Advocate and teacher Jessalyn Akerman-Frank shares insight into why the deaf queer community is frequently forgotten.
Communication is how we connect with others in the community. Whether we’re discussing similar interests, asking for directions, or running through basic introductions, communication is what makes humans human. However, people who communicate in a different way than what is most common can be left out of the crowds and feel isolated and forgotten. According to Jessalyn Akerman-Frank, a lack of communication is a huge reason why the deaf queer community can often be separated from the GLBT community.
As a deaf lesbian, Akerman-Frank has been trying to find common ground between the deaf community and the GLBT community since she first began her education.
“I am a graduate of Gallaudet University with a B.A. in communications, and I am a graduate from the University of Minnesota with a Masters in special education, with a focus in deaf and hard of hearing. I also studied LGBTQI under Beth Zemsky and all the courses offered in the LGBTQ minor,” Akerman-Frank says. “I am a graduate of the Deaf Life Coach program under Cross Road Solutions Life Coaching, the RYT 200 Yoga program that was offered at Saint Paul College, and the Trauma Informed Yoga program that was offered by Firefly Yoga. I am the only deaf yoga teacher in Minnesota, and I’m a recent graduate of the Partners in Policymaking, which is a nine-month program.”
With all of that under her belt, it’s no wonder that she’s taken naturally to a role as an advocate and teacher.
“I noticed that there were no programs, services, or resources that were accessible or specific to the deaf queer community. This is why I founded the Annual Awards program with a committee that still exists today. I have been a part of Twin Cities Pride as a volunteer to coordinate ASL Interpreters for Pride weekend for over 15-plus years, and I am an active member of the deaf and hearing queer community. I have been involved in showing up for the Vote No campaign and actively hosting a ‘Vote No’ gathering to educate within my community,” she says.
In addition to being a deaf yoga teacher and advocate of the deaf queer community, Akerman-Frank is also a trained Deaf Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocate, which has allowed her to work with people of the deaf community, survivors in shelters, and those in the legal system.
“I am currently the director of civic and community engagement with the Commission for Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans. It is a great job that affords me many opportunities to engage in the community, build the community, and advocate with the community,” she says. “In my spare time, I devote my time to the community as the vice president of Deaf Equity working towards cementing new programs that fulfill service gaps, and volunteering with Twin Cities Pride, Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens and within the community.”
Though Akerman-Frank clearly likes being busy, she still has time for her family, including her wife Lys, teenage sons Sam and Ben, and her fur babies Zula Bear and Mabel.
Akerman-Frank says that deaf members of the GLBT community face unique challenges, especially when it comes to communication. Because many services and resources in the GLBT community are not accommodating to American Sign Language (ASL), deaf queer folks have a difficult time communicating with other members of the GLBT community.
“If you take a look at the resource guide, you see so many amazing services, organizations, and opportunities. I want this for our deaf LGBTQ+ community. Since duplication would take work, and since our deaf LGBTQ+ community is small in comparison, it is a challenge to get funding to provide these opportunities through a deaf-specific and culturally linguistic-appropriate program. This is why we need to partner with hearing agencies,” Akerman-Frank says. “Communication access is SO IMPORTANT to my community as it is to the mainstreamed community. Fighting for this should not have to happen.”
Akerman-Frank says she’s continuing her work in the community by educating hearing services, organizations, and community groups on how to provide accessible services to include the deaf GLBT community. She serves as a head of Deaf Equity, an advocacy dedicated to advancing equity and access for all deaf and hard-of-hearing Minnesotans.
“It is my hope that I can influence positive changes within our larger queer community. I hope that I can inspire others by telling my story and sharing my passion. I hope I can find other community builders willing to help me build bridges that are inclusive of ALL communities,” she says.