The Disability Pride Brighton team were extra proud a few days ago. We went to Pride-Pride.
Confused? Join the club. I set up Disability Pride Brighton (the first Disability Pride in England) last year after one of my adopted disabled children suffered an incident of disability discrimination. It snowballed into a wildly successful festival which was held in July and which turned out to be one of the best days of my life.
Here's the thing though: living in Brighton, where Pride, as in Brighton and Hove Pride, is so successful and attracts 300,000 people every year, means that the connotations of the word 'Pride' in any context are that it is an event for the LGBT community. Even though I could foresee this confusion, it felt important for our event to be named Disability Pride Brighton so that it is in line with other Disability Prides around the world - Disability Pride New York City, Disability Pride Italia, Disability Pride Philadelphia... You get the picture.
I was right to foresee a problem. Despite my announcing for months that Disability Pride is for EVERYONE, I have been asked many times why I started an event which is solely for LGBT disabled people and people still think we are part of the bigger local Pride, not an independent project run by and for disabled people of all kinds.
So what steps did I take to clear up this huge confusion? Erm, I invited the brilliant volunteers from Brighton and Hove LGBT Community Safety Forum (LGBT CSF) and their sister project Accessibility Matters to help us plan and run our Disability Pride Brighton event. I know, stupid, right? As had been agreed, they were all there wearing their hi-vis LGBT CSF vests over their Disability Pride Brighton T-shirts which REALLY made everyone less confused. Oops.
Billie Lewis, Chair of LGBT CFS, and his team of other volunteers spend many months every year working to ensure the safety and comfort of disabled and elderly attendees at Brighton and Hove Pride (Pride-Pride!) in the parade and the park as well as other events, and our committee felt that their experience, knowledge and compassion would help us to make Disability Pride Brighton a success. Most of their members are also LGBT disabled people so their efforts are from a real place of passion and lived experience. They were wonderful to work with and, in turn, they invited us to join them in the Pride parade in a show of solidarity and a celebration of what we achieved together.
Anyone with any kind of disability or mobility needs is welcome to attend Pride and, if they register in advance, they can take part at the front of the parade where access stewards make sure that the environment is safe and uncrowded. There are also golf buggies in which those with mobility issues can travel. From being in the parade to going to the event itself, it is fantastic to see that the safety and inclusion of disabled people is made paramount.
Our Disability Pride Brighton committee, who are all disabled and have various gender identities and sexual orientations (some of us are even straight!) were thrilled to be able to show solidarity because we view the struggles to gain acceptance and equality faced by the LGBT community as being similar to the battles disabled people face to eradicate disability discrimination and achieve equality. You can also be LGBTQ+ and disabled, as many of us know first-hand, so it is vital that disabled access of various kinds is intrinsic to LGBTQ+ and other wider community events.
We arrived at the start of Pride to join in the joyousness of thousands of people getting ready. The excitement was pricking at our rainbow-painted skin. Those of us with the use of our hands daubed the face and bodies of those keen who are less mobile with glorious, luminous colours. Wheelchair users were lifted onto golf buggies or partnered with LGBT CSF access stewards to push and we were off. My daughter, Charlie, 20, said she felt like a queen sitting on the back of one of the buggies and there was no pun intended.
I would like to share the words of one of the buggy drivers, Stella Pix, because I think it sums up everything so beautifully, "I had the great privilege of driving one of the LGBT+ disability buggies from start to finish at the 2017 Brighton Pride march. It afforded me the most stunning and continuous view of all of the 300,000 people who showed up to cheer us all as we made the 2 hour journey from Hove Lawns to Preston Park via the centre of town. 300,000 smiling, happy, beautiful young faces who represent the growing positivity of the future for us. A four mile slow run through solid love. I was overwhelmed by the vibe, how young they all were, how gorgeous they all looked, and above all, how much attitudes have shifted in these generations. The oldies were conspicuously absent. Maybe it's a tad loud, but they missed an amazing spectacle. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience and I am so honoured to have taken part and seen it from such a great perspective. My 7 passengers were beside themselves with glee. And I was very moved to think that there is such a huge force for good growing up in this sad, unfortunate world that we live in. Long may it grow."
One of our committee members, who is pansexual, as is her husband, said, "It was a wonderful celebration of everyone being happy for who they are. There was a genuine smile on everyone's faces - including ours - and my cheeks hurt afterwards from grinning so much. So much effort was put into the costumes and there was such a massive turn out of people it left me somewhat speechless. I can't wait until next year!"
Another of our members said, "It is ludicrous to think that it hasn't always been legal to be whoever you are."
After all, it is only 50 years since the (partial) decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. George Montague, who lives in Brighton and who, at the age of 94, is the self-proclaimed 'oldest gay in the village', has been an avid campaigner for Turing's Law and said about his letter of pardon, "that letter of apology was the culmination of everything I've worked on over the past 40 years" and "I was absolutely over the moon. It's the best letter I've ever received in my life".
Disability Pride Brighton is proud to continue to show solidarity and support to the LGBT community and to other minorities of all kinds. We may not be Pride-Pride but we are also very proud to have taken part in both Prides this summer.