Interview: ‘If you don’t talk about your rights, they can slip away’

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

LGBT disability campaigner Kath Gillespie-Sells MBE, who was London Pride’s grand marshall on Saturday, tells why Pride events need to cater to disabled people.

Kath has three sons, one of whom is The Feeling singer Dan Gillespie-Sells. She founded the national disability campaign group Regard in 1990 after struggling to attend Pride events following an illness that left her using a wheelchair or crutches.

“As a young lesbian mum who wanted to bring her kids along, it was very hard to participate,” she says.

“I founded Regard for pressure in numbers. It was a case of saying, what about disabled people?”

Kath says people tend to forget the considerations disabled people have to take into account to attend Pride – transport, parking, toilets, personal assistance, raised viewing platforms, safe spaces, induction loops for hearing aids and information in a range of formats, such as Braille.

She says the most important thing Pride organisers can do is make sure information about the event is put out early to give disabled people more time to make arrangements for getting there and, if they need to, hiring personal assistants.

“It takes time,” she says. “You can’t just assume people can pick up their chairs and crutches and come.”

Kath says organisations must ensure that they take access into account in everything they do.

“We don’t need to make an effort to make black people feel welcome as [not doing so] would be racist. We’re no longer racist. So we shouldn’t be disablist either.”

Although she says there have been huge improvements, she adds: “We always need to keep putting pressure on. If you don’t keep talking about your rights, they can slip away.

“There has been a lot of progress. But if you’ve got a national organisation such as Regard, you need to use them.

“Pride’s got so big, the access strategy has to expand with it. We need a lot more organisation, involvement and inclusion.”

Kath, who was recently honoured with an MBE, is no longer the chair of Regard. Instead, she takes a backseat role, advising organisations and working in the background.

She is the best-known face of the organisation and her years of involvement in Pride and LGBT issues means she knows many people.

“I’m more of an advisor now – I act as a go-between. I know so many people, I can talk to the people who organisations can’t reach.”