I have always had a special place in my heart for people with disabilities. One of my best friends from college has a brother with a severe mental illness and over the years, as we became closer, he became more like a brother to me as well. I've always known that people with mental and physical disabilities clearly have a much harder time than the rest of us. Something that we take for granted, such as easily getting out of bed in the morning can end up being an excruciating process for people with disabilities. Knowing this, I often wondered what it was like for members for the LGBT community with disabilities. As a gay man myself, I know how focused other gay men can be on the aesthetic when choosing a partner and I also know that navigating your way through the community can tricky, even when you can walk on your own two feet. I recently sat down with Andrew Morrison-Gurza, a 28 year old gay male who lives in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. Andrew is a grad student who is finishing his MA in Legal Studies with a concentration on Disability and currently looking for work. Andrew has spastic quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. He cannot walk and uses an electric powered wheelchair to get around.
How has your disability hindered your experiences in the LGBT community?
Well, first off, many LGBT establishments are not wheelchair accessible. Because of this, I cannot easily access gay establishments or be readily involved in LGBT themed events or meet other gay men the conventional way. I also think that the attitude around disability and difference in our community plays a huge role in how I have been hindered.
Very interesting as we are supposed to be a community banded together by our "differences". Do you find that members of the LGBT community look down upon more so, the same or less than members of the heterosexual community?
This is a loaded question for me. My guttural response is to say: "Yes. Gay men have looked down upon me so much more. They are so oppressive!" but I know that is not fair. I believe overall that the gay community has a very small frame of reference for disability. Many of them have never encountered [someone with a] disability, so they're not sure how to process me. I am uncharted territory for many. So, before I go off on many an unnecessary tangent, I'll say that while they haven't "looked down", the community has been unable to embrace me because of a lack of exposure and lack of knowledge.
How has your dating life been affected by your disability? Do you find that gay men are put off by your disability?
To be 100% honest with you, my disability has completely affected my dating life. When I came out at 15, my family was very accepting. It was when I was 19, and trying to navigate the LGBT community that I found to be the most difficult. The first time I was intimate with someone, they told me that they had done so because [I was in a] chair and that it was, in effect an act of pity. Many guys have told me, "I can't handle your chair" or "it scares me". In my youth and sometimes [even in adulthood], those words really, really hurt me. What this has caused me to realize is that the LGBT community needs an education on the LGBTD (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Disabled) community. They need more exposure in gay themed media, at clubs, on-line. From that, perhaps our ideas of what constitutes "body beautiful" will start to shift.
What kind of philanthropic efforts do you take to let your voice be heard in the community regarding your disability?
Well, this is all a new territory for me. I just got tired of not seeing myself represented in our media, so I started contacting LGBT themed media outlets such as Fab Magazine in Toronto saying: "Hey, I'm here too." I just recently did a photo shoot with them. I am looking to do more photos, articles, activism etc., in the vein of gay themed media. I think that gay men are predominantly visual creatures, so by showing off my body one that in many respects, interrupts the homo-normative ideals, I am opening up a discussion. I am making the average gay man stop and take notice. I am very active on twitter under the handle @amgurza1. I want to do whatever I can to make members of the LGBTD community feel like they have a voice, or an advocate. I really want to change perceptions of not only the larger community, but of the LGBTD members too.
What do you want the LGBT community to know about people with disabilities that they may not already know?
I want them to know that we are here and also queer. We are sexual beings that harbor all the same feelings as others in the LGBT community. We can love, feel, and be loved. I also want the larger community to know that it is perfectly okay to ask questions. You have my permission to do so. But remember, any of us could end up in a wheelchair, and we'd all want to still be loved or be given the opportunities to make love as it were.
What advancements, if any do you think the LGBT community has made in recent years regarding people with disabilities?
In truth, I don't that there have been many significant advancements, but that isn't a result of any true prejudicial behavior. In my view, it is in direct correlation with a lack of knowledge. Gay men in particular need to be exposed to other disabled gay men. As of right now, they have no frame of reference. With exposure will come acceptance. To advance we need gay disabled models and gay disabled persons to help in the design of gay night clubs, etc. We need to give LGBT members the chance to voice their fears, and discuss how they are new to the world of disability without being made to feel like an oppressor. That is how we begin this shift.
Do you feel an outcast because you are not only gay but have a disability as well?
Again, it's not fair to say that I have been made an outcast. I haven't been given the same opportunities as other LGBT men, but I must stress I don't want to assign blame here. I will say, I don't necessarily feel a part of the community though. I have a responsibility to create changes, and that is what I hope to do. It all comes down to exposure.