Pride isn’t just inaccessible for disabled people, it’s emotionally inaccessible too

Prague, Czech Republic - August 11, 2018: People at the annual Prague Gay Pride parade. Hipster man in a rainbow flag in a wheelchair with a tablet in a crowd.
A power wheelchair user at Prague Pride in 2018 Photo: Shutterstock

Every year around the end of May and the beginning of June, right when I start to see the Pride emblems popping out everywhere, I get a sickening feeling in my stomach. I get the sickening feeling because as a severely disabled person, I have never truly felt all that welcome at the Pride festivities, despite all the signage reminding me that “Everyone is welcome.”

It should really be, “Everyone is welcome if you are non-disabled.” My cerebral palsy, limited use of my limbs, and assistance needs as a power wheelchair user have made it very difficult to access even basic parts of my queer sexuality, and Pride feels really inaccessible to me a severely disabled, severely sexy person. 

No accessibility at the parade

One of the biggest draws at Pride is the parade route.  Every year, cities all over the world have their streets lined with people marching in solidarity for queer liberation and inclusion. There are half-naked dudes in next to nothing, muscle boys and daddies, my kind of party – woof.

Now, imagine that same march, but this time consider that you are in a mobility device — butt level to everyone else — and no one can make space for you. As much as I adore the idea of bumping up next to sweaty guys at the Pride Parade, having them trip over my wheelchair because there is no access for my wheelchair isn’t what I had in mind.

Pride needs to create accessible pathways at every parade so that anyone with a 300-pound power chair, service dog, or other mobility aid can access all the comings and goings without being jostled unnecessarily. 

Alternately, imagine you are blind or hard of hearing and need braille signage or an interpreter. These things are not always standard at the parade, and they should be.  

No attendant care at Pride parades or events 

One of the biggest issues that I have as a power wheelchair user at Pride is the fact that there is usually no personal support workers or personal care attendants provided at the parade.

So many disabled people like myself don’t have care outside their homes, and so we often don’t leave home to do things like Pride because we don’t have someone to help us while we are there. This means that when I go to the parade alone I can’t eat, drink, or use the washroom at all.

Having no access to any of these things that I regularly need help with makes the parade inaccessible to me. 

There is money to make attendant care a prominent feature at Pride fests everywhere. Los Angeles Pride in 2019 generated $74.7 million for the city. So, surely Pride festivals can afford the $35 an hour that it costs to have attendant care providers on site.

Putting these things in place would send a big message: “We care about disabled people, too, and we want them here.”  When we don’t have things like attendant care, the message is just as clear: “We didn’t think about you.”

The last couple of parades that I’ve been in, I’ve been one of only a handful of visibly disabled people in the parade. It breaks my heart that there aren’t consistently visible disabled people at the parades — we don’t have our own floats or our own marching groups. It sends a message that we aren’t celebrated at Pride, merely tolerated.

The bars and clubs are also inaccessible 

So many Pride parties happen at iconic bars and clubs, and I can almost guarantee that the majority of them aren’t accessible at all. 

Wheelchair users like me are either ushered in the back doors like garbage, or are met with tons of stairs to try and navigate — often with cute, drunk muscle daddies offering to carry us and our heavy assistive devices into the club.

Whenever Pride happened in my college town, I would rush down to the club every weekend, and have to navigate a maze just to enter the club in my wheelchair. The bouncer always acted as if he was doing me a huge favor helping me get inside the club, and it always made me feel inadequate and unwelcome.

Fact: We need accessibility in gay clubs so we can get laid during Pride, too. I want to be able to arrive at the front of the club and be seen with my mischievous smile, just long enough for that cute muscle daddy to see me and take me home.

We need signage and on-site interpreters at clubs too so that the cute blind boy or the deaf daddy can get some, too. 

The attitudes of Pride-goers are often inaccessible too

If I’m honest, the biggest issue of inaccessibility at Pride is the attitude of so many of the participants who look through disabled people at Pride as if we don’t even exist. Even if, by some accessibility miracle, I can get inside the club, I am often confronted by people’s ableist attitudes around disability.

When I was at Pride one summer, I managed to get into a big gay party. It was June, so I wore a tight black tank top that showed off my arm tattoos, a silver necklace, and board shorts. I felt a tinge of excitement as I had spent two hours on accessible transit getting there (something I often have to schedule days in advance just to get anywhere).

When I finally did get in, a group of pretty cute guys danced in front of me. I wheeled up, hoping to dance with them.  As I got closer, I could see the all too familiar looks of bewilderment, judgment, and pity on their faces. I remember shouting “Hi! I’m Andrew!” over the music, only to have them smile coldly and walk away in a clique, like something out of a bad high school movie — I felt crushed and went home early that night.  

We need to give non-disabled Pride partiers a chance to hear stories like this, and consider how these attitudes make disabled people feel. Non-disabled attendees need to understand that this discrimination is very similar to the discrimination they’ve also faced in the past. 

We also need to remind them that, one day, they’ll experience disability as well and, thus, they should consider how they’ll want to be treated when it’s their turn.

We need sexy workshops and discussion sessions where Pridegoers have the opportunity to ask questions and confront their own ableism in a safe environment where they won’t be shamed for doing so. A sexy open-ended workshop could help dispel myths, allay fears, and empower connections between people with disabilities and those without.

Left behind…

In a lot of ways, the LGBTQ+ community has left disabled members as an afterthought, if at all. Putting some of these things in place for Pride season would be a start to thinking about disabled LGBTQ+ members as part of the community, instead of part of the community that’s easy to ignore.  

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope it plants seeds and gets people thinking about accessibility for Pride this year and all years after. I’d like to show up for my disabled queer siblings at Pride, but we need to clear a path for us trailblazers first.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Trans man wins $4.7 million from school district that didn’t let him use the restroom

Previous article

Pro-Palestine protestors demonstrate outside of LGBTQ+ organization’s gala

Next article