More than 150 people with a disability will march in the 2017 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras tomorrow – a record for Australia’s flagship pride march.
Disability organisations, such as Northcott, People with Disability and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, have marched in the parade for years.
“Many of our members identify as LGBTIQA+,” said Matthew Bowden, the Co-CEO of People with Disability. “We see our disability and sexuality as key parts of our identities”
The LGBTI Health Alliance reports that roughly 23 per cent of people identify as having a disability or long-term health condition, and 58 per cent of transgender adults report having a disability or chronic health condition.
“Often people with disability aren’t considered to be sexual or have sexual relationships, let alone to have diverse sexuality,” he said.
“Recognising that people with a disability have sex, have desires, just like everybody else is really important.”
Float ambassador Jarad McLoughlin said he had a tough time growing up as a gay, autistic boy.
“It was really unfortunate that there was no-one I could relate to,” he said.
“Where was a young man with autism who was like me, who went to a special school, and who had a family who didn’t always know how to handle that, and sometimes seemed devastated or disappointed with their son for having a disability?”
He said he was frightened when at 12 years old, he realised he might be gay. Watching Queer as Folk on SBS was a turning point for him.
“This was when I was really trying to work out who I was and establish my identity and understand why I had all these urges and feelings,” he said.
“When I watched all those sex scenes on Queer as Folk it was so alluring, my eyes were wide open and I just couldn’t stop watching it.”
McLoughlin came out just a few years ago, when he was 26, and has become an advocate within the LGBT+ community.
“I want to show more people out there – families, medical professionals, teachers, academics, even my peers – that someone who is disabled and autistic does know about sex and sexuality,” he said
“They can have a relationship, they can go about trying to find a partner and have a long-term intimate relationship.”
Alex Dennis, who will also be marching in the parade, said he wanted to make people with a disability visible in the LGBT+ community.
“I found growing up it hard to be myself as a gay man with a disability,” he said.
“Yes, we have a disability and do things different to the norm out there – but we are here, we are queer and we are not going to be ignored anymore,” he said.
Dennis said that LGBT+ people with a disability sometimes felt ashamed, scared and somewhat neglected.
“We need to change our ways and be inclusive to everyone possible - regardless of their age, sexuality, ability or disability,” he said.
You can spot the sparkly, orange-coloured float tomorrow near the front of the parade.