June is Pride Month.
At this year’s Pride parade and event in Boston, several of my friends encountered accessibility issues. Yes, there was a disability seating section, but it was on a raised platform that required attendees to climb five steps to reach it. Friends who used wheelchairs and walkers to attend Pride were regularly and uncomfortably touched by participants in the parade. There was no designated smoking section, making it hard for some people to breathe.
I wish this weren’t common, but it is. Earlier this month, the Stonewall Inn refused entry to a blind person and their guide dog, even though service animals are protected under federal law. Nearly 1 in 8 people in the United States have a disability, according to the 2015 findings by the Pew Research Center, and many of us are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. We want to be able to participate in Pride and other queer spaces freely.
So how can we make this happen? For starters, Pride organizers should refer to this checklist by Rooted In Rights that explains how to make your event accessible. Then, early in the planning process, organizers should bring on disabled people in leadership roles.
As a queer person who has a physical disability and sometimes uses a cane, it’s exhausting to think about how often the disability community is treated like an afterthought — as though accessibility is tacked on at the end of an event just to appear inclusive and meet minimum ADA requirements.
When LGBTQIA+ spaces don’t include American Sign Language interpreters, don’t caption their social media images, don’t have a fragrance-free policy or a designated smoking area, don’t have adequate seating areas, or don’t provide any access options other than stairs, it’s a problem. Our spaces need to be inclusive and accessible for the entire LGBTQIA+ community, including people of color, disabled people, Native and Indigenous people, religious minorities, immigrants and ethnic minorities, fat people, and beyond.
I would love to see Pride and LGBTQIA+ spaces take on the task of not only being fully accessible, but including and celebrating diversity and disability from the start.
I often feel invisible the second my cane comes out, even though you’d think it would increase my visibility. People avert their eyes. They aren’t sure whether it’s okay to ask, “What happened to you?” or if I broke my toe (which is a very specific question that a Target cashier once asked me). They don’t know how to make polite conversation without joking about the cane first, and I know my wheelchair-using friends experience similar comments about whether they’re going over the speed limit in their chairs. Some people at Pride are confused about whether my partner is just a caregiver or personal care assistant of some kind, and stop thinking of me as an individual capable of having romantic relationships.
Like many other LGBTQIA+ disabled people, I never feel quite comfortable in queer spaces.
If I need to grab my cane because we’ll be standing a lot, there’s always a small part of me that worries people will suddenly see me in a new, negative light. Or that if I ask for a chair when I volunteer at an LGBTQIA+ youth event, I’ll be mocked or considered weak. I only feel I belong when I am in spaces that are created by and for the LGBTQIA+ disability community, where conversations about how to decorate your mobility aid, about which neighborhood bars are the most sensory-friendly, coexist alongside discussions about coming out as asexual to your partner and whether or not Ocean’s 8 should be gayer.
Here’s a simple call-to-action for LGBTQIA+ communities and Pride organizers: Look around.
When you look at people on your team building movements and planning events alongside you, is it a homogenous group? Are there people with disabilities represented in your leadership and involved in the decision-making process from the beginning? Are you considering ways to be radically inclusive and accessible? Are you avoiding excuses like Being accessible is so expensive! or We didn’t know there would be blind people at this event? Are you constantly looking for new voices to add to your team, people who can naturally bring a diverse perspective and point out issues that may have slipped under your radar? Are you supporting LGBTQIA+ disabled people of color, and in what ways are they included in your community leadership?
If you can start anywhere, I’d say start with this: Think of LGBTQIA+ disabled people not as a burden or as a potential problem to be fixed, but as a deeply important part of our community.
We’re worth celebrating, and we deserve to feel welcome at Pride, too.