Living in Brighton is wonderful for many reasons but largely because it affords my wife and I a feeling of complete security and freedom to openly live our lovely little gay life together. When we walk down the street holding hands, when we kiss, when we chat to our neighbours it never crosses our minds to hide any part of who we are to each other because no one cares. No funny looks for couple-y behaviour, no frequently asking if we’re sisters (we’re not even the same race?!) and no constant feeling of being slightly on edge…
Which was why I was so shocked to learn about a traumatic case of disability-based discrimination at Brighton Pride in 2016! How did this happen in my super accepting city?!
I’ve written separately about the marked difference in the acceleration and acceptance of gay rights in relation to disability rights but now I want to focus on the extraordinary response to this upsetting event!
Brighton Pride is the largest in the country with tens of thousands of people suddenly descending on the city to celebrate all things rainbow! But apparently this acceptance doesn’t necessarily extend to other types of ‘difference’ as 20-year-old Charlie, who has multiple special needs including global developmental delay and severe learning difficulties, found after being startled by a loud noise. Her adoptive mother, Jenny Skelton, wrote of the incident that she was most shocked and upset when the aggressive person who berated her daughter later said he wouldn’t have treated her that way had she been in a wheelchair. Skelton’s Facebook post about the event quickly went viral with others sharing their own stories of discrimination at Pride events.
Taking matters into her own hands Skelton, who also has two other children with special needs, partnered with Pride Brighton and set up the first ever Disability Pride event in the UK. “Disability discrimination is obviously an emotive subject but I was still overwhelmed when I saw how strongly this issue affected and incensed people,” she explained to B Journal, noting “the sadness of many people with special needs telling me they had suffered similar problems, I decided to do something to try to get all disabilities – visible and invisible – acknowledged and accepted.”
The event, on Sunday the 9th July 2017, was a bright and buzzing celebration with stalls advertising not just charities but fun events and great days out suitable for a range of abilities- from a wheelchair rugby team to circus skills classes for those with a visual impairment!
A main stage hosted local celebrities and bands including the Autistix, a rock band whose members have autism and other disabilities, and a large area of the Pavilion Park was given over to an Amaze Family Picnic space.
It was truly heart warming to see the great additions that made being involved in a festival so much more accessible but are just completely missed from most mainstream events! From an accessible Photo Booth to sign language interpreters as guides, a ‘chill out’ zone and even portaloos that allow wheelchairs and have adult changing tables (shout out to Mobiloo!) I had a really great day as you can see from my latest video and I’m not just saying that because I won the raffle! Ahem. Ahem.
Although it was the first in the UK the event was held at the same time and date as Disability Pride New York City as well as similar Disability Pride events in Switzerland and Italy.
Discrimination is sadly still a reality for the disabled community and although one day won’t fix everything it cheered me at least to not only feel the issue was being addressed but also to see so many people just having fun and enjoying themselves without having to worry about accessibility or ‘funny looks’. At least two of the big problems, isolation and loneliness, were definitely set aside!
It was a true celebration and I’m sure it won’t be the last!… actually, it had better not be because it was the first time I’ve ever won a raffle ~ever~ and I need to see whether my luck holds out next year!