It's time to make sexuality a priority for disability rights

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Jax Jacki Brown

Jax Jacki Brown: "It is paramount that people with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities, receive ...

Jax Jacki Brown: "It is paramount that people with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities, receive comprehensive sex education." Photo: Supplied

Last Thursday was my day, International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD). I usually wake up feeling bored and over it even before the celebrations have begun. More often then not IDPwD events do not put people with disabilities centre stage in a meaningful way, a way which fosters disability pride and compels action on the issues of disability disadvantage.

However this year's International Day of People with Disability I woke up feeling nervous and excited. I was part of creating an event putting people with disabilities and our sexualities centre stage.

I have written about my previous experience on IDPwD when finding a few of my fellow disability activists made me feel like there might be something for us to celebrate in our shared perspective and commitment to disability rights.

This event was a free LGBTI Disability Forum, held at the Wheeler Centre. It was groundbreaking, undertaking something which had not been done before: bringing together the disability sector and the LGBTI sector to be educated by LGBTI people with disabilities on our needs and our experiences.

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Led by myself and Jarrod Marrinon, both out and proud queer people with disabilities, we were keen for this event to be more then just a talk fest and to have LGBTI people with disabilities at the event contributing to discussion. To ensure this happened, we allocated half the tickets to service providers and the other half to LGBTI people with disability or members of the public who wanted to learn more.

Rowena Allen, Victoria's first Gender and Sexuality Commissioner, was in attendance for the entire event and was instrumental in gaining support and limited funding from the Office for Disability in partnership with the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Rowena also attended the afternoon's closed session for LGBTI people with disability, in which we discussed our issues with her and reached some concrete fundable outcomes.

We are working towards acquiring funding to launch a website on disability and sexuality. The website will showcase short films and articles by people with disabilities, and employ people with disabilities at all levels of content development and production. We want to see our stories, as told by us, similar to the ABC's sadly defunded Ramp Up website but with more of a focus on disability and sexuality. We are keen for the platform to create and showcase content that breaks down the stigma surrounding disability and sexuality, like the pervasive idea that you are less desirable if you have a non-normative body or mind. We want to do this in a creative and engaging way - by creating media that shows disability as desirable, sexy, interesting and intriguing.

I want to harness the opportunity this event provided to bring together the disability and LGBTI sectors to create action and meaningful change for LGBTI people with disability.

One area which desperately needs funding, and could change the lives of people with disabilities, is providing workshops and training on comprehensive sex education to people with disabilities and service providers. Evidence shows that sex education is a protective factor against abuse as it enables the individual to know their body, what they want and to learn active consent.

It is paramount that people with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities, receive comprehensive sex education. A landmark report by Women with Disabilities Victoria into the experience of violence by women with disabilities in 2014 found that we are at least twice as likely to experience violence as women without disability. It found 90 per cent of women with intellectual disability have experienced sexual abuse.

In light of these harrowing statistics, Women with Disabilities Victoria has received funding to roll out a state-wide training program on violence prevention for women with disabilities to disability service providers. This program consists of a co-facilitation team: a woman with lived experience of disability and a woman whose expertise is in violence prevention. This innovative approach enables the experience of living with disability to become as an invaluable part of training to challenge and change attitudes around disability. Such innovation and leadership could be taken within the LGBTI sector to implement training by LGBTI people with disability on our issues and sexuality rights.

The Office for Disability has indicated it will focus on the needs of LGBTI people with disability in 2016. I am hopeful this will include funding, because a key way of promoting and ensuring equality for people with disabilities is to pay them for their work and expertise.

We are aiming to run the event next year and Rowena and as well as Office for Disability and the Department of Premier and Cabinet have all given their verbal support to it, so we are hopeful of having more funding in 2016. Such funding will enable us to pay more speakers and educators who are LGBTI people with disabilities who experience multiple marginalities - such as being LGBTI, disabled and from Indigenous or CALD backgrounds.

The forum was a great platform to begin to address disadvantage by bringing key stakeholders into the room to work together.

Now we need to see some real actions and funding come out of this landmark event in order to create actual change in the lives of LGBTI people with disabilities, our sexual expression and rights.

As disability activist and writer Lucy Grealy proclaims: "Sexuality is not a right which must be earned or a possession which must be purchased, but a state of being accessible to all individuals. Even those who sometimes have to fight for that access".

It is time for government to commit to funding which will enable LGBTI people with disability to have access to sexual expression and sexual rights and to be free from abuse, violence and unhealthy relationships. The forum we held provided a platform to discuss our issues - but now we need action to achieve much needed real change in our lives.