Archive for July, 2011

My Perfect Pride?

July 3, 2011

My Perfect Pride?
There’s a place for us or the land of make-believe?.
It’s a gloriously sunny day. The skies are clear. There’s a little teasing wind which is really quite refreshing.
Today is London LGBT Pride. The city has gone rainbow. Everyone’s promising that the parade will be the best ever.
I’ve been checking out the wonderful new web site which is really accessible to jaws users! I am really pleased to see that the line up on the main stage reflects the diversity of our community and is a nice mix of politics and art. That’s how it should be. I’m particularly pleased to find out that, of the three presenters, one is a deaf lesbian actor who does not speak. Everything she says will have to be voiced over for the hearing public, turning the tables nicely on the usual arrangement.
I’ve booked my P.a., I’ve chosen my outfit. For once, I’m in good health and non of the things that make going out for a whole day and walking a lot sometimes difficult, are bothering me right now. Thank you body for your perfect health timing!
I swing happily toting my shiny bright white new long cane down the road heading for the bus stop. AS I get off the bus, the driver calls out “Happy Pride!” I do a little dance on the pavement before entering the tube where I find my P.A. lurking in the shade – she doesn’t like sun and is sporting a huge very silly hat!
The Victoria Line is crammed full with colourfully dressed LGBT people and our allies. I sit down next to a large bearded fairy in a pink tutu and we share a few words about our sartorial choices for today.
There’s a stream of amazingly dressed people pouring out of the tube. My P.a. Gets her describing mouth on and starts to tell me about them all. AS we walk past All Souls Church, suddenly, the air is pierced by a lesbian rebel yell, a magnificently ear-splitting yet tuneful ululating warble. I bellow back. “That’ll be the Older Lesbian network”, I say to my P.A. who is laughing as she’s never heard me yodel like that before!
“OMG” exclaims my P.A. “You’ll never guess what I see rolling along before us?” She describes two dikes in wheel chairs, both dressed as giant rabbits, ears and all. For extra decoration, they’ve stuck bunny tails onto the back of their wheelchairs too! They weave their way efficiently amongst the wandering groups of people heading for the start of the march. I’m pleased to learn that the crowd is peppered with visibly disabled people in all kinds of costumes. AS we walk, friends yell greetings, but I don’t stop to chat, I want to get to the front of the march.
“We’ve been hear ages,” says JU. “Shush darling”, she says to Jeanie her elderly retired assistance dog who is excited to see me and is barking a welcome. Julie goes on to explain that they parked up at Waterloo Place at the reserved blue badge parking bays. Amazingly, an access steward was loitering nearby looking for disabled people to assist. The steward helped them get to the shuttle bus stop and a bus rolled up ten minutes later. They’ve been here an hour, the Regard Banner is up marking the safe space, for all to see. They’ve had coffee and something to eat and have located 3 accessible toilets in nearby cafes.
It’s as though I’ve walked into a Regard social, everyone is here! Old friends and some strangers too. Before long, I’m exchanging news and admiring costumes. This does involve a certain amount of slightly gratuitous groping, but what is a blind dyke to do if not do the hands on examination of the eye candy – which I call feeling the hand candy!
Everyone is happy. Even Michael, the chief access steward is satisfied and only occasionally yelling at his troop of energetic and keen stewards. There’s a Brazilian Samba band standing nearby. They start a particularly jolly rhythm. I can’t resist. I have to dance. I start to jig about, and before I know it, the whole of the safe space is dancing; stewards, disabled people and P.A.s. Even the assistance dogs are shaking a tail or two! “How many people are in the crip space? I breathlessly ask my P.A. “There must be loads!” she confirms that it looks like there’s at least 80 and every few minutes, more join us.
“We’re off!” shrieks Ruth, backing over my feet as she tries to turn her chair. I yelp and thump her chair but she ignores her crime and rolls away in front of me. “Just because you can’t bleeding’ walk”, I mutter, but my anger is mock, RUTH has been running over my feet for the last 20 years and I no longer take it personally.
We start to walk. It’s just the right pace for me, fast enough that I feel we’re going somewhere but not too fast to make it impossible to keep it up. On either side, watchers on the pavement erupt into enthusiastic cheering and applause. Cameras click and I hear solo voices soaring above the babble and then sinking back down into the general cacophony.
We get this all the way along the route. From time to time, I recognise the voices of friends, but mostly it’s a good natured anonymous babble. Sometimes I wonder if the applause is because we’re disabled and they’re cheering the brave crips. Mostly I feel happy and proud; I stand up straighter and feel like I’m walking on air.
Yes, this is the London Pride parade and I’m justified in feeling proud. I’m walking for myself, to assert my right to exist, to be visible and out and proud for all disabled LGBT people. I’m walking for LGBT Disabled people who can’t be here and I’m walking for my ancestor disabled LGBT people for whom going on Pride would have been a dangerous impossibility. I’m walking too for all my dead disabled LGBT friends, recently and not so recently departed. I feel tears prick my eyes and my throat become a bit lumpy. This is why I come. This is why I’ve always come, no matter what the barrier.
I’ve rolled in the Pride parade with my leg plastered up to my hip, having discharged myself from hospital the day before to be here. I’ve walked Pride marches with friends who have been scared to be here but who bravely stay the course because if they don’t, they will have to continue to live a lie. I’ve rolled a few Prides when my legs just wouldn’t carry me. I know that should a time come when I can’t walk or be pushed in a wheel chair, I’ll insist on someone to damn well push me in my bed. I’m here to defend our love rights and no one, not even the most homophobic bigot and nothing; no lack of accessibility is going to stop me being here, year after year after year!
It is perfect, just perfect. The Samba Band is not far away. I jig along until I hear an ugly voice shouting. I can’t hear what he is saying but I know its Stephen Green, that notorious homophobe with a handful of other sickos, flanked by police making their stand. As one, the whole safe space hisses or does the sign language version of a hiss.
