With the fabulous opening ceremony last night the Paralympics has just kicked off. As a result the topic of disability is being discussed more than ever. However, one area that is often ignored when disability is discussed is the experience of those who are LGBT and have a disability – those who are effectively a minority within a minority. There is very little visibility of LGBT and disabled individuals, one exception being the outstandingly successful paralympian Lee Pearson (who has won no less than 9 Olympic gold medals by the way). There are very few charities working with those that are LGBT and have a disability. Disability Solutions based here in the UK is a rare exception.
Photo from Brighton pride Parade (FWD 2012).
Exceptions aside, issues affecting those with disabilities who are LGBT are largely ignored by government, charities and society generally. Maybe it’s a question of ignorance or maybe it’s a reflection of those making the decisions – mostly, white, middle class, able-bodied individuals. Whatever the reason it’s something that needs to be addressed to ensure the LGBT community is as welcoming and inclusive as it professes to be. The ‘Count me in too’ research by the University of Brighton showed the importance of recognising the needs of marginalised sections of the gay community. In the study only ¼ of those who identified as LGBT and deaf said it was easy being LGBT on the Brighton and Hove gay scene, compared with ¾ of respondents generally (http://www.realadmin.co.uk/microdir/3700/File/CMIT_Deaf_Summary.pdf).
There are a many areas of concern where change within the LGBT community is needed to make the gay scene more inclusive. Firstly, LGBT charities must recognise discrimination within the gay scene towards people that have a disability. The ‘Count me in too’ study showed that prejudice often comes from within the LGBT community. Attention is focused on discrimination from outside the LGBT community directed at gays, lesbians, trans and bisexuals, making discrimination by LGBT people towards other LGBT people invisible.
Secondly, sexual health campaigns should be sensitive to those who are LGBT and have a disability. One example would be that people with certain disabilities such as spina bifada are allergic to latex. Obviously it is important these individuals know how and where to get non- latex condoms. Related to this, the lack of visibility of those with disabilities in sexual health leaflets, posters and websites should be challenged. In fact, this should apply to any gay scene literature – lack advertising for club nights, bars and saunas. It is also important that any information is available in a variety of formats – such as large print, brail and written in plain English.
A third area that should be considered is the effect of the preoccupation with body image on the gay scene and a preference for those who tick the right appearance boxes. This includes the image of the gay man as able bodied. As I mentioned in last week’s blog this can be very damaging itself and cause low self esteem which increased the chance of risky sexual behaviour. Increased visibility of those who are LGBT and have disabilities is one possible way to begin to change this.
A fourth problem is access to the gay scene. Many places on the gay scene aren’t easy to access in a wheelchair or with a walking stick – no ramps, a lack of barriers or narrow entrances – just a few challenges someone who has disabilities might face. Other places have music so loud or are so dark that those with hearing or visual impairments find them difficult places to navigate. The problem has been ignored, possibly because of the image of the typical client as able bodied. The lack of attention to the needs of those who are LGBT and have disabilities is something that has to be addressed, otherwise it risks excluding sectors of the LGBT community who often feel most marginalised and look to the community for support. What are you experiences of having a disability and being on the gay scene? What do you think should be done to make the scene more inclusive?
Here at GMI we are sensitive to the relationship between all aspects of identity and safe sex. We offer a supportive, understanding and non judgemental space where men who are gay/bi/trans – with and without disabilities – can receive help to practise safer sex. Interested? Please see our website for more information – http://www.gmipartnership.org.uk/ .