My name is Trevor  

Trevor, who is disabled, talks about his life.
(ILGA / Paris, July 1992)

C.M-S: Can you please introduce yourself ?
Trevor: My name is Trevor Sword and I'm from England. I'm here representing an organisation called NALGO[1] which is a trade union. I'm here representing a self-organising gay and lesbian group within NALGO - we have four delegates here. Our NALGO group at the Conference is made up of two of the European working party, plus a member of the people of colour caucus, and the disability caucus. Increasingly in NALGO -- and in the lesbian and gay group in NALGO -- there is a recognition of lesbians and gays with disabilities in society and that they have needs. (...) Actually, I'm a local authority training officer and my work is involved with HIV and AIDS. I also do some work around sexuality issues and training.

C.M-S: Can you tell us something about your disability and how you cope with the problem - and how others cope with the problem ? Do for instance people realise that disabled persons have a sex-life ?
Trevor: That's a big question ! My disability is congenital - that is I was born with it. I suppose the issue of sexuality is an issue for anyone with a disability. They would say that we live in a society that finds it difficult to understand or recognise that people with a disability have -- like anyone else - a sexuality. That they are sexual human beings. As far as my own sexuality is concerned ... being disabled and being gay is not just a doubling of the problems. It is multiplying it many times because the reality of society is that it has not learned to deal with how disabled people would enjoy sex -- let alone enjoy it with someone from their own sex. This is a problem to cope with in British society as a whole and on top of that the reality is that everyone, whatever the group - and whether we admit it or not -- likes to oppress one another. There is prejudice within the gay community. There is also that battle - about making other lesbians and gays aware and taking it on board that I also am a gay man. I've been out as a gay man now for about 8 years and during that period I've been active, going to clubs, and gay societies etc, There was one particular incident of a guy that had seen me around, had seen me go to gay clubs, had seen me in gay men's groups. Even after 3 or 4 years of knowing me he still round to a friend of mine and asked him - Is he really gay ? The answer was - well what do you think he's doing here !? What the questioner was really asking is whether I have a sexuality ! So it's not easy.
I don't know whether they are going to use any of the material, but yesterday there was a gay magazine programme in Channel Four TV called "OUT!". They interviewed me as part of a programme that they were doing on lesbians and gays and disabilities. That looked at all the difficulties that society as a whole finds it difficult to understand that I have a sexuality and that that may be -- in their terms not mine -- a deviant sexuality which they find difficult to deal with anyway. So that's one front , but you are also fighting from within the gay community to be recognised as a sexual human being. Obviously I've had relationships, but it is still an ongoing problem.

C.M-S.: And you are representing the gays and lesbians of NALGO here this week ?
Trevor: Well, I'm on the national gay and lesbian committee of NALGO and representing there gays and lesbians with a disability. We have a very active group. Our disability group is only about 6 weeks old and already we have some 20 members. If we take the figure that around 10% of the population is gay and that on British figures about two years old, about 10% of the population is disabled then about the same number of disabled people, have, or would like to have sex with people of their own sex, and are potentially lesbian and gay. Obviously not many are visible -- and there are many reasons for that. Some of those are similar to the problems which face any lesbian or gay man coming out. Many of them, however, are not able to come out because of the life they are leading. They may be living in a community setting or a home. Or they may be over protected by parents or dependents so that they don't get the chance to come out. For example, if you're living in an institution of any kind then you are always at the mercy of information, the sheer difficulty of getting information. On top of all that the lesbians and gay community is still wrestling with the fact that there are lesbians and gays with disabilities and that they have to create an environment in which they CAN come out simply be making things more accessible. Certainly in Britain most gay clubs are either up stairs or down stairs in a cellar.
Also at a notional and psychological level the gay community has got to take into account that it must move away from its obsession - particular for gay men - from what I would call the cult of the body beautiful. There are also a lot of able bodied people who don't see themselves in that way. They find it difficult to relate to that concept. It has to learn to be more inclusive.

C.M-S.: Do you have a newspaper especially for disabled people ?
Trevor: Not especially for lesbians and gays, but their is a disability press, and sometimes the people who are lesbians and gay do sometimes get onto that agenda. Again, however, you have the problem that there is homophobia amongst people of disability. Being disabled doesn't stop you being oppressive towards other people. Heterosexual disabled people still find it difficult to cope with the fact that people they recognise as one of their group - disabled - are lesbian and gay. I've appeared twice on TV on connection with such matters -- once on a disability programme and once on a gay programme. The issue is starting to become recognised as a reality -- that there are people with disabilities who are lesbian and gay and that they have the same rights as anyone else.

C.M-S.: What would you expect from this conference -- especially for lesbians and gays - and what do you wish for yourself ?
Trevor: On the question of the conference -- without being cynical -- I would wish that instead of just resolving that disabled people are welcome to make sure that it happens. This will not happen unless they do things to male it happen. Them the lesbian and gay community should accept, and include people with a disability who are lesbian and gay at the end of the day my rights are your rights, and your rights are mine. They may have to be achieved in a different way, but they are the same rights. Therefore the struggle is the same. Personally, I would like to live and love as anyone else does -- lesbians and gays understand that. To be given the support that I expect, -- and to be able to return it. For it to be generally recognised that I have the right to the relationships I want.

Colin de la Motte-Sherman

[1] Since this interview took place, NALGO has merged with the unions COHSE and NUPE to form Britain's biggest union, UNISON.

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© 2001 Colin de la Motte-Sherman