treated to an array of delicious appetizers, a full bar and lots of conversation and great fun.
On Wednesday evening, BPI’s Board of directors hosted the organization’s Tenth Anniversary Party. The many guests in attendance enjoyed live music and toasted our 10 years of accomplishments and expressed best wishes for future endeavors.
Twenty five convention attendees joined BPI on Thursday evening for refreshments and a private screening of a described version of the movie “Milk”.
The success of each of our events is in part due to an incredible group of volunteers who quickly became our friends. Our lead volunteers Al and Donna Ellis and other PFLAG Phoenix members were there to assist and join in with the fun. From Charlies Bar of Phoenix we were joined by Michael and Javier as volunteers during our workshop sessions and Rubin and Leroy volunteered as professional bartenders. Pat and Charlotte came to us as volunteers from Human Rights Campaign of Arizona.
Again this year, the BPI hospitality suite was open to members and friends as a place to meet and refresh between meetings and activities.
During the Monday evening Annual Business meeting, the membership adopted two amendments to the constitution and elected three new board members and elected Don Wilson of Georgia as BPI’s fifth President.
Plans are now underway for our next Conference and Convention scheduled for Reno Nevada, which will be held in conjunction with the American Council of the Blind’s 50th Annual Conference and Convention. You can follow the details and developments by visiting www.blind-lgbt-pride.org.