LGBTea time

Artistic Director Ju Gosling aka ju90 writes: Outside of not-so-funny jokes, there is no community less visible than LGBT disabled people. It has therefore been a source of pride to me that we have been able to include an LGBTea Party on our festival calendar again, in association with Regard.

Regard, the national LGBT disabled people’s organization, has been based in Newham since 2001. Vicarage Lane Community Centre in Stratford has long had a policy of prioritizing LGBT groups, and provides low-cost or free meeting space as necessary to enable LGBT disabled people to meet. Regard has no external funding, and is run by its members for its members, with membership being free.

Of course, as we have realized throughout this festival, LGBT disabled people are not only often isolated, but also face increasing difficulties in accessing social and community life because of cuts to benefits and services. Meanwhile LGBT organizations are traditionally reluctant to draw attention to the high numbers of disabled people among our communities, which are caused by the long-term impact on physical and mental wellbeing of homo- and transphobia as well as higher levels of HIV.

For LGB people – we cannot use the ‘l’ word without being blocked by filters — the memory that homosexuality was only recently removed from the list of diseases by the World Health Organisation is still fresh; no one wants to have their sexual orientation associated with impairment. While for many Ts, the medical condition that matters most is their medically defined ‘gender disorder’.

This disguises the fact that the majority of LGBT people who seek help about hate crime are also disabled. Since LGBT people are more likely to have moved away from the areas they grew up in, and less likely to have close family relationships, they are over-represented among social care service users. This in turn makes them increasingly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination, as provision continues to shrink.

This makes it important to Regard, and to Together!, to provide free opportunities where  LGBT disabled people can meet, socialize and offer peer support. For 2012, Regard also 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.

The script for Vis-a-Visibility was written by Clare following five Sunday afternoon workshops at Vicarage Lane Community Centre. The project then moved to People Show Studios in Bethnal Green for ten days of rehearsals, followed by two performances to packed audiences in June. Darkly humorous, the play intersperses a series of comic sketches with monologues, all based on the experiences of the actors.

Regard is currently seeking funding to make a film of Vis-a-Visibility with Artemis Theatre Company, who are experienced in creating filmed versions of verbatim theatre productions. We would certainly like nothing more than to be able to programme it in next year’s Disability Film Festival.