Daniele, an amputee who lost his legs to meningitis, highlights the lack of access and prejudice towards disabled people in LGBTQIA spaces, and is trying to make a difference
BY OOJAL KOUR, IMAGE BY @DENIS_SHOOTS
Daniele Lul recalls being put on the spot several times about his disability in queer venues. As a lower leg amputee who walks on prosthetic legs, there have been times when bouncers or doormen have questioned why he was using a disabled access service such as the toilet or a parking spot.
“I had to do what all disabled people dread – out yourself,” Daniele shares one such experience in Soho, London. “Even though your disability is very obvious and visible, you have to point at it. Nobody should ever have to out themselves. If I’m using the services, it’s because I am entitled to it.”
Daniele’s case is one of many. One-fifth of the British queer population is disabled, and Stonewall reports that at least one in every four disabled people is treated unfairly in LGBTQIA spaces.
This stems from a lack of awareness of disabilities within the LGBTQIA community, according to him. “There’s very little attention to what it can be like for a disabled person. Just the thought of having to struggle to get to the toilet, doing the most natural thing for a human – that is just unthinkable,” says Daniele, who lost both his legs to meningitis at 40.
But a lack of awareness is far from being the sole reason disabled people face isolation. Many buildings in the UK were built before it was made mandatory by law to provide disability access, which Daniele explains results in a lack of provision of key components that make society disability-inclusive, such as step-free access, lifts, or ramps.
While physical barriers are easier to remove or adjust, invisible barriers and preconceived notions are more difficult to tackle. “When people think of disability, they often think of a person in a wheelchair,” says Daniele. “But it’s an incredibly broad term, and many of them are non-visible, many can be neurodivergent.”
Another invisible barrier which Daniele thinks needs to witness a massive shift is the dating culture. As a gay man, his personal experiences have been quite challenging.
“Many popular gay dating apps are very shallow platforms, where you really have to market yourself. Either people aren’t interested, or they are a bit overly keen,” he says. “Some have a fetish for disabled people. I’ve been approached by a couple of guys who admitted that they found my disability a turn on.”
Daniele calls for a change in people’s mentality as these barriers are deeply rooted in society. “Disabled people have been excluded for so long, you kind of get used to that,” he says. “We have to fight every single day because ableism is everywhere. We live in an ableist world, a world that hasn’t been designed with the needs of disabled people in mind.”
When Daniele first came to London in his early 20s, he felt that cis white, able-bodied gay men with an evident focus on looks and status dominated the LGBTQIA community. He calls this the “tickbox exercise”, making it easy for people like him to feel left out.
The feeling amplified after having both his legs amputated. Daniele took time to reconnect with the community, but in doing so, he was met with hurdles.
“Not having seen other disabled people in the queer community before, I didn’t think there were any,” he says. “I started feeling very anxious and stressed because if it was so difficult all those years ago when I wasn’t disabled, what was it going to be like today?”
The realisation that there must be others like him facing similar struggles led Daniele to form ParaPride in 2018, a charity that demands more opportunities for disabled people to socialise within the LGBTQIA community and to promote body positivity within disabled groups.
With the idea to honour LGBT+ History Month 2023, ParaPride is hosting its first in-person event in three years on Sunday, 19 February. The event will be held at Hackney Town Hall, London, from 12:30 PM to 5 PM and will celebrate queerness through a cohort of disabled LGBTQIA artists, creative acts and an interactive panel discussion.
Daniele acts as a role model for the queer disabled community — all with a hope that he can push for a society where someday everyone is able to co-exist without barriers.
“The mainstream society often looks at our impairment as the main cause of us being unable to participate fully in society,” he says. “It’s important to showcase our stories of empowerment and success. We want to stop being seen as the charity case. We are talented and strong, and want to be seen like that.”
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