Accessibility and Inclusivity at Pride
© Az Franco
Fighting for accessibility within a marginalised community - Az Franco sparks conversations around inclusive celebrations
With Pride Month and Pride celebrations in full swing, the focus is on acknowledging the achievements, trials, and tribulations of the LGBTQIA+ community and championing diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility in society. Many shop fronts, websites, and public places sport rainbow flags and vibrant displays, showing that our LGBTQIA+ family has visibility and our attention, hopefully not only for the month of June but beyond.
Despite still experiencing marginalisation and exclusion in parts of the world and society, the LGBTQIA+ community has been able to witness some fundamental changes in recent years. By law, it seems, society has become more inclusive and accepting of the diverse landscape that humanity always was, is, and forever will be.
Ahead of the celebrations and throughout June, one fierce and fearless LGBTQIA+ activist has been making noise about persistent problems and shortcomings of Pride. Az Franco, activist, writer, artist, and model, has been working with companies such as Lucy & Yak to raise awareness of the difficulties for neurodivergent and disabled people during Pride.
© Az Franco
Is Pride losing its true meaning?
Imagine wanting to go to a party, but to get there and stay there, you have to do something you can’t. This is exactly what Az noticed over the past few years when he started to struggle with Pride celebrations. But it was only by having conversations with others that he realised he wasn’t alone in feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed.
In fact, there was a whole community that was feeling overlooked and excluded. He found that many wheelchair users and people with mobility issues haven’t been able to go to parades because they’re too long and on terrain that’s not wheelchair-friendly. What’s more, those routes never change, so many disabled people feel they're not truly part of Pride. Others find the live music and constant excessive noise at Pride too much. Whilst no one wants to get rid of the party, neurodivergent people often can’t cope with continuous loud noise and big, lively crowds. Yet quiet spaces for those who need a breather are either rare or non-existant.
This, says Az, goes against everything the LGBTQIA+ community stands for:
“Accessibility is key to inclusivity, which underpins the LGBTQIA+ community. But there are still so many people being excluded because of accessibility barriers, meaning that actually the true meaning of inclusivity, or Pride is being lost because there are people being excluded”, Az tells me.
© Kristina Varaksina
I ask Az if he thinks that society’s conditioning has us believe that celebrations are only done properly if they’re loud and crowded. He agrees and thinks there's also a drinking element that comes into it with Pride. Celebration and alcohol consumption have been going hand in hand, something he deems as unhelpful, especially for a community that already has a difficult time with anxiety and addiction due to a history of being marginalised, oppressed, and excluded.
There's a certain irony about exclusion within a historically excluded and marginalised group. As a community, Az explains, LGBTQIA+ people know what it feels like to be ignored and overlooked.
“It feels very much like we're fundamentally making a mistake by not being accessible. That's a fundamental inclusion error. Pride is essentially about inclusion, so in that kind of sense, it's very surprising that as a community, we haven't done more, we haven't spoken up more, we haven't made more of an effort to make accessibility the forefront of these celebrations. But I think in terms of the greater society and the world that we live in, it doesn't surprise me that we are still having to fight for these fundamental accessibility rights.”
Guidance for a more inclusive and accessible Pride
Az ‘ activism doesn’t just highlight problems in society and within the LGBTQIA+ community; his recommendations for making Pride celebrations truly inclusive and accessible for all are easily implemented, with resources and locations often already in place:
Alternative parade routes and celebration hubs that are accessible to those with mobility issues and those who can’t access inner city locations easily
Provision of shuttle services, making it easier for Pride participants to get safely and comfortably from one event to another
Events limited to a number of people, so they are less overstimulating and also have plenty of seating areas.
Stage and performance areas without strobe lights and excessive noise benefit some autistic and neurodivergent people so they don't miss out on live music
Stewards to advise or guide those in need of quiet spaces, hand out noise-cancelling earplugs, and signpost accessible toilets
Sign language interpreters for those who are hard of hearing or deaf
Most importantly, Az believes that the organisers of these events should have accessibility and inclusivity at the forefront of their minds throughout the entire planning process of these pride events.
Sound advice for LGBTQIA+ allies
In the age of social media, everyone can learn from disabled LGBTQIA+ activists or LGBTQIA+ people with neurodivergent conditions or mobility issues. This should encourage conversations with disabled and neurodivergent people at Pride to not just show that people care but also that they’re aware of accessibility and inclusivity concerns surrounding these celebrations. At the same time, highlighting those matters to others who may not know about them and that things need to change can be an invaluable help to the community.
“The more people who are aware of these issues, the more likely we are to be able to see real change”, Az points out.
Finally, Az thinks simply looking out for disabled and neurodivergent people or anyone who appears to be having a difficult time at Pride events could mean the world to them, making them feel less invisible.
© Kristina Varaksina
Fighting for the fundamental right of inclusion and having access to everything society offers us has always been at the forefront of Az’ mission. He fights for the creation of a safe, nurturing, and caring community in a society that won’t just accept but also truly support and help those who are currently still excluded.
In a world that still mainly caters to able-bodied and neurotypical people, Az is the trailblazer for long-overdue change. He wants everyone on board, including a driving force from within the LGBTQIA+ community:
“We all deserve to have this space, so we can come together as a community and rejoice in our queerness together. As a community, we shouldn't be gatekeeping. We shouldn't be excluding anybody.”
Find Az Franco on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and check out his website. You can also find him on Facebook and YouTube.