“People with disabilities, at the end of the day, are just like everybody else,” Belo Cipirani tells Queerty in an exclusive interview. “We have desires, dreams and goals. We also have fears. The only difference is we negotiate life differently, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are any less valid.”
35-year-old Cipriani is blind, though that wasn’t always the case. Nine years ago, he was beaten in San Francisco’s Castro District. The attack resulted in him losing his sight. But he hasn’t let that stop him from living a meaningful life or making a lasting impact in the world.
Last year, Cipriani was named “Best Disability Advocate” in the San Francisco Bay Area by SF Weekly, and had the honor of being selected as a Community Grand Marshal for the 2015 SF Pride Parade–the first blind Grand Marshal in the parade’s nearly 50-year history. Today, he is the author of the acclaimed memoir Blind and the book Midday Dreams, as well as the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine.
Queerty: For people who aren’t familiar with your story, you weren’t always blind. Can you briefly explain what happened?
Cipriani: Back in 2007, I was at the height of my career. I was working in Silicon Valley. I had just bought my first place in San Francisco. Life was good. I was in my 20s, I was young, I was fit. One day, I came across this group of friends from my childhood. These were other gay men. I was happy to see them. They weren’t happy to see me. They immediately started verbally attacking me and then it turned into an assault. I got kicked a few times in the head, and that lead to retinal damage, and that led to blindness.
And because it’s retinal damage, there’s no way to undo it, right?
Correct. It’s permanent. I did have some surgeries in the beginning. Each time I would get some vision back, but then it would go away again. The doctor explained that it was because of the scar tissue. The last time I had surgery I woke up and everything was pitch black. I never got anything back. Most blind people have some level of vision, whether it’s shadows or light perception. Only about seven percent of people are completely blind, which means they see pitch darkness, and I’m among that seven percent. So often when I hang out with other blind folks, I am the most blind in the bunch.