Monday, November 29, 2010

Laura Hershey

The gimp community has been blessed with a metric boatload of incredible writers. Laura Hershey was/is the best. No question in my mind about that.

Laura died the day after Thanksgiving. But fortunately for all of us, she has a glorious paper trail. Go google her up right now. You’ll find a ton of amazing stuff. It’s like a big basket of fresh, ripe fruit. No matter what you select, it will be great.

You’ll find essays, poetry, blog posts, etc. But it’s all poetry. Even when writing about something like the minutiae of public policy, Laura spelled it all out with a sharp clarity that hits you in the gut like good poetry. Often while clawing through my brain rubble for words to express my opinion or feelings about some major gimp affair, I’d look up and find Laura had already nailed it, striking precisely the right note. A good example was that whole Terri Schiavo mess a few years back. I wanted to write something ripping those on the right and left for their raging hypocrisy. Both sides claimed to be the friends and guardians of disabled folks, when really they only differed on the timeframe for slitting our throats. The most mature response I could formulate in my mind was,”You guys are all a bunch of ass holes!” Meanwhile, Laura’s essay “Killed by Prejudice,” appeared in The Nation. She particularly stuck it to the homophobes and gimpophobes on the right. She wrote: “I'm a lesbian feminist. I'm a secular thinker who believes government should serve the public good. I abhor the fundamentalist religious movement's selective advocacy of some rights for some people.

“My partner and I squirmed as we watched Senator Rick Santorum, Representative Marilyn Musgrave and others who championed Schiavo's rights. Robin and I are both disabled women. If either of us were incapacitated, these right-wingers might argue to keep us alive; but they would oppose our right to stay by each other's bedsides.

“While they defended one woman's right to live, they jeopardized many other disabled lives by attempting to gut Medicaid, which provides essential healthcare and support services.”


The last time Laura and I met up was in Los Angeles in ’09. It was Oscar weekend but we weren’t there to breathe the same air as Angelina Jolie. We were there to protest Jerry Lewis being chosen to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award . Laura had the same disability as me. She too was once a poster kid. She too grew up to righteously resent how Jerry and the Muscular Dystrophy Association turn kids with MD into tragic clowns for their own marketing purposes. A bunch of us parked ourselves (uninvited, of course) in the lobby of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We chanted. We sang to the tune of “I Feel Pretty:”
He feels pity,
so much pity.
He feels pity, and to this we object!
Because pity
heightens fear and undermines respect.
He feels giddy,
oh, so giddy,
for on Sunday he’s getting a prize,
for his pity
and his patronizing tears and lies.

The cops couldn’t scare us away. It was enormous fun.

For these types of antics Laura was often accused of the mortalest of gimp mortal sins: ingratitude. She had something brilliant to say about that too. Just last week in her blog Life Support on the website of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, she wrote “The Good and Bad of Gratitude.” She expressed how disabled folks are reluctant to express gratitude, even when we really feel it, because gratitude has historically been shoved down our throats:

“All too often, people with disabilities are pressured to feel gratitude for things that are their basic human rights – subsidized housing, support services, inclusion in the community, basic acceptance and respect. Some people think that disability is a drain on the economy, and an imposition on others. They don't want to be reminded of the prevalence and inevitability of disability in any society, in any person's experience or family. In response to this deep discomfort, they try to impose conditions on anything "given" to people with disabilities – conditions like passiveness, submissiveness, limited demands, and constant thank yous.

“We have to demand the things that are essential to our lives, equality, and quality of life. We must refuse to feel gratitude for these, except the normal level of gratitude that anyone might feel for living in a time and place that still supports human life. We can't succumb to feelings like embarrassment or shame regarding our needs, even if those needs are more extensive than the average person's needs. That will only reinforce and perpetuate our inequality, and the pulling away of vital state- and federally-funded support services.”

You can find the whole piece at

Read it and rejoice.


  1. Mike,
    Thanks for the wonderful piece about Laura. She gave so much strength, spirit, wit, anger and joy to the disability community in Denver and around the country. No one compares.

    How is it that she is dead and Jerry Lewis is still out there? We have to work harder.

    Penny Ford

  2. I feel such a great sense of loss. I still do not have words to express it. Thanks Mike, for putting pixels to internet for me