Contributed by Alex Masse, Special Projects Worker
Pride Month is a time of celebration for queer art, activism, and expression. That said, though Pride celebrations aim to be inclusive, disabled people in the community often struggle to be heard. People have called out the lack of accessibility at Pride events, and queer disabled people often struggle to be respected. Intersectionality is an ongoing battle, and in arts and activism as a whole, disabled folks often have people speaking for them—family, caretakers, allies.
This Pride Month, we wanted to shed light on some queer disabled folks sharing their stories and experiences with the world, and others who left a lasting impact on their communities.
We recognize the value of art as a tool of community and inclusion. It’s a key part of our work, through programs like Stage Door, our gallery and studio Alternatives, and our annual Inclusion Art Show. This Pride month, we want to shed light specifically on artists at the intersection of the LGBTQ+ and disability communities. Here are 5 disabled queer creatives in the arts.
JOSH THOMAS (he/him):
This Australian comedian already has two iconic shows under his belt. The first was Please Like Me, the tale of a man in his 20s coming to terms with being gay while supporting his struggling mother. The second was Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which is about a gay man supporting his teenage half-sisters (one of whom is autistic) following the death of their father. Josh not only created but starred in both of his dramedies.
Both shows also featured autistic talents: Please Like Me had the character of Hannah, played by autistic lesbian comedian Hannah Gadsby, and Everything’s Gonna Be Okay’s autistic character, Matilda, is played by autistic actress Kayla Cromer.
Josh himself was diagnosed with ADHD at 28, and in April of this year also revealed he himself was autistic in an Instagram post.
TAWAHUM BIGE (he/they):
Tawahum Bige is a local, queer, Two-Spirit poet with ADHD who has performed their work everywhere from Ontario to the west coast. His work has met both page and stage, with work featured in Prairie Fire and Arc Poetry, as well as at festivals, campuses, and libraries all over. Tawahum is an alumnus of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Creative Writing Program, they completed the first-ever Indigenous Spoken Word residency at the Banff Centre in 2018, and they have a poetry collection and debut EP on the way!
CORINNE DUYVIS (she/her):
Identifying as a “white, Dutch, cisgender, disabled/autistic, bisexual/biromantic/queer, atheist woman,” Corinne is notable for a number of reasons. First of all, her success as an author is impossible to ignore, with three original novels and a Marvel Universe collaboration under her belt. Second of all, Corinne coined the term “ownvoices” to refer to content written by marginalized authors featuring marginalized characters and fantastical stories. It’s practically a household term in the publishing world today, and we have Corinne to thank for that.
GEOFF MCMURCHY (he/him):
A trailblazer on both the national and international scale, Geoff McMurchy is remembered for his contributions to the disability art scene even now, 6 years after his passing. Geoff was a dancer before an accident left him quadriplegic, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing the arts, crafting and sculpting and bringing his magic into the world. Much of his work is currently on display virtually via the Queer Arts Festival website, and his name also lives on in Kickstart Art’s Geoff McMurchy Artist Development Grant, for disabled artists.
COLIN DARGE (he/him):
Colin Darge is a performer who some of you may recognize from his work with our Stage Door Theatre Troupe! In one show, Colin was a “self-taught piano man sensation,” and played through the act’s finale. Colin also founded abOUT, a social group for people with intellectual disabilities who identify as LGBTQ+. In 2019, abOUT teamed up with posAbilities to create Art + Identity, a project that paired queer disabled folks with Emily Carr University students to to co-create artworks themed around identity. Learn more about that and see Colin on the piano below!
ACTIVISTS AND ADVOCATES:
Activists within the disability rights movement have always had to fight to be heard. Their fight for equality takes place on every front, be that the right to accessible infrastructure or the right to have a family. Here are 5 disabled queer folks who have advanced the cause, shared knowledge, or otherwise used their experience to help others. While some of them also work in the arts, they are included here for their tireless efforts in self-advocacy.
JAZZIE COLLINS (she/her):
While she’s no longer with us, Jazzie Collins is notable for the number of causes she fought for: trans rights, disability rights, economic equality, fair housing, and more. Jazzie was trans, disabled, Black, and HIV-positive. She did everything she could for the people of her community until her death in 2013, at the age of 54. Today, her name lives on in Jazzie’s Place, San Francisco’s first homeless shelter for LGBT adults.
JESSICA KELLGREN-FOZARD (she/her):
Jessica Kellgren-Fozard is a deaf lesbian YouTuber living with a number of chronic conditions who has built her platform on discussing her lived experience with, in her words, “vintage fabulousness.” She lives with her wife and dogs, and hopes to shed light on the lives of queer disabled people.
CHELLA MAN (he/him):
Chella Man is a Chinese-Jewish deaf transgender genderqueer actor, known for his role as Jericho in the DC series, Titans. He didn’t have anyone like himself to look up to, so he became his own representation, making a YouTube channel in high school for talking about his life and his journey on testosterone, as well as posting ASL translations of songs. Today, he models, acts, and creates visual art about the beauty of being deaf.
LYDIA BROWN (they/them):
Lydia Brown is a number of things: a writer, an educator, an organizer, advocate, and attorney. They are also the founder of the Fund for Community Reparations for Autistic People of Color’s Interdependence, Survival, and Empowerment, editor of the anthology All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, and an adjunct lecturer of Disability Studies at Georgetown University. Overall, they devote their all to the cause of neurodiverse folks like themself, and have been a true trailblazer in autistic self-advocacy.
ELI CLARE (he/him):
A writer and scholar passionate about social causes, Eli Clare is a genderqueer trans man with cerebral palsy. He has two creative non-fiction books under his name, as well as a poetry collection, and various publications in periodicals and anthologies. Eli uses his academic background to teach and facilitate across America and Canada, and helped organize the first ever Queerness and Disability Conference.
As a bonus for your enjoyment, the following is a playlist of queer and disabled musicians. Listen to it below!