‘We are not a silent com­mu­nity of peo­ple’

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On June 27, the At­lanta Pride Com­mit­tee an­nounced the eight in­di­vid­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions cho­sen to lead this year’s Pride Pa­rade. Among those se­lected for the honor was In­di­ana na­tive (and cur­rent Ge­or­gia res­i­dent) David Cowan. Cowan works as an Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage (ASL) trans­la­tor for deaf and hard of hear­ing peo­ple. He’s been a deaf in­ter­preter at At­lanta Pride since 2000 and has played the same role at a num­ber of so­cial jus­tice marches and other events over the years.

One of the first things that Cowan wanted to point out is that the term hear­ing im­paired “is no longer ap­pro­pri­ate use. It’s con­sid­ered of­fen­sive.”

In­stead, Cowan said, “Please use th­ese word­ing, ‘deaf and hard of hear­ing’. It’s like call­ing you ‘sign lan­guage im­paired’ be­cause you don’t know sign lan­guage. We do not con­sider our­selves as ‘ im­paired’; we were born this way. Im­paired means be­ing in an im­per­fect or weak­ened state or con­di­tion, such as a di­min­ished in func­tion or abil­ity or lack­ing full func­tional or struc­tural in­tegrity. It di­min­ishes who we are. We have a lan­guage and cul­ture.”

Thriv­ing deaf LGBT com­mu­nity in At­lanta

Born in In­di­anapo­lis, In­di­ana, Cowan lived in sev­eral north­ern states grow­ing up, and de­scribed his child­hood as “Amaz­ing. I had won­der­ful par­ents.” He had an ac­tive youth, spend­ing his time trav­el­ing, boat­ing, driv­ing cars and snow­mo­bil­ing.

As a young man, Cowan at­tended Gal­laudet Univer­sity lo­cated in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It is the only lib­eral arts col­lege for the deaf in the world.

“This is where I started work­ing as deaf in­ter­preter,” he said. “Now I am a free­lance deaf in­ter­preter. It’s been my pas­sion to make lan-

Oc­to­ber 13, 2017

guage ac­ces­si­ble in our com­mu­nity. It’s a priv­i­lege to break down the com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­rier.”

Cowan is a main­stay at so­cial jus­tice events and has trans­lated at the Women’s March this past Jan­uary, for Black Lives Mat­ter and anti-Trump ral­lies in ad­di­tion to At­lanta Pride.

“I have in­ter­preted and worked with marginal­ized groups of peo­ple. I en­joy work­ing with th­ese groups who share the same prin­ci­ples as ours,” he said. “For ex­am­ple, Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage is our lan­guage. No more lan­guage ap­pro­pri­a­tion for prof­its. No more cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion. No more lan­guage de­pri­va­tion. As for At­lanta Pride, Black Lives Mat­ter, Anti-Trump, Women’s March, it’s re­ally all about equal­ity. No more op­pres­sion based on our skin color, our gen­der, our dif­fer­ences, our languages and our sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.”

With all of the ral­lies, protests and demon­stra­tion, Cowan ad­mits that he has a fa­vorite.

“My fa­vorite and most mem­o­rable event was to see the in­ter­ac­tion of deaf peo­ple in the LGBTQ com­mu­nity,” he said. “They were able to par­tic­i­pate in the com­mu­nity events with­out hav­ing to worry about the com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­ri­ers.”

Cowan said that the deaf gay and les­bian com­mu­nity in At­lanta is vi­brant and thriv­ing.

“There’s a deaf gay and les­bian com­mu­nity in At­lanta as well as al­most ev­ery­where else,” he said. “Usu­ally, we meet for cof­fee or we get to­gether for din­ners once a month at dif­fer­ent restau­rants and cof­fee­houses to so­cial­ize. We also have dif­fer­ent events that al­low our hear­ing friends to come along and en­joy so­cial­iz­ing with all of us. For ex­am­ple, we have ASL poetry nights, ASL jam nights, deaf pro­fes­sional nights and other types of ac­tiv­i­ties that in­clude ev­ery­one.”

Cowan doesn’t limit his ac­tiv­ity to the LGBT com­mu­nity, though.

“I am a mem­ber of an or­ga­ni­za­tion called ‘Deaf­hood’” he said. “We have monthly meet­ings to en­sure that our deaf chil­dren, deaf adults, deaf se­nior ci­ti­zens and deaf and hard of hear­ing friends and fam­i­lies are not suf­fer­ing from lan­guage de­pri­va­tion, lan­guage ap­pro­pri­a­tion and cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion from busi­nesses, work­places, schools, pub­lic events and com­mu­nity events. We are not a silent com­mu­nity of peo­ple. We are loud in ASL.”

In ad­di­tion to his work as an in­ter­preter for deaf and hard of hear­ing peo­ple, Cowan has also geared his tal­ents to­wards act­ing. ASL Films is a well-known movie pro­duc­tion com­pany for deaf and hard of hear­ing peo­ple. They have made sev­eral movies with deaf ac­tors and ac­tresses us­ing ASL. Cowan au­di­tioned for a film called “Beyond Em­bers” and nabbed the role.

“It was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with the staff, movie pro­duc­tion peo­ple and the other ac­tors and ac­tresses,” he said.

Cowan is sin­gle, but said he is meet­ing new peo­ple.

“Hope­fully some­day, I will meet my soul­mate. I was in a re­la­tion­ship with my ex-part­ner. He is the fa­ther of our two beau­ti­ful chil­dren. We have a 19-year-old daugh­ter and a 17-year-old son.” Then he added, “I’m the ‘mommy with a beard’”.

Cowan was, in his words, “shocked” af­ter find­ing out he was named one of the grand mar­shals of this year’s Pride pa­rade.

“I feel so hon­ored to be rec­og­nized by th­ese amaz­ing peo­ple in our com­mu­nity,” he said. “It touches my heart.”

Cowan is the first deaf gay man to re­ceive the honor of grand mar­shal — he’s quick to note that there was one deaf trans­gen­der per­son that was named grand mar­shal at San Fran­cisco Pride.

“I want to thank the LGBTQ com­mu­nity in At­lanta for al­low­ing me to bridge the com­mu­ni­ca­tion between hear­ing peo­ple and the deaf LGBTQ peo­ple” said Cowan. “It’s been my pas­sion to make all of our deaf LGBTQ feel wel­come and in­cluded in all com­mu­nity events in At­lanta.”


David Cowan has acted as deaf in­ter­preter at At­lanta Pride and a num­ber of so­cial jus­tice marches and events over the years. (Photo courtesy David Cowan)

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