Why accessibility should be a priority at Pride and beyond

With Pride Month in full swing, the importance of including all members of our community at protests and celebrations must not be overlooked.

This article is about accessibility at Pride. The image shows a side view of a wheelchair user, with someone pushing them. Their wheels are decorated with rainbow designs and the person in the wheelchair wears a rainbow flower necklace and has a rainbow painted on their arm.
Image: algobonito98 via Shutterstock

As companies dust off their rainbow logos and products for another round of rainbow capitalism, it’s time to reflect on the true meaning of Pride: protest. Ollie Bell writes about why accessibility must be prioritised at Pride to prevent the isolation of genuine radical activists, especially queer disabled activists.

Disabled activists worked tirelessly to scrap the Thatcher-era Green Paper on Disability Reform, and they won! They made their voices heard during the Care referendum by calling for a Yes/No vote. These wins didn’t come out of nowhere but are the result of years of fearless disability activism.

Disabled queer people are already out here organising for LGBTQ+ liberation. You’re less likely to see us in boardrooms, in NGOs or in mainstream LGBTQ+ activism. Instead, you’ll find us in more radical, grassroots groups. For many queer disabled people, we either have to hide our disabilities or we’ve been pushed out of more reformist advocacy.

Trans & Intersex Pride Dublin (TIPD) was founded by myself (a disabled/neurodivergent person) and at different points has had organisers with various disabilities (including autism, dyspraxia, learning disabilities, etc). Our lived experiences of being disabled and queer under capitalism often radicalise us to see through its illusions and draw revolutionary conclusions.

While disability is a protected characteristic under the Equal Status Acts 2000 and The Employment Equality Acts 1998, this hasn’t resulted in tangible improvements in our lives. We are at the whims of a failing HSE. Whether it’s long waiting lists, doctors refusing to believe us (especially disabled women) about our chronic illness/pain, or only getting access to service when it’s considered a ‘crisis’.

Disability services are therefore outsourced to charities, religious organisations and the family, which can open up disabled queer people to anti-LGBTQ+ violence. Disability services are often tied to a person’s home address rather than the person themselves, meaning leaving an abusive family/partner could mean losing access to vital services.

Over 35% of disabled people/people with long-term illnesses who are unable to work are living on an income below the poverty line. Disability Allowance is not enough to cover rents, basic necessities or the extra costs associated with being disabled. The multi-fractured crises under capitalism – housing, environmental, cost of living, etc, have hit disabled people the hardest. Capitalism has never and will never guarantee a world where disabled people can get access to vital support/services we need to live freely on our own terms.

We can’t talk about Pride devoid of the political context that surrounds us. The far-right has gained a significant hold within Irish society and abroad. When they are not spurring hatred towards migrants or trans people, they are spreading disinformation about vaccines (most notably Covid-19 vaccines). These myths about ‘dangerous’ vaccines didn’t start during the pandemic but have existed since 1998 with Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent study linking the MMR vaccines with autism.

Anti-vaxxers were able to gain such an echo in society because they’ve spent years sharpening their arguments against autistic people. When those parents speak about their autistic children, it’s enough to turn your stomach. They talk about their child as if they’re dead, mourning the life they thought they were going to have, describing autism as if it’s a monster who kidnapped their child and replaced them in the middle of the night.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is! It’s the same rhetoric used by anti-trans activists to describe queer youth. Whether it’s a teacher ‘grooming’ a young person into being trans or vaccines damaging them and giving them autism, it’s the same idea. If you don’t conform, you are damaged, disgusting and need to be fixed. Often transphobia and ableism will be used to mercilessly strip trans people’s, especially autistic trans people’s, agency and autonomy.

For example, the National Gender Service here said in 2022 that up to 90% of people who use their service may be autistic, including those they suspect of being autistic. We can debate back and forth whether this is actually the case, especially since accessing an autism diagnosis in Ireland is extremely difficult and expensive due to having no public assessment teams dedicated to adult diagnosis.

