July is Disability Pride Month in the UK. In recognition of this, I sat down to chat with David Cole, a long-time customer and supporter of Lifestyle & Mobility. David currently leases a bespoke powerchair through Motability with the company and was generous enough to speak with us about his experiences as a disabled gay man.
Firstly, I asked David to provide some information on his backstory. Whilst he was born with cerebral palsy, he hasn’t been a wheelchair user his whole life. It was not until his early thirties that he was making extensive use of a chair to get about, and not until his late forties that he began to self-identify as a wheelchair user.
When at school, David comments that he felt awkward about not needing to use a wheelchair constantly, that, if he had to use one, he would have felt more comfortable with having to use one all the time. It’s easy to imagine how, in childhood and adolescence, when identity is still very much a work in progress, having a sense of neither fitting fully into the “disabled” or “able-bodied” box, might have been disorienting.
Despite the pain and inconvenience, David says ‘if I didn’t have that [discomfort], it’d be “where’s my disability?” … it feels part of me’.
A Significant First
Disability Pride Month is a relatively new import to the UK from the US, so awareness is still developing amongst the LGBTQ community. Disability Pride Month was first held only in 2015. As David has been out since the early 1990s, it’s as new a fixture on his calendar as for anyone else. Indeed, it was only this month that he first got involved in Disability Pride. The weekend of 15-16th July was very much a first. It was ‘the first time ever that I’d taken part in gay pride’ recounts David ‘and I felt… overwhelmed’.
He admits to nerves before taking part for the first time, concerned about being shown prejudice, that ‘I would be perceived as, “He doesn’t fit in the Scene” … not fit-looking, really trendy’.
The reality couldn’t have been further from it. The experience was ‘Helpful, welcoming… “This is for anybody” … I felt “Yes! I’m part of it now” … The rainbow just went “Ping!” Yes! At last’.
Based on recent experience, David would certainly consider attending future Disability Pride events. Of course if an event was being held much further afield than Southend, travel would make attendance much less straightforward.
Whilst he has no regrets about taking part in this year’s Disability Pride Month, David’s words do reflect the arguably uneasy place of disability within the broader diversity discussion. He considers that disability has taken a while to be included within that conversation. From his perspective, as a gay disabled man ‘Even though you’re an “exclusive group” … I’ve got the double exclusiveness of being disabled’ It’s clear that David still considers that there is work to be done.
He does think that the general direction of travel is positive however. As someone who came out at a time when British society was still overshadowed by Section 28, David seemed quite upbeat during our conversation with regards to how things are today versus how they were not all that long ago.
That’s not to say that he is blind to ongoing issues. For instance, the proposed closure of a local gay pub is particularly worrying from his perspective. The need for wheelchair-accessibility significantly narrows down his choices of places to socialise. The venue now under threat has a wheelchair-accessible outdoor area, making it invaluable to David’s social life. Such are the challenges for anyone with what David refers to as his “double exclusiveness”. Not being the sort to hold his tongue when something needs to be said, David has been vocal on the issue within the forum of local politics.
Anyone seeing David’s powerchair for the first time would be struck by the rather apt boldness of the colour scheme. A bespoke option known as “paintball”, it is described by its owner as outrageous, in the best sense of the word. The rainbow colour scheme is coincidental however, being intended simply to be unique.
Hearing from David about his recent first encounter with Disability Pride Month, I found myself delighted for him. Having made clear that he was apprehensive getting involved with any formal Pride events, to hear that the reality was as good as he could have hoped for was genuinely heart-warming.
Hopefully his experience of Disability Pride Month will be a sign of things to come for David, and perhaps inspire other disabled LGBTQ readers to explore this event in future years.