Disability rights activists Alejandra Ospina and Nick Dupree celebrated their love and commitment at Merchants’ Gate in Central Park on Sunday.Ospina is a representative for GimpGirl Community, an Internet organization that supports women and girls with disabilities, an English-Spanish translator and a health care reform advocate who has testified at New York City Council hearings. She has attended Hunter College.
Dupree, who is from Alabama, is a long-term health care reform advocate and writer who attended Spring Hill College. Dupree led a two-year campaign called Nick’s Crusade that enabled 25 people in Alabama who are ventilator-dependent to receive home care past the age of 21.At the commitment ceremony, the couple listened to love poems and live music, read original vows to each other and hosted a discussion on marriage equality to the friends and family members who joined them.
Ospina and friends Nadina LaSpina, Elaine Kolb, Julie Maury and Jessica Delarosa spoke about their opposition to Medicaid rules that discourage couples who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from marrying for fear that their health services will be taken away.
When two partners who receive SSI benefits get married, Medicaid reduces those benefits to 75 percent of the total that both individuals received prior to marrying. As a result, many couples with disabilities, like gay and lesbian couples, seek domestic partnerships or live together without formalizing their commitments.
Activist Danny Roberts, who was unable to attend the ceremony, sent a recording of his opposition to the policy. On it, he told a story about meeting the woman he loves at the Empire State Building observatory at a protest.
“We allow ourselves to be demeaned into begging for what we need to live,” Roberts said about the receipt of Medicaid. “If we comply, we can’t marry the ones we love. It’s not illegal but it is essentially suicide.”“I’m lesbian,” said Kolb between her acoustic guitar songs. “Now I can get married. It’s doubly frustrating. On the one hand, I can get married. On the other hand, I would still be punished.”
“It’s very scary because you become powerless,” Maury said about the experience that unwed couples face in dealing with health care emergencies.
LaSpina and Roberts, who helped organize the event, reserved the wheelchair-accessible space for the ceremony by calling it a “disability culture event.”The protest speeches did not overshadow the happiness of the day, where friends and family members shared personal stories and well wishes for Ospina and Dupree, sang along to Kolb's original songs and cheered as loudly for social change as they did for love.