Gaysi spoke with LGBTQIA+ people with disabilities and an ally, all of whom share how a majority of queer spaces are sites of blatant ableism, and those that show solidarity, make an attempt to ‘include’ people with disabilities, adding insult to the injury, making them feel as if they did not belong already.
‘Access is a choice we make as organisers’
Noor is a storyteller, community organiser, and an activist. In March 2021, he tweeted that “building in access is your responsibility. Failing to do so is your choice”. He points out that currently there’s a constant buzz about ‘including’ queer disabled people in LGBTQIA+ engagement activities, as if the queer movement is “yet to see disabled people as a full part of their community, as people who have to and should be there.”
“That’s just not true,” concludes Noor. He says, “Queer disabled people are and have always been a part of the movement, and still are,” emphasising the need for a shift in approach and mindset. He adds: “What I want to see change is fundamentally restructuring how we organise queer spaces. I want us to structure them by centering those traditionally left behind from the start, and that includes disabled people. Access is a choice we make as organisers—it’s as fundamental as a space to meet. In its absence, I’ve seen a fundamental lack of understanding of issues impacting the disability community. In the US that looks like the sub-minimum wage, conservatorship, abuse in institutions, and so many more human rights violations, every day. But we don’t get to make those a part of our goals as people [simultaneously belonging to] both identity groups specifically because our participation is not being valued as equal.”
Lamenting how allies fail to understand “the profound loneliness of knowing that the places that claim to value you often will show the opposite through their actions,” Noor goes on to say how jaded “the feeling of entering a mosque and the prayer space being impossible for you to enter” leaves him. “The thrift stores are so crowded you can’t breathe. The graveyard is up a hill without pavement. Even in death, my funeral may not be accessible to everyone I loved in life. And I have to live with that reality. I wish they knew. And I wish they realised that that was just the tip of the iceberg.”
Safal Lama, a non-binary person with disability, opines that the “ongoing queer movements never included people from marginalised groups, like people with disabilities, Dalits, or anyone who has been marginalised on other grounds. In Nepal as well, I don’t see any representation from disabled people.”
Highlighting how everything that we talk about when we talk about queer issues caters to only a privileged section of society, they share how access to technology and the internet, which may sound like a non-issue for a person of able-bodymind, may not be even suited for disabled people’s use. In that sense, they say that a disabled person gets “doubly marginalised.”
Lama also feels that when we say #LoveIsLove we only “think of two queer people [of able-bodymind] and mostly gays.” For them, a safe space to talk about intersectionality in discussions related to queer rights, which includes queer, trans and nonbinary people with disabilities, is the need of the hour.
‘Don’t want tokenistic representation’
@DisabledSpice, a disabled queer activist and an artist who is part of the Determined Art Movement (DAM) collective, says that they “don’t care” about diversity and inclusion as they “don’t want to be included as a token representation.” They continue: “I want to be heard, and I want my queer and disabled elders to be heard. I want the next generation of disabled and queer folks to be more visible, specifically trans people, street workers, Dalits, Bahujan, Pasmanda, and Adivasi communities.”
Emphasising the need to abolish institutions and structures of power, they submit that it would be better “if we have more agency in our economic, housing, and socio-political rights.” For allies, they feel that there’s a need to realise that they can’t just ‘assign’ allyship to themselves, it requires “constant work in friendship, forgiveness and unlearning.”
‘There’s a particular class that has access’
“When it comes to physical and mental disabilities, there is little space for everyone,” says Kanav Narayan Sahgal, a development professional and an ally to queer people with disabilities.
Hinting at this bias that’s in the very structure of how we imagine queer spaces, Kanav reminds how pride marches are inaccessible to people with disabilities, and that after the coronavirus outbreak, when “everything moved online,” how deeply discriminatory even the online medium became.
Kanav wonders “how do people with hearing and visual disabilities attend online events? What accommodations are made for them? And are they even made at all? Given that the medium of instruction in most online spaces is English, so many people are left out. Moreover, we rarely think about whether the internet is available to all. Do we even consider the possibility of whether cellphones are discreetly available to use for those queer disabled attendees who need privacy? Clearly, there’s only a particular class that can access these things.”
Thinking about the inclusion of disabled and neurodivergent people at protest sites and discussion spaces, Kanav says that “protest spaces remind me immediately of police violence and unwarranted arrests.” He goes on to say that “for someone who has attended protests, I have witnessed first-hand the kinds of transportation restrictions and frequent internet shutdowns that limit people from organising. However, while able-bodied people can get away with most of these difficulties, people with disabilities are at a greater risk.” He also underlines that there’s a tendency to view LGBTQIA+ people “as a monolithic group. So for example, if we try to talk about the issues faced by bisexual neurodivergent women or asexual men with disabilities—I don’t think allies are even willing to learn because these issues seem too ‘complicated’!”