The NGS don’t care whether 90% of their patients are actually autistic. They’re cynically using people’s misconceptions around autism as a way to restrict and control our bodily autonomy. Autistic trans people are dismissed, told our gender identities are just a special interest or, more sinisterly, that we’ve been ‘groomed by the transgender cult’.

The interconnection of disability and queerness along with the far-right’s use of one to prop up the other shows the real need for Pride to be accessible.

As a Pride organiser, I can say that TIPD isn’t perfect with our accessibility but we do the best we can. There are always things we could be doing better but we’re honest in that. We’ve learned from mistakes we’ve made in the past, especially in our first year. Our first Pride route in 2018 to Fairview Park wasn’t accessible. But we took that criticism and changed the route for future marches.

During an organisational meeting in 2019, a disability activist gave us some tips to help make TIPD more accessible. This included having chairs at both the start and the end of the march. This is something we’ve implemented each year. Last year, we had a designated accessibility person who handed out masks and organised an accessible section of the march. Although things can get messy and hectic on the day (especially as an organiser), mistakes are as much of a learning experience as doing something ‘correctly’.

We may not have the resources corporate Prides have, but we do our best with the donations we have. We’ve been lucky in the amount of support we get. GCN, for example, has livestreamed the march from their social media pages each year. Whether it’s because of a disability, being in the closet, or living in an unsupportive environment, having the march livestreamed sends the message of solidarity to those watching from home. We also make sure to have an ISL Interpreter at our marches for those who need it.

Stewards might not be the first thing you think of when you hear accessibility at Pride but it’s a way of protecting our most vulnerable members. We don’t rely on the State to ensure the day runs smoothly. Considering the historical oppression and intimidation experienced by the queer and disabled communities at the hands of An Garda Síochána, we can’t just assume everyone marching will feel safe engaging with them.

There’s something empowering about being able to organise ourselves outside of formal structures. It’s easier for someone to talk to a friendly face in a hi-vis instead of a badge and uniform. We’ve been lucky to have the same head steward every year who has a wealth of experience from stewarding the Dublin Marathon. Stewarding is a great way for cisgender and/or heterosexual allies to show solidarity with us.

More importantly, we strive every year to be better. For our launch this year, we had a Zoom link for anyone who wanted to watch from home and had plenty of masks to show solidarity with our immunocompromised siblings. We also had Aoife from Neuro Pride speaking about the intersection between being trans and neurodivergent.

But accessibility needs to go beyond Pride events. It means having an LGBTQ+ community that disabled people take pride in. So much of LGBTQ+ culture in Ireland revolves around drinking. While gay bars provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ people, they can also be inaccessible to many. Whether it’s not being wheelchair accessible or being a sensory nightmare to neurodivergent people, there’s a lot more these venues should be doing.

Neurodivergent people are often misconceived – stimming can be read as being drunk/on drugs. Emotional regulation is a challenge for people with ADHD or bipolar disorder, which can lead bouncers or staff to label someone as ‘aggressive’. Similarly, people with Cerebral Palsy or Tourette’s Syndrome can also experience this. This isn’t a simple fix with diversity training but an ongoing process that includes systemic change.

Accessibility at Pride and beyond entails challenging the inherently ableist system. It’s understanding that to fight for LGBTQ+ liberation, we must also fight for disabled liberation. With every single struggle for liberation, we need to grasp oppression by the roots – the root being the poisonous capitalist system.

TIPD is not only focused on the meagre concessions we can get right now. Our fight is to go further than that. We recognise the interconnected nature of oppression and how it is used to divide ordinary people from each other. The antidote to the anti-trans moral panic is unrelenting solidarity, we are a force to be reckoned with.

Our queer revolution will not be found in Amazon, Facebook or Google. It’s in standing fiercely for disability justice, workers’ rights and an end to all forms of oppression.

This article on accessibility at Pride originally appeared in Issue 384 of GCN Magazine. Read it in full here.

© 2024 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 384 (June 1, 2024). Click here to read it now.

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Rainbow Family

Issue 384 June 1, 2024

June 1, 2024

This article was originally published in GCN Issue 384 (June 1, 2024).

Read Now