I smile to myself an remember the Police Silver Command for the march telling me that he’s handpicked the gayest and dykiest looking police officers he can find to police Stephen Green. He says, they were queuing up to do this duty. I wonder if Stephen Green has realised that he’s surrounded by a bunch of screaming queen and purposefully butch dyke police officers. Has he ever looked at a lesbian or gay man? Would he actually recognise one when he came face to face with one. Well there’s a load of them facing him right now! I hug myself with glee and walk on. We come to the point where the Regard contingent peels off. Here, a barrier is removed and stewards clear the crowd so that we can line the route of the March and watch and listen to the rest of the parade marching. My P.A. gets her describing mouth out and I stand for a good half hour cheering and waving and bellowing hello to friends who are marching further down in the parade. There are loads of other visibly disabled people marching with their union, with the Older LGBT contingent, with their religious group, their clubs and even more that are none aligned. I lose count of the numbers of obviously disabled people who pass and wonder about all the ones whose impairments are not obvious. Disabled people are everywhere all the way through the parade. It is fabulous!
But it’s time to get into Trafalgar Square. WE follow the Regard banner bearers to the safe space on the upper level of the square. This year, we have the whole right side! It must be at least 20 feet by about 50 feet long! There are two accessible toilets on each side and the Western side has a pink frilly awning over it, offering some cool shade for those who are not sun-worshippers. I settle down happily on a chair, glad to rest my feet. My P.A. describes what she sees before her. The stage in front of us is adorned with two huge screens, one on each side. Half of the screen shows the sign language interpreter, the other half, the performers on the stage. Right now, there’s a massed choir of LGBT singers on stage and their giving us a rather soulful and moving rendition of “Something inside so strong”. The whole of the safe space joins in, and yet again, I feel tears pricking at my eyes.
Part of me wishes I was up on the stage with the choir, for I love to sing but part of me is glad I decided to march instead, because it has been such a good march. For once, I can actually hear the performers, the wind has dropped and there are booster speakers at the front of the safe area. All around me, friends and allies are pouring into the safe space. There’s plenty of room. There’s a dog rest area on one side, enough stewards to support any of us here and RUTH, who has just run over my foot again, tells me that there’s an induction loop and it works.
I listen to the speeches, sing along with the music, chat with friends and generally relax.
A dance troop comes on. Now if there’s one thing that doesn’t float my boat, it’s dance. I mutter and harrumph for a while until someone taps me on the shoulder and shoves one of those listening things they have in museums, into my hand.
“Quit moaning and shove these on your ears, we’ve got audio description today!”, says the unknown person. . Mildly castigating myself for a grumpy old blind dyke, I settle down to enjoy the show.
I’m dying for a pee. I don’t fancy the portaloos and decide to go down to the toilets in the square below. Hurrah! The lift is working! In no time, I’m back, but I don’t stay long, it’s time to check out the stalls. It’s crowded about the stalls, but they’ve been laid out with enough space to be able to get through safely. It’s nice to be offered accessible information and soon my daypack is stuffed with Braille, audio discs and memory sticks. Excitedly, I rush back to the safe space to tell the hoard of visually impaired comrades what I’ve found.
“The drag stage has sign language interpreters, a safe space and even a dog watering point!” a happy deaf older guy in a rather fetching ball gown tells me with the aid of one of the interpreters who have been supporting deaf people all afternoon in the safe space. I wonder if the women’s stage has the same, as I fancy going down there when the main stage closes. My P.A. consults the guide to Pride she picks up from a pile in the corner of the safe space. She turns to the access pages., apparently, all stages guarantee minimum access standards of safe space, seats, sign language and dog watering points! Idly I wander if dog facilities are the new sexy access provision formerly reserved for Sign language interpreters! I don’t dare voice this thought as Jeanie is sitting on her mistress’s lap not too far away from me right now.
Briefly chastising myself for excessive cynicism, I fall to discussing with Ruth what we’re going to do next, when she’s finished charging up her electric wheelchair from one of the charging points conveniently placed at the front of the safe space. We could head for the women’s space, go find something to eat or check out some of the after Pride parties. My p.a. flicks through the Pride guide and tells us which of the after parties have access. Tempting as it is to test the verity of the guide, my tummy is growling and I have no difficulty in persuading RUTH that food is what we should find. But we’ll wait till the end of the show here before setting off in pursuit of one of the accessible restaurants recommended by the guide.
It’s been a great afternoon of entertainment and speeches. The sun is slipping behind the buildings. The air has cooled. I say goodbye to Ju and Julie who are setting off with an access steward in tow to find their van back on Waterloo Place. The Deaf MC announces that it’s the end of the show, but not before we all join in a resounding sung and signed rendition of “Somewhere”.
There’s not a dry eye in the house. But these are happy, heartfelt tears. “There’s a place for us?” yes I think we’ve finally found it. It’s been the greatest Pride ever. Disabled LGBT people have been included at all points. I think we’ve finally come home!
My head aches. My neck is stiff. I seem to be half hanging out of my bed. My alarm clock is insistently tugging at my consciousness. Slowly I swim up to wakefulness and then I remember where I am and what happened yesterday. July 2, 2011, my greatest Pride? No it was my worst nightmare. All this sunshine and love and inclusion are just a dream.
“Where is that place where dreams come true?” I ask as I drag myself heavily from my rumpled bed and make for the bathroom. “The land of make-believe?”