06 November 2012

♫...Pretty in pink. Isn't she?...♫

I want to say "thank you" to those of you who put me on this year's Independent on Sunday Pink List: Their annual list of the most influential LGBT people in the country. There are a couple of people I need to give extra special thanks to.

Firstly to Eleanor for asking the question "How do we get a crip on the list?" after reading last year's and noticing how very non-disabled it was. Extra thanks also need to go to Goldfish and DavidG for actually asking people to vote for me. It was such an honour that people felt so convinced that I should be on the list that they not only filled in the nomination form themselves but actually said to other people "look: Lisa should be on that list so vote for her. Got it?"

The blurb describing me is quite hilarious. "Bravery and experience"? I've been known to phone my parents just to scream at them because my cat had given me a dead mouse. And "experienced" makes me sound like the town tart. But it's genuinely nice to be described as "popular" because so many people felt I should be on the list. It's the only time in my life I will ever get called that. Ordinarily "popular" would be the last word that'd come to mind when describing me. "Weird girl who sits in the corner on her own staring at her shoes" is usually more apt.

In the end it turned out that I was amongst company: Not only am I on the list but there are Paralympians at number 4 (Lee Pearson) and 100 (Claire Harvey). This is still, of course, not representative of society as a whole. Around 18% of the total population have some kind of impairment and that's likely to be slightly higher among the gay community because of the increased incidence of mental health problems and the rates of HIV. With that in mind, there being 3 disabled people on the list is a start, but it's not enough.

Of course, it's highly likely that a couple of the other 98 do have some kind of impairment like dyslexia or bipolar disorder but aren't out about that and/or don't identify as "disabled". That's absolutely their right to identify how they choose to and to be in control of what information they put into the public domain. But it's also important to be out. That piece by Stella Duffy is about the importance of being out as gay - just like the list is about the importance of being out as gay, bi or trans - but the need to be out about belonging to a certain group is an issue that spans all minorities.

On the other hand you could make the case that there shouldn't be any disabled people on the list because we have such a low social status and it is supposed to be the most "influential" queers in Britain. I'm listed as a disability rights activist but if I seriously had any kind of influence in our society then the Welfare Reform Bill would never have become the Welfare Reform Act because the public would have given a crap. But then you end up with a circular situation where disabled people lack influence because we're ignored by the media because we lack influence. Putting some disabled people on the Pink List is an important way of breaking that circle and acknowledging that disabled people exist.

Another reason it's so specifically important to acknowledge the existence of disabled LGBT people is because of the common misconception that we don't or shouldn't exist and the double discrimination we face. For the most part disabled people are viewed as being asexual or it's believed that we should be asexual. In 2008 70% of people asked told The Observer that they wouldn't shag a cripple and I've never seen any indication that gay people think any differently. If you visit a lesbian dating website you'll see that almost every profile states "no crazies". I even saw one "no strange limps" before deciding it was just futile and that I'd be better off watching CSI and wishing Sara Sidle were mine.

I think LGBT people with learning difficulties are probably the most oppressed of all. We live in a culture that likes to infantilise intellectual impairment ("he has a mental age of 6...") despite the fact that an adult with learning difficulties is just that: An adult. People who have the capacity for consent should be able to have consenting sexual relationships. Many straight people with learning difficulties encounter barriers with getting people the people in their lives to understand that; the process of coming out as gay can be nigh on impossible. Last year a court banned a man from having sex because he had a low IQ because he might get a girl pregnant. I'm pretty sure that that wasn't going to be a problem for the man he was in a relationship with.

Another very specific issue affecting LGBT disabled and older people is the problem of homophobic carers. If you're dependent on someone to get you out of bed and put you in your wheelchair, to feed you and to give you fluids and medication then your life can be endangered by being out. Direct Payments and Personal Budgets allow one the opportunity to choose who you employ to assist you, but not everybody has that as an option and some people still have agency carers inflicted upon them and they get no say in who is being sent into their home.

Such grave issues make the lack of physical access to gay bars and clubs seem to pale into insignificance. But improving visibility of LGBT disabled people, by letting us get onto the dancefloor with our peers, we can start to break down these barriers. Improving visibility of gay people improves attitudes towards gay people; it's a logical extension to accept that improving visibility of gay disabled people will improve attitudes to the minority within a minority. Those of us who are in a position where it's safe to be out need to do so to improve social attitudes and make the world safer for those who would be endangered by being out.

I know I've gotten a bit too old and boring for clubbing until 5am but I still can't think of any gay bars/clubs in London that are fully accessible. I can think of one or 2 with a bar area that's step free, but with no such thing as accessible toilets. Which is really just want you need when you're drinking alcohol. My local gay bar is under threat of closure. I probably should give a shit about the closure of a beloved community hangout but I really can't muster up concern given the flight of stairs to get into the place.

Three disabled people on the Pink List is such an important step towards dealing with these double discrimination issues, but it is only one small step. There's still so much more change we need to see. Hopefully next year we'll see further strides towards towards equality in both the list itself and the year building up to it. For now I'll just smile about the fact that Paralympic dressage gold medallist Lee Pearson came one spot on the list above Olympic dressage gold medallist Carl Hester. And about being the 78th most influential gay.