Every June, we honor the legacy of the LGBTQ+ movement and the 1969 Stonewall riots. Pride month is dedicated to uplifting and supporting LGBTQ+’s rights, voices, and culture. Pride is a great reminder that everyone should be proud of their sexuality and physical appearance. However, the same invitation is often denied to LGBTQ+ individuals with disabilities. Instead, they are reminded that they are not welcomed to the conversation about gender or sexual identities. They want the same things that non-disabled LGBTQ people want in life: acceptance.
Diversity and inclusion are the main pillars of Pride. However, people with disabilities are still often left out of the discussion and celebration of sexual and gender diversity. Pride events are often celebrated at bars or big parades that remain inaccessible to individuals with physical disabilities, blindness, hearing disabilities, neurological disorders, or intellectual or developmental disabilities.
When organizing a Pride event, it is important to plan for the participation and needs of all participants, including those with disabilities. Physical and mental demands imposed by event layout may otherwise lead to exclusion. For example, individuals with physical disabilities may have a hard time navigating through uneven terrain, the length of parade routes, high temperatures, and lack of seating. Videos should feature captions and speakers should be accompanied by sign language interpreters as a matter of course. In addition, organizers should be sure their LGBTQ+ events are held at accessible facilities that have elevators, ramps, or trained staff who are versed in disability awareness. And customer service contacts should be available to respond to disability-related questions and request. Careful forethought can ensure Pride events are inclusive of sexuality, gender, and identity as well as disability.
In the absence of accessibility planning, many members of the LGBTQ+ community are forced to forgo Pride month events because the events are inaccessible. Not only are Pride organizers missing out on attendees, but those attendees are missing out on true equality. Indeed, the LGBTQ+ movement has historically benefitted from the contributions of icons with disabilities, like those described below.
Lawyer, Educator, Politician, and Civil Rights Leader
The first woman elected to the Texas Senate in 1966 and the first black woman from the South to win a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1972. Barbara Jordan was a fierce advocate for voting rights, minimum wage laws, and the civil rights movement.
In 1973, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and eventually became a wheelchair user. Jordan’s dedication to public service came at the cost of concealing her sexuality. With her life companion Nancy Earl by her side, she continued her career and received 31 honorary doctorates and numerous national awards. In 1994, President Bill Clinton presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian. In 1993, she was the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.
Activist and Community Organizer for Transgender Rights, Disability Rights, and Economic Equality in San Francisco
Jazzie Collins was an HIV-positive African American transgender woman and a powerful fighter for social and economic justice. Collins was active in San Francisco’s activism in multiple overlapping areas, including tenement rights, labor rights, transgender rights, and aging health issues. She served as the vice-chair of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Aging Policy Taskforce and as the vice-chair of the Lesbian Gay Transgender Senior Disabled Housing Task Force.
In 2015, her fellow activist opened up the first US first shelter for the adult LGBTQ+ community. The shelter was named Jazzie’s Place, to honor her memory, activism, and commitment to her community.
Author and Activist known for his work on behalf of transgender men
Lou Sullivan was one of the first recorded transgender men to publicly identify as gay, and his life influenced the modern understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as distinct, concepts. Sullivan lived as an out gay man but he was reportedly denied sex reassignment surgery (SRS) because he was gay. Doctors wanted their surgeries to produce healthy, employable, heterosexual citizens. This rejection led Sullivan to start a campaign to remove homosexuality from the list of contraindications for SRS.
Later in his life, he contracted HIV and used mobility aids. However, he was able to find a group of gay men with disabilities who connected him to resources and a community. He was one of the first people to write about congressional attempts to restrict transgender people from claiming protection under the ADA.
Making Pride Accessible
It is important to remember that accessibility is not binary and what may be accessible for one person can be a barrier for another. Here are some ways Pride events can make themselves more accessible and welcoming.
- Provide designated seating area for those with disabilities at parades
- Provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and/or Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) whenever speakers address the audience
- Make sure videos have captions
- Learn and teach LGBTQ+ disability history at events
- Hire people with disabilities to be consultants, board members, or event planners
- Vet your facilities for ramps, accessible entrances, wide doors, and accessible restrooms. Ensure parade routes have smooth, even surfaces, accessible parking, accessible transportation, and accessible restrooms.
- Make sure event websites and apps are accessible to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level A and AA standards.
- Ensure there is a number or email for people with disabilities to contact to ask questions about access or for accommodations and ensure the people who respond are trained to provide correct information and accommodations.
- Include people with disabilities in your leadership, planning committees, scheduled speakers and panelists, imagery, and documentation