Wheelchair Sports Camp is making their mark with experimental themes, and good old-fashioned civil disobedience.
On top of being above average musicians, the band has a powerful political message. Their lyrics reflect Kalyn Heffernan’s thoughts and unique perspective. Along with identifying as queer Heffernan has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bones disease.
Heffernan made headlines this year when she and American Disabled Attendant Programs Today, a grassroots disability activist group, protested Medicaid cuts for three days. She was ultimately arrested. “Time and time again, I just kept realizing disabled people were being left out of this conversation,” she said.
When ADAPT announced their march, Heffernan was on board. “They get back to me and are like, ‘can you come tomorrow and can you get arrested?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes,’” she said. She has marched with Black Lives Matter and participated in a number of peaceful protests. “That [the ADAPT protest] was the first time I’ve been arrested.” Heffernan said.
After Trump’s election, the band was motivated. Josh Trinidad, the band’s trumpet player, said it unified them. “We were all on a similar frequency, we were activated in a way to be a little bit more creative.”
Heffernan identifies as queer. “Queer is easy. When I came out, I felt like there was more stigma around being a lesbian than Bi, and now I feel like there is more stigma around being Bi than a lesbian,” Heffernan said.
Wheelchair Sports Camp has fostered a following in queer and disabled communities. “More of the audience would be in wheelchairs, certain markets where we haven’t played a bunch of times if there’s 30 people at a show it’s like, ‘Whoa, 30 people came out to the show, and half are in wheelchairs,’” Ziemba said.
Heffernan understands the importance of her influence, but what drives her is the music. “I don’t want to fall down the trap where we’re only political rap. That’s the beauty of being a musician. Sometimes it’s just like a reflection, me being in a shitty mood, or me being in a goofy mood and writing a fucking rap about poop and tampons. How in the hell does that resonate with people, I don’t understand, but if it does, yeah, we fucking won!” Heffernan said.
Heffernan’s lyrics reflect that pull between being an artist and an advocate. She spoke of a lyric in their song “Hard out Here for a Gimp.” “My breath ain’t nothing but an interview,” Heffernan said, “‘cause, like, since I was a kid I’ve been in the news, on the newspaper, all these media things because it’s like they see a disabled kid and they’re like ‘yeah, you!’ it’s just like inspiration porn.”
“As artists, we’re not like journalists, we don’t have to tell what it is, we can experiment and try new things and maybe something that we say will hit right,” Ziemba said.
Wheelchair Sports Camp is genre defying. They are a refreshingly rare ensemble whose point of view necessitates the utmost attention.