How to make Pride truly accessible

Pride month held every June to honor LGBT movement

By Bani Amor, CNN
iStock/Rikke68

(CNN) - Held every June to honor the legacy of the LGBTQ movement and the event that started it all, the 1969 Stonewall riots, Pride is a season to celebrate resilience, resistance and the vast spectrum of sexual and gender diversity.

However, Pride events, which often consist of parties at gay bars and a big parade, remain incredibly inaccessible to disabled, deaf or hard-of-hearing, blind, neurodiverse (neurologically atypical, including those on the autism spectrum) and people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and little has been done to make them more inclusive.

From the length of parade routes, to uneven grounds, summertime temperatures, crowds and the lack of disabled seating areas, interpreters and wheelchairs, it's almost like Pride parades were made to keep disabled people out.

Parties are no better, with many hosted in inaccessible gay bars that don't have ramps, elevators, interpreters or staff who are versed in the rights of disabled patrons. For these reasons, many disabled members of the LGBTQ community are forced to sit out Pride month because too often, we literally can't even get in through the front door.

"Accessibility is often an afterthought, if even a thought at all," Annie Segarra, a queer Latinx YouTuber with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, told me over email.

While accessibility isn't binary and what is accessible to one disabled person can mean something completely different to the next, the good news is that making spaces and events as accessible as possible is pretty easy, and it's 2019, so there really shouldn't be any excuses, especially since it is the law in the United States and many other countries.

"You just have to remember we want to be in community too," queer writer Shivani Seth, who has PTSD and sensory sensitivities, explains.

And she's one of many who share a similar mindset.

"The very nature of Pride events, particularly parades, makes them pretty inaccessible," Alaina Leary, the editor of Equally Wed magazine, who lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, says.

Most parade routes rarely, if ever change, meaning that one section of the respective location is overflowing with attendees, law enforcement and tourists, making busy city centers obstacle zones for disabled people the day of the parade.

Bri M., the executive producer of the Power Not Pity podcast, which focuses on the lives of people of color with disabilities, described New York City's landmark Pride parade as "torturous and wildly unsafe" because of the crowds.

"I've heard of disabled people getting knocked down, stepped over, [or] had people lean on their wheelchairs," Dominick Evans, a trans-masculine hard of hearing filmmaker with Spinal Muscular Atrophy elaborated over email. "People will just stand in your way and you will be stuck. It's a real lack of body autonomy and a whole lot of rudeness," he added.

Pride performances that take place on one or several stages are very much the heart of the season, where drag queens, singers and dancers get to do their thing, but unfortunately, most parades don't even have disability seating areas, and the ones that do may not have accessible stages, sending a message that disabled talent and speakers aren't welcome.

Seating and rest areas also need to be bigger and located near exits and stages; there should be more than one. They need to be shaded or have a cooling system; they need to have interpreters; they should offer donor wheelchairs and scooters, and there shouldn't be anything blocking their range of vision.

Seth recommends a simple solution: bleachers. Add some lifts and fans and it would be a perfect area, especially for solo Pride participants to relax and meet each other.

It's a good idea, and not just for disabled people, to host Pride parades in differing locations, so that not everyone has to commute to one part of town every year, and to concentrate them in smaller towns or neighborhoods with more space.

How about we forget about parades for a minute and organize more Pride picnics, or block parties, brunches, hikes, bike rides, film festivals and more? Can we just have a Pride stroll, emphasis on "roll"?

I doubt anyone at the Stonewall uprising wanted us to trudge through the city for miles on a hot summer day to honor their legacies, but as long as they continue, parade organizers should provide temporary wheelchairs and scooters as well as shuttles to seating areas.

It's actually pretty common for a lot of LGBTQ pride-goers to skip the parade because Pride parties are where it's at, but they present a whole host of other impediments for disabled guests.

Besides the obvious ADA accessible entrances and bathrooms that too many bars lack, there's also strobe lights and loud music, which can be very distressing for people on the autistic spectrum, who have seizures or other sensory issues.

Videos are shown that don't feature captions or speakers will address the crowd without the aid of sign language interpreters.

"My favorite local gay bar has two floors but no elevator," Segarra, who is a semi-ambulatory wheelchair user, told me. "For me, climbing up a staircase can be as risky and painful as climbing a mountain barefoot," she said.

Almost all the disabled people I spoke with described the loneliness they felt after pushing their limits and still leaving Pride events in pain and isolation. "I've shown up a couple of times to make comment," Segarra added, "[but] nothing has changed in the past five years."

The great thing about non-parade Pride events is that they can grant more leeway in how they're organized, as Pride boards can be insular and difficult to get into if you're not a business owner or a politician.

If the venue you're renting doesn't have ADA-accessible bathrooms, then rent portable toilets or ramps for entrances. If you're going to have flashing lights and loud noises in most of the space, keep at least one quiet, scent-free room for people to escape to.

Most importantly, hire disabled people. We should be on Pride boards and organizing committees and event teams. You can hire disability consultants or delegate entire access teams with both disabled people and allies in them to make sure everyone feels safe and welcomed, and you can always consult this checklist.

The good news is, more and more people are getting the message.

WorldPride's centerpiece event, the march, has accessible seating that's already available to book online well in advance, and other events are mentioning inclusivity up front as well.

Above all, don't wait for disabled people to say something online or elsewhere to make accommodations just for them and just for that day—accessibility should be practiced always and everywhere, and especially at Pride. As Dominick Evans put it, "We are here, so make space for us." It's that simple.

Even if you're not an organizer, there's so much non-disabled people can do to make Pride more welcoming and inclusive to us. "I would highly recommend abled Pride participants to be engaged in the conversation about accessibility with disabled people," Segarra says.

Follow the #SuckItAbleism or #AbledsAreWeird hashtags on social media to see what we're talking about, then follow some organizations and disabled accounts on there to stay in the know. "Learn what to look for in regards to access, learn what inaccessibility looks like, and be vocal when you are witness to it," Segarra adds.

Some basic crowd etiquette like not blocking or shoving people and watching where you're going would also go a long way, too.

For disabled, blind, deaf/hard-of-hearing, neurodiverse and intellectually disabled people, we already face enormous obstacles in using public space, navigating the medical health systemche and with outright discrimination.

For the LGBT among that group, living with multiple marginalizations can make every day feel like work. Pride can be a time that reminds us that there is nothing shameful about who we are or how our bodies function or appear to others, but for too many of us, it is yet another reminder of how we are left behind.

"Pride started off as a riot led by trans women of color," Bri M. told me. "Let's take that same revolutionary spirit and make pride more accessible." When you venture out this Pride season to celebrate another year of being queer, remember to be intentional about prioritizing accessibility for all.

"Disability justice happens when we all move together," Bri M. added.

Bani Amor is a queer disabled travel writer from Ecuador by way of Brooklyn who explores the relationships between race, place and power. Their work has appeared in Fodor's, Teen Vogue, and Yes! Magazine. Bani started the #CripTravel tag for travelers with disabilities to share their experiences on social media. Follow them on Instagram @baniamor and on Twitter @bani_amor.

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