It’s about femme power. Taz Fletcher was at a femme tea party, a monthly discussion group, venting her frustration over accessibility issues that people with disabilities face. With Pride approaching, her venting was heard loud and clear by all members of the group, especially long-time Capital Pride Committee member Joanne Law.
Law approached Fletcher and invited her to join the committee. Fletcher did, and is now the disability pride coordinator.
“I had such an incredible response [from the committee],” says Fletcher. “Usually I get some hostility — a disability panic response, as I am challenging the concept of normal.”
Fletcher is happy that Pride is tackling disability issues but is quick to point out that this year’s event is just a “stepping stone to 2012.” Nevertheless, in the one month she has been on the committee, Fletcher has taken some small but significant steps toward making Pride more inclusive.
Jason Hanson-Lavigne is the vice-chair of operations for Capital Pride.
“It is really paying attention to whether our other events are accessible or not accessible — that’s something that Taz pointed out to us,” he says.
Fletcher stresses that letting people know an event is not accessible is more important than saying it is.
“For a lot of people with disabilities, if they don’t see it [an event] is not accessible, then they will assume it is accessible, because that is the law, after all,” she says. “We live in a disability-crip culture where we hang around a lot of organizations that are targeted towards people with disabilities. It is our norm until we come out into the mainstream world.”
Through Fletcher’s efforts, Pride has introduced several services for people with disabilities, at the parade and the festival afterward.
During the parade there will be a viewing area on the corner of Bank and Laurier streets, making it more accessible for people in wheelchairs. Other initiatives include a quiet room inside City Hall, free entry into the festival plaza for attendants and, Fletcher’s favourite, a buddy system.
Buddies will be wearing bright pink bandanas. They will be on hand all day Sunday to help anyone suffering from any sort of social anxiety. All anyone has to do is reach out.
“For people who have any kind of isolation or social anxiety issues, just coming to an event, especially by themselves, can be a huge triumph, but then staying at the event — that’s a whole other issue,” Fletcher says. “Social Buddies are just saying, We have your backs. There is no judgment, no gossip because you are not 100 percent socially perfect.”
For Fletcher, the buddy system works two ways: helping people cope while giving others jobs to do.
“People like myself, who have problems with social anxiety, come on board to be buddies because, first of all, we have been there, so we understand what the other person needs. And second, we have a job to do that eases our anxiety; it gives us something to talk to the other people about versus being a wallflower or whatever,” she says.
Although Pride has made some progress, Fletcher feels it will take a few years before queers with disabilities will fully trust Capital Pride’s commitment to making the festival disability proud.
“When you are dealing with marginalized people — people with disabilities or other marginalized groups — it’s really important to understand that you have to establish trust, that you cannot assume trust,” she says.
Hanson-Lavigne says that having a disability coordinator is part of Pride’s quest to become more inclusive.
“It is not just disability Pride; we are reaching out to youth and to francophones because those three make up a large segment of our spectrum. We need to make sure that everyone is able to participate in our festival and feel comfortable,” he says.
For Fletcher the venture is more personal: it is her quest to tear down the invisible cloak worn by many disabled queers.
“I hope that I would have already challenged some people’s preconceptions about what people with illness, who can’t work, can still achieve and give to their community,” she says.