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Re-growing Queer spaces to include disabled people post-pandemic...

Content warnings: mention of substance misuse/self-medicating

Article by Artie Carden (they/them)

Image shows a silver laptop on a wooden table, a white women is typing. Next to her is a white mug and a mobile phone.

I have wondered for so many years why I never fully felt ‘right’ in queer spaces. I realised that along with physical conditions, I am also neurodivergent. Many spaces for queer and trans people are not built with disabled people in mind. I don’t want to feel left out of my community again, but I also don’t want to put my body through the torture of inaccessible events anymore.

My main experiences of queer spaces come from my short time living in London for university. Most spaces are set in old buildings that haven’t been updated in years. Whilst I understand and love the historic connotations that come with these buildings, all it does is segregate mainstream queer from the further marginalised queer. All these basement clubs and multi-level pubs are physically creating distance between disabled and non-disabled people.

Even if you can manage the rickety staircases, narrow hallways, and tiny bathroom stalls, for people with sensory sensitivities it’s painful to be there. I’ve been using ear plugs long before I knew I was neurodivergent, and they have a minimal effect. Years later, I realised I was using smoking cigarettes and drinking excessively as a socially acceptable way of managing my physical pain and my sensory pain! I know my sensory needs now, but it’s sad what I put myself through and what queer social spaces put disabled people through.

I know one of the biggest problems for queer spaces and businesses is finances. Trust me, I understand we are systemically destined to struggle, which is more likely the more multiple-marginalised you are. As a disabled person, I have found working any traditional job impossible. I’m burnt out within 3-6 months. Many people are fundraising for personal finances online. There is a space for queer businesses and venues to do the same, to upgrade their facilities and allow more inclusion. Having a sliding scale payment method will benefit everyone who wants to access the space and going out of your way as an employer to hire disabled people. We are your customers; we can be your workers too.

The thing I miss most about going out to gay bars, or clubbing, is that I love to dance. However, the volume, temperature control, lack of seating, and struggle with accessing bathrooms, puts me off ever going out again. I’ve been threatened to be thrown out by security when I was seated for too long in a club. Most clubs don’t even have seating, but when they do, apparently you can’t use them. So, I stopped going.

My dream clubbing experience is basically a silent disco with seat reservations. Everyone wearing headphones, you can choose which station or playlist you like most, you control the volume. When you need a break, you have a seat guaranteed, there is no or very low music when you take off your headphones, you don’t have to shout or struggle to hear the bartender, and you don't need to go outside. If you are a club, a free cloakroom or locker system would greatly benefit disabled people. I have to wear fifteen tonnes of clothing during the winter and then can’t afford the cheeky cloakroom fees for each item. I either slowly pass away from the cold or from overheating inside the venue.

Along with more accessible options for clubbing, it has always been of dire need to have more sober spaces for LGBTQ+ people. Venues to have creative events, markets, book shops, and support groups. The pandemic gave disabled LGBTQ+ people access to social and support groups when they moved online, so rather than removing all online events from the calendar, make it possible to incorporate it into your in-person events. An open mic night can easily be adjusted to include all options.

The Purple Pound is a project providing statistics of disabled households’ spending power in the UK. Unfortunately, non-specific to LGBTQ+ disabled people, but you can use these stats to understand what businesses are missing out on by excluding disabled customers, consumers, and workers. In the UK, current statistics state one in five to one in four people are disabled. There are so many ways LGBTQ+ businesses can and should make their access better, including their social media and websites. I have minimal access needs when it comes to websites, but if I can’t easily locate the information I am looking for, I will click away. The Purple Pound estimates 4.3 million disabled online shoppers click away from inaccessible websites and have a combined spending power of £11.75 billion in the UK. Businesses lose out on a lot by not being accessible online and in person.

As a disabled person, everything I do outside the house has to be planned out. I have to look at travel or parking, menus, costs, bathroom locations, seating information, and so much more. I am often confronted with surprise inaccessibility which puts me on edge. It’s things like this that make me stick to big chain cafes and restaurants because I know what to expect, it’s easy to search the menu, and they normally have a bathroom I can access reasonably easily.

Slowly, these small LGBTQ+ businesses are fundraising and opening as well, but many of them leave out access for disabled people from their game plans. Places like The Queery in Brighton are working with disability consultants before they open their doors, and a couple of venues in Glasgow, the Pink Peacock and Bonjour, have accessibility information available to view on their social media to eliminate surprises on their disabled customers.

Access needs to be normalised as part of a business plan and factored into the costs from day one. Many businesses rely on consumers to give feedback when something isn’t working for them, but that isn’t good enough. It needs to be part of the original proposal before you open. Including disabled people in projects from the beginning will help businesses thrive and regrow our LGBTQ+ community.

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