For many people, “coming out” is much more complicated than it seems. In the media we hear about coming out as a life altering moment, an announcement that everyone hears. For me, a Pakistani Muslim, queer, disabled person, that wasn’t my experience.
Coming out was never black and white. I’m not a lesbian, I’m pansexual. I’m not trans in a traditional sense but I have a complex relationship with gender. I’m not disabled visibly or disabled all the time, but I experience disability. I’m not an immigrant but I’m brown.
When you come out as LGBTQ+, you might experience isolation. Certain friends or family members begin distancing themselves from you, some might outright reject you. When you come out as disabled and LGBTQ+, the pool of people you share identities with becomes smaller, and you can experience more isolation, outside of the LGBTQ+ community, and within it.
One example is that LGBTQ+ initiatives often have little funding, so step free access can seem like a luxury. But for people who require step free access, it is a necessity. Even if a space has step free access, there may not be accessible transport available – and it doesn’t stop there. LGBTQ+ communities have been built around nightlife and activism, and if you’re disabled, protests, marches, and club nights are not usually accessible. These spaces therefore become, more often than not, disappointingly exclusive.
Disabled people are considered an inconvenience, an afterthought. And if we aren’t thought of from the very beginning, you can bet the result will be one which excludes us.
The same applies when we consider race and sex. Even now, women are often excluded from LGBTQ+ spaces, as they are generally catered to gay men. People of colour are excluded when white people are at the top of the hierarchy, accessing most of the funding and networks in place for LGBTQ+ people. Inclusion is an issue that most of our community faces. The marginalised seem to be the majority, but we are still an afterthought.
For those of us who experience chronic pain, fatigue and mental illness, the barriers multiply. LGBTQ+ people are far more likely to experience mental illness. Mental illness often manifests in physical ways, and physical illness can cause mental illness – the two are linked.
If such a huge part of our community is dealing with health issues, why are our spaces excluding disabled people?
Accessibility is such a wide issue, and the lack of accessibility pushes disabled LGBTQ+ people further and further from the community. Disabled people’s employment, for example, is such a huge issue, and much of the community shuns this issue because it is uncomfortable to discuss. Many of us can’t manage or even be considered for traditional jobs.
Abled LGBTQ+ people can work in bars, clubs, shops and most regular and secure work. Being disabled means many of us choose to do sex work – it’s a job where people can often choose their working hours and not answer to a boss when needing to take time off.
But in feminist and LGBTQ+ circles, sex work is still stigmatised. Rather than making other workplaces more accessible, we choose to distance ourselves from people who are managing their abilities in a way we dislike. Again, resulting in isolation.
Like with any issue affecting marginalised people, disability is something that people rarely take the time to think about. Many rarely seek out the first-hand experiences of disabled people, instead choosing to discuss the issue with other abled people (if at all). Many in our community don’t ask us what we need – they plan spaces for abled people and then act perplexed about why disabled people aren’t there.
It is critical we have a deeper conversation about accessibility as a community. We need to understand that we all face different needs and challenges, but we are still a community. All LGBTQ+ people have a responsibility to not only include, but support disabled people. Without us you’re missing a huge proportion of LGBTQ+ people, and therefore failing to represent our community sufficiently.
Some solutions are simple: step free access, plenty of seating, plenty of space, considering accessible transport.
Others are harder: destroying the assumption that we are all abled unless we look disabled, challenging the assumption that disabled people have less to offer than abled people, amplifying disabled people’s voices and making your abled peers listen, destigmatising the choices people make to survive.
Disability is, for many of us, as much a part of our identity as being LGBTQ+. If you exclude us, you’re dividing our community and slowing our progress towards equal rights and protections in the wider world. Just like straight and cis people need to lean in to understand true ally-ship, abled people need to do the same.
Umber Ghauri is a makeup artist in London who works with people of all genders and skin tones. You can visit her website brownbeautystandards.com or follow her on Instagram.com/brownbeautystandards. She is part of a campaign by mobility bathroom specialists, Bathing Solutions, who have released three videos aiming to open up a discourse around the word "disabled"
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