"It’s important we amplify the stories of those who are frequently made invisible, or spoken for by those who think they know better, as is so often the case for people with disability."
Samuel Leighton-Dore

21 Feb 2018 - 12:38 PM  UPDATED 21 Feb 2018 - 12:47 PM

For award-winning actor, filmmaker and dancer Daniel Monks, Mardi Gras will always be a special time of year.

"I moved to Sydney nine years ago and have been to the parade every year since then," he tells SBS Sexuality.

He continues: "I'd only just come out of the closet the previous year. It was amazing. To come from suburban Perth and see the streets overrun with joy and life, it was unlike anything I had ever seen."

Risky business: the queer performance group challenging disability stereotypes
“We just wanted have these performance nights that are all about disabled people with the aim of showing that we’re people with full lives, including sexuality and sexual desires.”

When, some years later, he first became involved in the 'Evolution to Inclusion' float, Monks says it was an invaluable opportunity to unite his identities as both a gay and disabled man.

"It was amazing because I’d always felt quite like my disabled identity and gay identity were very separate," he says.

"I didn’t feel like my disability was accepted in gay spaces, I was quite in the closet about my disability. So it was terrifying and liberating to march with my queer disabled siblings. It felt like I was coming out as disabled in those spaces. I was dating my first boyfriend at the time, and he was watching from the sidelines. It was very, very special."

Heading the same float as ambassador this year, Monks says his goal is to promote inclusion and the right to sexual expression for LGBTIQA+ people with disability.

"It’s important we amplify the stories of those who are frequently made invisible, or spoken for by those who think they know better, as is so often the case for people with disability," he tells SBS Sexuality.

The ‘Evolution to Inclusion’ float brings together four disability organisations - Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA), National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), Northcott and People with Disability Australia (PWDA). These organisations share the common goal of raising awareness of the right to inclusion and sexual expression for people with disability, while celebrating the ongoing involvement of people with disability in Mardi Gras.

In honour of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras' 40th anniversary, this year's 'Evolution of Inclusion' float will showcase the history and development of people with disability in the parade and LGBTIQA+ community.

Having experienced exclusion himself, Daniel says, “it’s important for people with disabilities to be included in all events. We need to keep fighting for all events, all spaces, all areas of society, to be wholly accessible to people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or disability. So often in the diversity conversation, disability is yet again invisible, and so we must fight to be visible, to have our stories heard, and our needs recognised.”

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Back in 1979, the community debated whether to proceed with a second Mardi Gras for fear of further violence. Ultimately choosing yes, Minnis was a marshal with a megaphone that time.

Monks will also be performing in a play called Are We Awake? for the Mardi Gras festival at the Kings Cross Theatre. Written by Charles O'Grady and directed by Sarah Hadley, the "unique and queer" two-man performance plays from 21st February until the 1st of March.

Daniel will be joined by people with disability, their support workers and carers marching in the float during the parade on Saturday 3 March.

The 40th Annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will air on Sunday, March 4 at 8:30pm on SBS.