15 DECEMBER 2014 JU GOSLING AKA ju90 WRITES: Regard’s now annual LGBTea Party at Vicarage Lane community centre attracted a diverse range of LGBT disabled people to chat about their lives and the issues facing LGBT disabled people and to find out more about Regard. Manager Kim Stevens made us all extremely welcome as usual and Margaret Spence provided an excellent buffet, while Drew made sure that everyone had everything they wanted. Sign Language Interpreter Jason Smith facilitated for tea party-goers with a range of access needs.
Last year I wrote about Regard, the national organisation for LGBT disabled people; its relationship with Newham: and the specific issues faced by LGBT disabled people. Twelve months on, how much has changed? To begin with the positive, Stonewall, the best-known and best-funded of the ‘gay’ organisations, has seen a fundamental shift in policy with the appointment of Ruth Hunt as their new CEO. Regard has been meeting regularly with Ruth – who is also a Newham resident – for the past four years, and advocating for the inclusion of Trans people in Stonewall’s work and for partnership working with self-organised groups. It has been a great pleasure to see this position formally adopted by Stonewall in 2014, which is now officially an LGBT organisation.
Social care continues to be of increasing importance to LGBT disabled people, particularly given the forthcoming closure of the Independent Living Fund. LGBT disabled people are disproportionately reliant on the social care system, being more likely to have moved away from the area we grew up in, and less likely to have close family relationships. There is also a higher incidence of disability within the LGBT communities, due to the long-term impact of homo- and transphobia on physical and mental health in addition to the higher incidence of HIV among gay and bisexual men.
Regard is now working with the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE), the University of Bristol and Stonewall to develop a multi-faceted project exploring LGBT disabled people’s experience of social care within the home. There are no LGBT-specific care agencies, and many LGBT disabled people find they are unable to be ‘out’ in their own homes for fear of discrimination by support workers. All too often, these fears are based on experience – one tea party-goer described the discrimination she had recently experienced while waiting in a care home for five months to be rehoused. The new project is likely to begin in September 2015, and may include a conference as part of next year’s Together! festival.
Regard is also contributing to Stonewall Housing’s new research into the need to provide housing for older and disabled LGBT people. At present there is no housing (or residential care) specifically for LGBT people, although other cultural communities have their own provision. Older and disabled LGBT people are by far the most vulnerable to homophobia and this is still a cause of homelessness as well – again, this was echoed by the experiences of tea party-goers. In the past, older LGBT people felt they would be too vulnerable if they could be identified by their housing. However, increasingly, older and disabled LGBT people are expressing the desire to be able to live with their friends and to receive culturally appropriate support.
Another issue that particularly affects LGBT disabled people is the Mental Capacity Act’s narrow definition of ‘family’, which is limited to marriage and to biological relationships. Advance Directives, which grant an unrelated person power over an individual’s financial affairs and healthcare decisions if someone is deemed to lack the capacity to do this themselves, are complex legal documents which are beyond many people’s resources to produce. However, even when these are in force, no relationship is created or legally recognised.
LGBT people have a wide range of ‘family’ relationships, many of which have no basis in biology or equivalent in ‘marriage’. As with all disabled people, LGBT disabled people also find it particularly hard to access marriage, as our living arrangements are often simply too complex and expensive to be able to combine. For the past four years Regard has been campaigning for ‘Sue’s Law’, where the relationship of ‘Next of Kin’ – a relationship that currently has no legal definition – can be created through swearing a simple oath in the presence of a solicitor, a process that would be accessible to everyone. Tea party-goers agreed that this should be a renewed priority for 2015.
Last but by no means least, party-goers discussed the importance of the representation of LGBT disabled people’s experiences within the arts. Cabarets such as ‘Lavender Ripples’ (a play on the cockney rhyming slang ‘raspberry ripple’ for ‘cripple’) are fondly remembered, but have no current equivalent. Meanwhile the closure of the Drill Hall removed a key venue for LGBT performances, and the few remaining venues staging LGBT work in London have a range of access barriers. LGBT disabled artists are prominent within the Disability Arts world, but are seldom making work about their sexual orientation – not least because they have been pigeon-holed as ‘disabled’ artists by the art world, and are therefore regarded as being asexual and genderless.
In 2012 Regard worked with Clare Summerskill and Artemis Theatre Company to create a unique play about the life experiences of LGBT disabled people, with financial support from Arts Council England. Regard is still working to raise the funding to turn Vis-a-Visibility into a film, which can make these stories much more widely available. Please contact Regard (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Together! 2012 CIC if you are able to help.