If you suffer from a disability just how excluded from mainstream gay culture are you likely to be? As a conference discusses the issues in London, OutUK's Adrian Gillan asks REGARD, the UK's largest group for disabled LGBT people, about the challenges their members face.

Around 6 million of the UK's population of 60 million are likely to be LGBT. And 1 in 7 of those - that's around 850,000 people - suffers from some kind of disability. They are male, female, black, white, old and young - some in wheelchairs, others dyslexic. And just because many are not moneyed or club clone look-alikes, that's an awful lot of people for the gay scene and community to shun.

"In big hubs like London or Manchester, with literally dozens of venues, is it too much to ask for just one - just one - venue in each city to have proper facilities for the disabled?"
Cartoon by David Shelton.
Greater London Action on Disability (GLAD) aim to get LGBT-specific issues onto the political agenda: things like safety and harassment, independent living, transport and access, and inclusion within existing services and activities and - take note - within our own LGBT culture.

Abused As Well As Ignored

"Countless disabled men have been sexually abused by family members, carers, support staff and even local do-gooders and volunteers," says Kieran Bright from REGARD, the national campaigning and support organisation for all disabled LGBTs.

"At a recent conference for disabled LGBTs," says Bright with typical candour, "I was really shocked to discover that of twenty-two men in one session, sixteen had experienced sexual abuse from carers or support workers. Of course in reality, some disabled people have consenting sexual relations with their carers, although they'd both need to keep it a secret or the carer would lose their job - and their living."

"It's hard for disabled gay guys in care or accommodation," he says. "Apart from possible abuse, you often find 'volunteers' are also very religious and try hard to convince you you're not gay, you just need God. We also have a case where one young guy told his care manager he was gay, who then went straight to tell his parents - some way to come out!"

Bright, on another serious mainstream disabled issue: "We do find that, though HIV services are getting better at addressing the needs of gay disabled people, there are still very few consulting rooms with proper access and much of the health information available is in a format of little use to many."

"Worryingly," he elaborates, "when REGARD was at Pride earlier this year, lots of disabled gay guys came up to me who knew each other, saying how so and so was having sex with so and so. It soon became clear to me that many within this small group were shagging each other without the others knowing. And that's when you've got to be careful."



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