I’m as queer as a snake’s suspenders, so you might think that I’d be at the National Equality March right now. It’s pretty much being billed as the queer event of the year, our chance to go tell Washington how we feel. It’s supposed to have a tremendous impact by unifying the LGBQTAI population in the United States to send a message in a clear, loud voice. But it’s not unifying, and I’m not going. Why is that?
Well, there are a couple of reasons, and a lot of these reasons speak to exclusionary attitudes within the activist movement. Activists, with the exception of disability rights activists, are not exactly known for putting out the effort when it comes to including people with disabilities. Few recognize the intersection between the social issues they are advocating for and disability rights issues.
There are a lot of LGBQTAI folks who are also people with disabilities. And something tells me that you won’t be seeing very many of us at the National Equality March. That’s partly because of accessibility issues. If you visit the organizing website, try finding information about accessibility. Try planning ahead to attend a very large event when you know that you are going to encounter accessibility issues, and that the crowd will be large, and that the organizers will probably not have thought about accessibility, which means that when you show up, they are going to have no idea what to do with you. Has anyone contacted them to ask about accessibility? I’d be curious to know what the response was, if that was the case.
In my case, I am actually not capable of attending large events. I have social anxiety. Attending an event of this size would require a lot of work on my part, and would probably also necessitate some pharmaceutical assistance even with yoga, meditation sessions, deep breathing, and all of the other techniques I use to manage my anxiety. Just thinking about attending an event of this size makes me start to feel a little woozy and sick to my stomach. Some days, just leaving the house is too much for me to handle. The idea of driving four hours to go to San Francisco, getting on a plane and flying to Washington, and then being in a highly charged environment for several days is essentially unthinkable to me. If I did it, I would be drained for days, and possibly weeks.
But I deserve equality, don’t I? And so do all of the other LGBQTAI people with disabilities. We’re effectively erased from this event, and we’re being told that if we “really cared,” we would try harder. Suggestions from people with disabilities such as organizing local solidarity events, blogging about equality over the weekend, and so forth have been neatly marginalized. “Well, if there’s nothing else that you can do, but it would really be better for you to come to the march, because then you would be showing solidarity.” Right, showing solidarity with people who refuse to recognize that people can hold multiple identities at the same time, that you can be LGBQTAI and be something else, and that this “something else” might impinge upon your ability to engage in the “right” kind of activism.
There’s another intersectional issue which is being ignored here. People with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as people without disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is also much higher than that for people without disabilities. This means that those who are willing to overcome the accessibility issues to attend may not be able to because they are financially unable to. Traveling is expensive. Getting lodging in DC is expensive. Traveling and lodgings can be harder for some people with disabilities to arrange; it’s not as simple as “ok, great, there’s a hotel room and flight deal.” It’s “will my hotel room be accessible?” “Is there going to be a problem with the airline?” “Is my hotel room close enough to public transit or the march for me to be able to get around easily?” “Am I going to get to the hotel and find out that it’s not accessible to me, and, if so, what’s my backup plan?”
Part of the poverty trap for people with disabilities is the making of the government. Despite the fact that many of us can work and would prefer to work, we are ineligible for government benefits if we do work, or our benefits are severely restricted. We are forced to be unemployed to get benefits, but the benefits don’t actually cover the cost of living or meet our needs. So we can try to work, but then the benefits get cut or suspended. Which means we need to work more. Which means that we may end up unemployed again because work becomes too stressful. This creates a vicious cycle which keeps us living in poverty or skirting very near the poverty line.
And when you’re in this trap, you don’t have very much time or energy to go to a march in Washington with a bunch of people who really don’t want you there anyway.