Ayman Barbaresco was at an LGBTI networking event when flashing lights and loud music triggered a migraine.
“It was overwhelming,” he told the Star Observer. “It was impossible to focus or do anything.”
As a gay man with a disability – he has a neurological disorder and has battled two brain tumours – Ayman said he sometimes feels invisible in queer spaces and wishes more people would look past his disability.
“Our disability is only one aspect of us,” he said. “It doesn’t define us. We’re just normal people.”
In 2018, La Trobe University published a report about the difficulties faced by LGBTI people with disability, with 46 per cent experiencing discrimination, harassment or abuse in the past year.
The report found LGBTI people with disability also experience limited access to services, lack of sexual freedom and expression and reduced support and social connection with both the LGBTI and disability communities.
Some LGBTI venues have appealed to the community to help make their spaces more accessible. In 2013, Hares and Hyenas fundraised to install an accessible toilet, and in 2014 a microphone system for wheelchair-using performers.
Erin Kyan, a spoken-word performer who describes himself as a “disabled, fat, queer, trans, leather man”, told the Star Observer while queer spaces in Melbourne are often more inclusive than mainstream venues, they are “nowhere near fully accessible”.
“Queer venues that tend to be accessible are the more traditionally ‘wholesome’ ones, like cafes, or social support groups,” Kyan said.
“Pubs are less likely to be accessible, and club nights or sex-on-premises venues are pretty much never accessible. I think this is a symptom of a common belief that disabled people aren’t sexually expressive beings.”
Some of the ‘obvious’ steps event organisers can take to include people with disability are ensuring the venue is wheelchair accessible and Auslan interpreted, “but access doesn’t just stop there,” Kyan said.
“Is there enough seating at your event? Do you have a priority seating area? There are so many disabilities that make standing difficult and having a secure place to sit can make a huge difference.
“Is there smoking at your venue? Secondary smoke can be a real problem for some health conditions. How loud is your event? How bright are the lights? Both of those things can be problems for people with sensory issues.”
Ayman Barbaresco. Photo: supplied.
Erin said this information should be listed on event and venue websites and social media. If organisers are serious about including people with disabilities, he said they should seek out disabled “performers, speakers, staff [and] consultants”.
“Disabled people aren’t always just attendees or customers. We deserve to have our chance to be on stage, in the spotlight, as much as abled people,” Kyan said.
“Hire a disabled DJ, showcase a disabled drag performer, give a disabled poet a slot, let a disabled person facilitate trivia … including us means including us in all aspects of community.”
Barbaresco agrees queer venues need to “ask people with disability what they need” and must realise “everyone is different”.
In recent years, LGBTI people with disability have advocated for greater visibility and recognition. More than 150 LGBTI people with disability – a record number – marched in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade in 2017. Earlier this year, LGBTI people with disability participated in a Mardi Gras float, the Fearless Express, to raise awareness about public transport accessibility.
Without accessible queer venues and events, Erin said he and other LGBTI people with disability are unable to interact with the rest of the LGBTI community.
“Things like my powerchair make it possible for me to be a part of society, which is why it’s so important for queer spaces to be accessible,” Kyan said.
“Without that accessibility, I am locked out of my community entirely. We need our community, and the community needs its disabled members.
“We can bring a lot to the table if you let us.”