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!