#Pride365: Disability Justice in Queer Communities

Source: @liberaljane on Instagram | Description: Digital illustration of a woman with brown skin and curly black hair. She is disabled and is sitting in a grey wheelchair looking at the viewer. The woman is wearing a cream color linen dress, pink and blue flower print go-go boots, pink and blue pom pom earrings. There’s a text bubble that reads, ‘ people with disabilities STILL do not have marriage equality’

Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator

In his seminal text on the subject, Robert McRuer looks at how able-bodiedness and heterosexuality are connected, leading him to discuss the association of disability and queerness, finding the ways in which these identities interact with each other and can (and should) be analyzed together (Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability). Despite Crip Theory being released in 2006, and additional writings by McRuer on the subject dating back even further, queer communities are still often exclusive of queer and trans folks with disabilities. 

One of the first times my eyes were opened to the ableism* in progressive circles was at a protest in Ottawa I attended with some friends and colleagues. As we marched through the wet streets of the city, I ended up near the back of the crowd with a friend of mine and their partner, who used a mobility device, the rest of our group having marched ahead. After noticing this, the two of them told me about how common this was when protests did not put those with disabilities to the front. They also pointed out how the protest was a point to point march rather than a loop, which added to the lack of accessibility in it. 

Ace Tilton Ratcliff, a genderqueer disabled writer, consultant, artist, and consulting mortician, wrote about the ableism in queer communities in their article for Bitch Media, “(Un)safe Refuge: The Built-In Ableism in Queer Spaces,” in June 2020. This article details multiple instances of ableism that 2SLGBTQ+ community members with disabilities have faced in queer spaces, such as the Stonewall Inn, and how often Pride events are not accessible for disabled queer people. 

Marriage equality is another area where folks with disabilities are often left out of the conversation. Rev. Jeff Rock, the senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, a Christian Church affirming of 2SLGBTQ+ community members, penned an article in January 2021 about how marriage equality is not something offered to disabled Ontarians due to restrictions as part of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) on partner income. His piece is a call to action for us to fight for disability rights in marriage and to recognize who we leave out when celebrating the accomplishment of marriage equality.

Much of these discussions have come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Cynara Geissler writes in The Tyee that “[f]or many disabled and chronically ill people, the options we’d previously been told were impossible before the pandemic — grocery delivery, virtual attendance options, working from home, video calls to doctors — became possible overnight.” With these more accessible events, programs, and services becoming more common during the pandemic, many fear what a post-pandemic world will look like as people rush to reopen and leave a large part of our community behind. 

This includes, and is possibly amplified, for those who hold intersecting marginalized identities and who were able to find community in ways they may not have been before. Whether it’s being able to hang with friends from bed when you’re having a bad pain day, working in a role that was strictly in-office beforehand when that isn’t accessible to you, or being able to attend an event where you don’t have to have your camera or mic on to participate in, being forced into a more virtual world has given many people the opportunity to participate in a way they haven’t before. 

In Geissler’s article, which focuses on an equitable reopening as vaccines become more accessible in British Columbia, they reference a column in Xtra written by Kai Cheng Thom where the author references a concept spoken about in transformative and disability justice spheres, where the author writes:

“Going slow can be extremely challenging, because when we are working through conflict and harm, many of us want very much to get to the “end” or the resolution, where things feel good or at least okay again. Yet, for better or worse, relationship repair is much more a case of the proverbial tortoise rather than the hare winning the race.”

When it comes to inclusion of people with disabilities in queer communities, the pandemic has given us a perfect place to start. Instead of rushing back to what we felt was the norm before the pandemic began, let’s take this time to recognize how to be better, more inclusive, and more equitable in all that we do. 

July is recognized as Disability Pride month in the USA, celebrating the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and this month of awareness and celebration has begun to be celebrated elsewhere due to our virtual world. For those of us who live, work, and/or play in the Peel Region, it is also historically Peel Pride month. As vaccines become more widely available in the Region and we look towards an eventual reopening, let’s ensure we are doing better than before. Whether that’s only holding events in accessible venues, including supports in our budgets for interpreters, or accommodating clients (and employees!) who benefit from working from home, let’s do what we do best—queer all we do and make it better for us all. 

We must always remember that there is “No Pride For Some of Us Without Liberation For All of Us.”

Check out these folks & resources to learn more about disability justice:

  • Andrew Gurza (they/he), Disability Awareness Consultant based in Toronto, host of Disability After Dark podcast, focuses on the lived experience of disability, disability and queerness, and more. 
  • Imani Barbarin (she/her), a Black, disabled, and queer woman who makes content online (including TikTok) around her identity, pop culture, and more.
  • Zipporah (aka coffeespoonie), a disabled, queer, Jewish, nonbinary woman writer and advocate who makes content online. 
  • The Black Disability Collective is a collective focused on uplifting and advocating for Black disabled lives
  • Hay Smith (he/him/his), Deaf gay writer based in Indiana. 
  • Ryan O’Connell, American writer, actor, director, comedian, LGBTQ activist, and disability activist; creator of the Netflix show Special based off of his memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves
  • Alice Wong, editor of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century and disability rights activist.
  • Cripping Up Sex with Eva – an author and sex educator focused on sex and disability 

*Ableism: Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability. (Access Living)

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