10 Ways to Keep Your Disabled / Chronically Ill Friends Safer This Pride

feature art: Autostraddle // photo: MesquitaFMS / Getty

Pride is here, once again! Covid is also here, and it never left — because wishful thinking doesn’t make pandemic-causing viruses simply vanish! But most of the world has decided to carry on as if six+ million people haven’t died from Covid, and countless millions more aren’t suffering the effects of Long Covid. Which means that Pride events and celebrations will likely be going full-tilt all around us the entire month of June. Disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised people make up a signifiant portion of the LGBTQ+ community, but we are often left out of consideration when events are planned, something that’s especially tough as we enter year three of the Covid crisis and most of us need our communities more than ever.

I’ve only been chronically ill and living with a disability for two years, but in that time I’ve been shocked and heartbroken to learn that so many people I love — and have loved for so long — don’t actually care about my health or safety. My new needs and limitations are an inconvenience to them, and they’re not shy about letting me know it. They ignore me, dismiss me, complain about me to other friends and colleagues, try to make me feel guilty for establishing boundaries and standing up for myself, gaslight me, or simply do not believe what I tell them about what I can and cannot do. The lack of compassion from people who’ve been in my life for years has been absolutely astounding. I’ve made new friends, deepened many of my friendships, found so many new connections to cherish — but wow, the ableism even inside the LGBTQ+ community is a lot to handle sometimes.

I asked loads of disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised queers what their friends, family, and event planners can do to help them feel safer and included this Pride, and here are the answers I heard the most.

1. Make masks mandatory and available

We know for a fact that good quality masks are the best way to stop the spread of Covid. Despite this, governments and businesses are determined not to enforce any kind of masking mandates because they cut into profits. For your event, if it’s a giant parade or a backyard barbecue, make masks mandatory and make sure everyone has access to them. That means offering masks at the door and reminding people to put on their masks when they inevitably pull them down around their chins or take them off and hold them in their hand. Do the best you can helping people spread out when they need to have their masks off, like for snacking, or offer up some of those giant silly straws people can use to sip their margaritas and seltzer under their masks. Be prepared! Be creative!

2. Be cool about wearing your mask

I don’t know anyone who likes wearing a mask, especially in the middle of summer. They’re uncomfortable, they make your face sweat, it’s harder to read everyone’s expressions, your phone can’t recognize you. But they’re also the only thing that will allow your more at-risk pals to enjoy hanging out and celebrating their queerness in groups this Pride. So wear your dang mask, don’t complain about it, and remind everyone else to put their masks back on when they slip up. When your disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised friends see you grumbling about your mask or refusing to wear one, what they’re hearing is that your small comfort is more valuable to you than their life and access to queer spaces.

3. Have your events and parties outdoors

It’s safer to be outside during Covid than inside. Indoor transmission of Covid is 19 times higher than outdoor transmission, in fact, because outdoor airflow disperses pathogens. It’s summer. It’s hot. Air conditioning feels real good when it’s a hundred degrees. But it’s also a heck of a lot more dangerous to be indoors with other people, even with the windows open, even if you’re not all crammed together, even if everyone is vaccinated. Consider making sure at least part of your event is outside, and that all the party things are accessible to people who don’t feel comfortable going inside. That means an outdoor cooler for beverages, foods that won’t melt, and plenty of water, seating, and shade.

4. Offer virtual options for events and parties

Pride is more than parades; it’s watch-alongs of your favorite gay TV shows, various forms of activism, dance parties, film festivals and panels, book readings, poetry nights, craft circles, and on and on. Lots of those things need to be inside, but you can add a lil’ Zoom to most of them and that means anyone can join from the safety of their home. For larger gathering situations, there are plenty of options, like Crowdcast, to make sure your event is accessible. A lot of times disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised people have a hard time committing to attending events, not only because of the lack of safety precautions, but also because we don’t know how our bodies are going to be feeling from hour to hour. And we don’t know how our bodies will hold up when we take them out for a spin. Virtual events allow us to enjoy spending time with people we love, engaging in our shared interests, and we can do it from the comfort of our homes, and decide when to arrive and leave at a moment’s notice.

5. Test, test, test.

Some of my friends have a stockpile of Covid tests now that are available for use by anyone in our friend group. I bet a lot of people in your lives have Covid tests to share. Ask folks to bring them to your party, along with their snacks, and then have everyone test before coming in to interact with other people. Tests aren’t foolproof, but they’re a great line of defense that only require 15-20 minutes for results. Last week’s tests don’t matter. Day-of tests are the way. You can get free Covid tests directly from the USPS in a matter of days. So order those things now, if you haven’t already!

