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If you suffer from a disability just how excluded from mainstream gay culture are you likely to be?
REGARD was formed back in 1989, initially to address such issues as these - essentially the lack of information and understanding about the needs of disabled lesbians and gay men within the mainstream disability culture, and within the social and health services. However, over time, it became blatantly clear that the gay community itself needed to be a primary focus and concern.

No Access

"Most disabled people are as keen as anyone else to be active within gay circles. Sadly however," says Bright cutting to the chase and changing gear, "what actually happens is that - at best - they become part of the disabled LGBT community and have very little access or interaction with the wider gay world."
"Society tends to treat disabled people as victims; the gay community treats disabled people as undesirables." Photo courtesy Kieran Bright and Lynn Daniels.
"It is unbelievable how many gay organisations and venues will not allow disabled people to participate," he bemoans. "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? And we have yet to find a gay organisation that has trained their staff in basic sign language."

"If it had not been for the efforts of REGARD," boasts Bright, "disabled people would have had no access to London Pride or Mardi Gras. We fought to have a disabled peoples' 'safe space' at the front of the march as well as disabled viewing platforms, sign language interpreters, accessible transport, trained stewards and personal assistants. We also got the publicity materials in larger print, a text-phone ticket line and text-only version web site."

OK: but let's dish some disabled dirt now shall we Kieran?

"I was at a meeting recently to discuss a Pride events in the UK," continues Bright seamlessly. "They did not host the meeting in an accessible venue and we were promised that the Pride itself would be accessible, yet none on the plans showed a viewing platform or disabled toilets. Mind you" - he asides breathlessly - "where venues do have disabled toilets, they are often up a flight of steps or at the foot of a broken lift - probably used as a storage cupboard for bog roll!"

"And there are so many examples of poor treatment out on the gay scene," gushes Bright, yet scarce warmed up. "I arranged to meet a blind friend at one bar and left after a drink thinking my friend had not been able to make it, but half way down Old Compton Street I ran into him with his working dog. We returned to the same bar and were about to enter, when the door man approached and asked us to leave as the bar had apparently suddenly been booked for a private event - some chance! We argued, but in the end, he was very aggressive and we decided to drink elsewhere."

Proceeds Bright, now unstoppable: "Our ex-chairlady visited a dyke bar once and the dance floor was rather busy - she decided to have a jig. The moment she got onto the floor, it cleared - mid song. She stayed and danced alone for two tracks and then, feeling silly, returned to her drink. The moment she left the floor, the dancers returned. No one approached her in the three hours she was in the bar."

Ah well, at least she got in hey!

"Another friend tried to get into one of the UK's biggest clubs," the torrent continues unabated. "He asked staff to open a side door so he could get in, but was told that fire doors were never opened and he had to go in the same way as everyone else - which was impossible. Eventually the owner, who knew my friend, turned up and told security to carry him in. They did, but he was then trapped on the dance floor with no access to a toilet, the bar or an exit. Eventually a group of lesbians carried him out."

"Very few disabled people meet the cloned body beauty image that the gay community almost demands," asserts Bright of a gay discrimination beyond mere access to the loo, and far worse that that encountered in wider society: "Society tends to treat disabled people as victims; the gay community treats disabled people as undesirables."

Indeed. And - apart from occasional consenting and abusive activity with care workers, and shenanigans with other disabled pals - what about sex, I pry? Do you get much?

Sex & Relationships

"Although many disabled lesbians have had straight relationships before coming out," says Bright, "many disabled gay men will have had little previous experience of sex unless it was abusive. Because of their circumstances, many disabled gay men experience a lot of their sex in cottages and woods, but often only curious encounters. Most non-disabled gay men only want to be sucked off by a disabled person and would not even consider returning the favour."

"Just like straights, many gay guys think of disabled men as having a mental health problem and no penis," confides Bright bluntly.

"In reality, we often just have limited access to sex. I have many disabled friends that only have sex with sex workers and often have a monthly visit. And there have been a number of groups that have offered free sex services - courtesy of volunteers and those who get turned on by disabilities - but such schemes often fail due to lack of support from disabled women or those already in relationships. I know the Outsiders Club is attempting to rekindle their programme."

And there is - apparently - no shortage of those queuing up to go with disabled blokes. Quips Bright: "When I first placed an advert about REGARD in a paper I had a dozen calls from guys just wanting to shag a limbless man."

For a nationwide database of relevant organisations and venues, and details of its newsletter, befriending service and helpline for disabled LGBTs, visit REGARD's website. To find out more about Greater London Action on Disability (GLAD) and their recent Inclusion not Ignorance conference, visit www.glad.org.uk.

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