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|Benefit aids LGBT people who are deaf, hard of hearing|
|by Matt Schafer|
|August 05, 2011 00:00|
Sound is often the string that holds the LGBT community together, from biting comments from a drag queen to protest chants at the capitol. Being unable to hear can leave some LGBT people feeling shut out.
“To me sound systems and megaphones are useless, so unless there’s an interpreter present, I can’t understand what’s going on,” says Jeffrey Payne, a former International Mr. Leather and founder of the Sharon St. Cyr Fund, which helps LGBT people pay for hearing aides and provides interpreters to gay events.
Dustin Neighbors has been slowly losing his hearing for years, and is starting to become a minority within a minority — a hearing-impaired gay man.
“I sustained abuse as a child, and [my hearing loss] is from that,” Neighbors says. “I sustained nerve damage long ago, and your nerves don’t regenerate, so I’m losing my hearing because of that. I love music, and I love to listen to music.
“With hearing aides I can hear music, but as it progresses I will eventually be completely deaf… I have accepted that I am losing it all,” he says.
When Neighbors needed to pay for a new set of hearing aides that his insurance wouldn’t cover, he turned to the St. Cyr Fund. The Texas-based organization paid for his most recent $2,500 hearing aides, and now Neighbors wants to make sure the same opportunity is there for someone else.
Paying it forward
Neighbors joined with Jungle nightclub, lesbian comic Vickie Shaw and the Amorettes drag troupe for Hearing from the Heart. Set for Aug. 13 from 5 to 10 p.m., the event will raise funds and awareness for the St. Cyr Fund.
“It’s basically a night of laughter and fun, that’s what it is,” Neighbors says. “We will have over $1,300 in prizes to give away, and some great performances.”
Hearing from the Heart will host an after party at the Atlanta Eagle starting at 11 p.m.
The Armorettes are an icon of Atlanta fundraising and Shaw has been touring the country for several years and will have an upcoming special on Logo. On Aug. 13 she will perform and be part of a VIP meet and greet at the show. Payne will also make an appearance.
“We’ve had a number of people who we’ve helped out who have gone back to their home towns and held fundraisers for us,” Payne says. “I think this is Dustin’s way of paying it forward.”
Since the Sharon St. Cyr Fund is a relatively new nonprofit, Payne has used his stature as International Mr. Leather to raise the profile of the two-year old organization. Although grants will be considered for all who apply, Payne said he and his partner founded the St. Cyr Fund specifically to help gay and transgender people who are deaf or losing their hearing.
“Dustin’s event could provide enough for two hearing aides potentially, or provide an interpreter for four events,” Payne said of Hearing from the Heart.
This will be the first event in Atlanta for which the St. Cyr Fund will provide an interpreter, but sign language interpreters are becoming more common at local events like Atlanta Pride, which has provided interpreters for years.
“I think people are finding out that when they have an interpreter, and let people know that an interpreter will be present, they are having even more people show up to their events,” Payne says.
Tickets to Hearing from the Heart are available online for $20 or $40 for VIP. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door for $25.
Top photo: Former International Mr. Leather Jeffrey Payne (pictured) and lesbian comic Vicki Shaw will take part in ‘Hearing from the Heart’ to help deaf LGBT people. (Publicity photos)
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