6. Release and enforce your full Covid safety plan

If I have to guess what someone or some business’ Covid plan is, I don’t feel safe. It’s no good if I assume most people will be masked. It’s no good if I suppose most people will be vaccinated. It’s no good if I hope there will be space to spread out outdoors. I need to know those things to commit to going, and I also need to know that there will be people who plan to actually enforce the rules. It’s already exhausting just existing with chronic illness; I simply do not have the energy — or, honestly, the emotional fortitude — to remind people around me that they’re putting my life in danger by not keeping their mask on. Email out your Covid plan, post it on social media, let people know they’ll be required to adhere to it, and then back up your words with actions. Here’s a great example I saw of this earlier this week.

7. Normalize asking before hugging/touching

I love hugs! I love hugging people I love! I love just wrapping my friends up so tight and smooching them on their little gay foreheads and holding their faces in my hands and saying oh I love you, love you! However: pathogens. You don’t have to make it weird! Just a simple, “Are you hugging?” “Are we hugging?” “What’s the hugging situation?” I know half the fun of Pride is smashing your sweaty body up against other sweaty bodies, but it’s totally cool to ask first.

8. Remember that Pride is a protest

And that includes disability justice! This June, unpack that ableism, read queer disabled writers, follow queer disabled activists on social media and promote their work, include disability in the signs and slogans you march with, in your chants, in your donations, in your small business purchases. We clown on the commodification of Pride, but what good is that if we continue to perpetuate all the ableism intrinsic in capitalism in our own spaces during our month-long celebration? It’s not enough to just be goaded into including disabled people in your events; you’ve gotta start really understanding why we’re left out in the first place and commit to doing something about it.

9. Include disabled + immunocompromised people in all the planning

Nothing about us without us, as the saying goes. The truth is: You can have the best intentions in the world, but if you’re not listening to disabled and immunocompromised voices when you make your plans, from the very beginning, there’s a lot you’re not going to get right. This could simply look like telling your friends what your Covid plan is and asking what other things you can do to help them feel safer. Or, if you’re planning a larger event, actually paying disabled and immunocompromised people to make your space what it needs to be. Good guesses won’t get you there. You’ve got to seek out answers from people with lived experiences. (And actually do what they say.)

10. Believe us

Disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised people are disbelieved constantly — especially us LGBTQ+ ones. By doctors, by politicians, by bosses, by co-workers, by friends, by family, by spouses, by random internet commenters, and, yes, by leaders in the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve been in the room where it happens — both to me and to other people — more times than I can count. When we tell you what we need, what we can and can’t do, how we feel, and what you could do to make it even just a little better, simply believe us.

As always, we’d love to hear from disabled and immunocompromised queers in the comments with more stories or suggestions!


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1489 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this article, it means a lot as someone who’s still being careful due to vulnerable family, and who’s been feeling anxious and left out. So much love to everyone dealing w this

  2. Thank you for this, Heather! So many of these are easy to do, and yet it’s just not occurring to people planning events to actually do them!

    Even if we’re not the event planners, it never hurts to show up with a box of masks to put at the front and to ask if you can open some doors/windows for ventilation — those little things can help a lot.

  3. I love this and I’m so sorry Heather that some of the people in your life weren’t willing to make basic accommodations for you! There is a lot of casual ableism in the queer community that always seems to become a lot louder/more obvious during Pride. Like I get it, it’s fun to have a big gay party, but it’s not that hard to wear a mask! Bejewel it! Put on some feathers! Make it queer!

    I’ll also suggest a) running a HEPA filter with windows open or good ventilation if you have to have an indoor party REALLY helps and b) those clear masks are fantastic if you’re like me and have a hard time understanding people if you can’t see their mouth.

  4. hi i have so many suggestions! one, thank you heather/autostraddle for publishing this bc it is annoying as SHIT when i can’t celebrate my queerness bc of ableism

    for festivals/outdoor spaces: chairs. free, available, everywhere. particularly for a pride festival with say, multiple stages, having a designated area with seating is vital. and! here’s the important part! it can’t be an extra fee. like concerts often have standing room only general admission which means i have to pay more for the privilege of my disability! it sucks!

    interpreters! any concert, speech, performance, etc should have ASL interpretation and the interpreter should be as easily visible as the performer. if an event is virtual, it should be closed-captioned and interpreted.

    publicize, publicize, publicize. not just COVID safety plans, but where are medical stations? cooling stations? physically accessible restrooms? quiet/low stimulation spaces? often the more work i have to put into figuring out accommodations the less likely i am to engage with an event.

