TRIBUTE TO LAURA HERSHEY
Feminist, activist, writer & co-editor of FIRE webspace on Women & Disabilities  (1962-2010)

By Margie Thompson

She was a feminist, a disability-rights activist, poet, writer, journalist, lesbian partner, mom.  She was Laura Hershey of Denver Colorado, with a strong voice heard by many.  She was passionate, damn smart, righteously angry, funny, generous, and kind.  And she died suddenly on November 26, 2011 after a short illness.  As someone said on her memorial website, “I can’t imagine a world without Laura Hershey,” and I really can’t.

Laura was just 48 years old when she died but in those few decades had an enormous impact on so many lives, working tirelessly to raise awareness, change attitudes and shape policies on disability issues, as well as social justice and human rights of women, persons with disabilities, and those marginalized and oppressed. More than 100 of her articles and essays were published in magazines, journals and websites throughout the world, and she was named a 2010 Lambda Fellow in Poetry.

On of Laura Hershey’s many poems, You get proud by practicing,” was later converted to a song.

Laura’s tools were her pen and her voice, and for FIRE – Feminist International Radio Endeavour – her microphone.  She and I co-edited a space on Women & Disabilities for FIRE, the first women’s international internet radio, produced from Costa Rica in Spanish and English by Latin American & Caribbean women.  Laura was a brilliant interviewer, asking insightful questions to encourage women to speak about their lives and perspectives on disability issues.  The issues we covered on FIRE ranged from the UN International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to health and sexuality, to caregiving issues, to civil and human rights.

Laura used her voice along with her body and her wheelchair to protest injustice, attending two UN World Conferences on Women including the events in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985, and in Beijing in 1995.  She was interviewed by FIRE on a live broadcast at the FIREPLACE from the NonGovernmental (NGO) Forum in Beijing, along with other women with disabilities who could not participate in many of the panels and events due to lack of access to buildings and other facilities.  The women responded by organizing the first protest at the NGO Forum, during which the FIRE women brought their microphones to enable the women to amplify their voices to the world.  Laura spoke on FIRE about interviews she and Robin Stephens had conducted on Leadership Development Strategies for Women with Disabilites, featuring women from all over the world.[i]

Laura also used her voice as a teacher, including at the University of Denver, speaking about media and disability issues.  She and I co-taught a course together and she gave several guest lectures in my classes, which always received the highest ratings from students.  Laura was brilliant at picking up the imagined rock and saying, “Have you ever looked at it this way?” pushing students to explore beyond their comfort zones, insistent but always with respect.  I loved seeing the “Aha!” moment in many students’ eyes as they came to see yet another example of the continued marginalization of persons with disabilities and the disrespect of rights.  She would guide the students in dissecting media portrayals of persons with disabilities as primarily passive victims to be pitied, rather than active agents in managing their own lives.  Afterwards, it was not uncommon for a couple of students in the class to decide to focus on disability issues for their final projects or papers.

As an activist, Laura had a long history of protests with the pen and non-violent demonstrations in the streets.  She was best known recently for her protests against the Jerry Lewis Telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) which she and many disability rights activists denounced as portraying people with disabilities as helpless and pathetic:

"The money is what justifies, even sanctifies, this annual ritual of tears and guilt. In 1996 the telethon raised over $49 million. That massive amount of money that people -- young and old, rich and poor -- feel compelled to donate, giving "till it hurts," as Jerry Lewis insists -- that money makes it very hard to challenge what is actually going on...We were asserting publicly that this colossal begging festival, supposedly carried out on our behalf, is offensive to us and damaging to our efforts to become first-class citizens. Our protests were small, but they would become an annual tradition -- much to the annoyance of Jerry Lewis and MDA."

Laura was a two-time poster child for the Telethons, one of “Jerry’s Kids,” but later formed a group called, “The Trouble With Jerry.” In 2009, Laura and her partner Robin traveled to Hollywood along with numerous other activists to protest the Humanitarian Award given to Jerry Lewis at the Academy Awards, which the Academy defended because he has raised $800 million for the MDA.

Laura and her longtime partner, Robin Stephens, a lawyer and activist, have an adopted daughter named Shannon, aged. 14.

You have left a tremendous legacy, Laura, which will live on with so many people including myself.  I will keep encouraging my students and others to keep picking up the imaginary rock to examine it from multiple perspectives.  Your brilliant interviews for FIRE will be greatly missed, but we have learned from you the importance of including disabilities front and center in the discussions and events focusing on issues related to women and feminism, social justice and human rights.

[1] From the book, Women’s Voices on FIRE: Feminist International Radio Endeavour by María Suárez Toro.  Austin, TX: Anomaly Press, 2000.



28 de Mayo 
Día de Acción por la Salud de las Mujeres

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3 de Diciembre
Día de las Personas con Discapacidad

Mil millones de personas viven con alguna discapacidad, 80 de cada 100 están en los países más pobres.
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1 de Diciembre
Día Mundial de lucha contra el Sida

35,3 millones de personas viven con VIH. En este día expresamos solidaridad y reclamamos medicamentos para todos los que los necesitan.

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 10 de Diciembre
Día Mundial de los Derechos Humanos

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11 de Octubre
Día Internacional de las Niñas

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28 de Septiembre
Día por la despenalización del aborto en América Latina y el Caribe
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20 de Junio
Día Internacional de las Personas Refugiadas

Actualmente existen más de 45 millones de personas que se han visto forzadas a desplazarse de sus lugares de origenes. Solo 20 de cada 100 serán recibidas en países desarrollados.

23 de Junio
Día Internacional de las Viudas

115 millones de viudas viven  bajo la línea de pobreza. De ellas 81 millones sufren malos tratos físicos, a menudo por sus propios familiares.
Muchas se convierten en esclavas de la familia del marido, otras son expulsadas, u obligadas a casarse con un familiar.  

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8 de Marzo
Día Internacional de las Mujeres Trabajadoras

 

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