By Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman
On social media, the community has become divided due to a “power struggle” between ROAR and LEAD-K. People have shared their perspectives about both parties’ actions. ROAR Chairperson Tamera Gaudet-Doody’s latest announcement sparked questions about the authenticity of LEAD-K’s interest for open dialogue with ROAR in person.
Back in late October the National LEAD-K team met with AG Bell and, according to their official blog, both sides worked out bill amendments. Julie Rems-Smario, LEAD-K’s Director of Public Relations, stated that AG Bell agreed to “support the state efforts with the modified bill.”
After a firestorm of concerns from community members, Deaf People United established a new Facebook group called “ROAR - Reframing Our ASL Rights” on January 22, 2019. The introduction of ROAR intensified a nationwide debate on one of the biggest issues in Deaf education today: language acquisition. LEAD-K posted a public vlog on February 2, 2019 in response to ROAR’s first letter, asking ROAR to communicate if they “have any questions or wish to meet in person."
A back and forth exchange ensued on social media. Rems-Smario released a Facebook post on March 19 indicating that LEAD-K will not engage further, except for a face-to-face meeting: “Saying this once, and for all. #MeetInPersonNOTsocialMedia #LoveConquersAll.”
Two days later, The Deaf Report shared ROAR’s statement:
“We are willing to meet with LEAD-K if they respond affirmatively to our three requests indicated in our rebuttal video to Farinha and Rems-Smario. The three requests are, once again, (1) dissolute your partnership with AG Bell for their practice of audism and linguicism, (2) remove the modifications in the model bill made with AG Bell, and (3) commit full transparency with the community for the sake of our children and future generations. The team also wants to emphasize that the purpose of these requests is to help the community understand better where LEAD-K truly stands. LEAD-K’s past actions resulted in multiple red flags, thus these requests.”
The conversation fell to a standstill, and the community has been waiting to see when and where LEAD-K and ROAR would confer. The wait came to an end on May 18, almost two months after Rems-Smario’s post. Gaudet-Doody uploaded a public vlog on ROAR’s Facebook page, where she stated that an organization (unnamed) informed her that LEAD-K is not interested in meeting with ROAR. Gaudet-Doody also re-emphasized that ROAR is not going to stop fighting for deaf and hard of hearing children’s human right to ASL as their first language.
The Deaf Report contacted both LEAD-K and ROAR for public statements, and LEAD-K was the first to reply.
As quoted below, LEAD-K maintained that ROAR or any other organization acting on ROAR’s behalf never contacted their Director or Public Relations Director directly for a meeting request:
“The LEAD-K Director and Public Relations Director have not been officially contacted by any organization acting on behalf of ROAR. Matthew Moore from the ‘We The Deaf People’ (WTDP) contacted one of our LEAD-K representatives to inquire about the possibility of having a meeting between ROAR and LEAD-K. He was informed he needs to make a formal request to the LEAD-K Director. This request never happened. LEAD-K will continue to move forward because since our vlog, we have not seen any productive dialogues from ROAR leadership encouraging a joint meeting. Due to the counterproductive and vindictive behaviors by ROAR’s leadership, the offer to meet no longer stands. LEAD-K remains focused on ensuring every Deaf child has the opportunity for Kindergarten-readiness language development from ages 0-5 years old. Deaf children cannot wait until tomorrow for language [in] ASL and English.”
ROAR later sent their public statement declaring that AG Bell has not shown clear support for language acquisition in ASL, and this is a missed opportunity for LEAD-K to back out of their agreement with AG Bell and strengthen their political support base:
Both organizations indicate the game is over and frame the other organization as being at fault, but where does this leave the community? The community is stuck in between a rock and a hard place, as several members have friends who back LEAD-K and other friends who support ROAR. Even if it is true that LEAD-K is no longer interested in meeting with ROAR, concerns still remain about who is telling the truth in explaining what has happened and what is going on behind closed doors.