    for pride parades/marches: have the route map *with accessibility notes* publicized in advance. things like “this section of road has potholes in the right lane” are crucial bits of info. i recommend having a specific accessibility coordinator who is available in advance and day-of to address specific concerns and find out info

    any staff working the event should be aware of the bare minimum standards of accessibility and disability justice. pls make sure your staff won’t go up to an invisibly disabled person and ask them to leave the accessible seating area of a concert, for example.

    stim bags! concert venues and theaters have started creating kits that have things like noise canceling headphones, fidget toys, sunglasses, and other sensory tools for patrons to “check out” for events. obviously this is complicated by covid but many plastic fidget toys in particular are easy to sanitize

    for online and pre-event communication: alt text! it is 2022 please start describing images you post online. captioned videos, described images, descriptive audio, notations of sudden noises and lights in media, should all be standard practice.

    just as pride should be a space where all forms of queerness and transness are respected, all forms of disability should be as well. if you aren’t sure about the accessibility of your event, ask a disabled person for advice and pay them for their time!

    also, i highly recommend sins invalid’s access suggestions for public events, linked here: https://www.sinsinvalid.org/blog/access-suggestions-for-a-public-event

    • also! if your event requires tickets, include a required question along the lines of “do you have any access needs for seating (ie near an outlet, no stairs, wheelchair space, etc) please write in below”

      this shifts some of the burden of advocacy off of individual disabled people. having to search out a contact for specific requests makes it more likely that people will just not attend.

      and i wanna reiterate what magnolia said below- fragrance-free spaces are really important for so many reasons. you can’t necessarily control what each attendee wears, but you can ensure that venue-provided materials are fragrance free and have easily accessible ingredient lists, you can tell people to avoid scented products (perfume! deodorant! hair products!), and you can create a clean room with air purifiers with HEPA filters

      also also also! sometimes access needs are in conflict with each other and that’s ok. i have auditory processing junk and it helps to have audio amplified (ps anyone addressing a crowd should have a microphone) but also if a space is Too Loud it’s overstimulating and uncomfortable. creating multiple spaces for different people and being flexible with accommodations is key

      • Came here to say most of what you already covered- spot on! Accommodations are so individualized, so having a contact on the event’s website for people to submit accessibility/accommodation requests in advance, or ask questions; and clearly post accessibility information in advance. For outdoor events, accessible bathrooms need to be considered. There are ADA compliant port-o-pots, but even better if in an outdoor area adjacent to restaurants or other businesses, maybe partnering with the owners ahead of time to allow event guests use of their bathrooms.

        Planning events in spaces with physically accessible routes. Our community had their first pride event in the grassy area of a park, no paved route to visit the vendors. Other festivals I’ve been to, the paved terrain was pretty hilly and had some severe cracks, vendors set up displays that obstruct part of the pathway making it more narrow, etc.

        Parking is another biggie. People have different needs when it comes to accessible parking, so making sure there is ample parking designated for people who need parking close in proximity to the venue, as well as parking with access aisles and specifically van accessible spaces (larger access aisles to deploy ramps) is important. And if an event has volunteers or staff directing parking, maybe some training so cars without ramps are first directed to the other accessible spots so van spaces can be reserved for those that need it.

        Having an accessibility coordinator as mentioned above is a great suggestion. Find out if there is a local/state disability agency in your area that has resources. The Mid Atlantic ADA Center has a guide on planning accessible events to start: https://www.adaatyourservice.org/accessible-meetings-events-conferences-guide/book

  5. I appreciate that this article exists. Hopefully, people who don’t consider these things will start to. There are SO many things required to make space & events accessible. Caitlin’s comment has a lot of good ones. One I haven’t seen mentioned yet here which I believe is mentioned on the Sins Invalid list is:

    Make your events fragrance-free. I won’t go into specific details cuz I don’t do that kind of consultation for free but it’s BEYOND time that more queer people learn about the importance of being fragrance-free & making spaces & events fragrance-free. The “not being able to be indoors in public spaces without risking getting sick” situation has been a reality for many chronically ill & disabled people due to the abundant use of fragrances & other VOCs for DECADES.

    Now, due to the pandemic, the general population is getting a taste of what it’s like to risk illness every time you leave your home. It sucks, doesn’t it? Imagine dealing with that for years, all while fellow queer people roll their eyes or subtweet about you when you bring it up (even some Autostraddle writers! 🙃).

  6. I wish this wasn’t a thing I still have to say, but: don’t hold events in venues that only have access via stairs. And please don’t do that and then say that you are against all kinds of discrimination. Cause if not everyone can enter the space, then you are perpetuating discrimination.
    In addition – include audio description as well as sign language interpretation!

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