Meet the Volunteers: Nem
"We forget that the same standard we expect in all our other work – nothing about us without us – also extends to our disabled siblings."
Posted on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 - Back to News Stories
For a long time, our movement has centred around the needs of white, cis, able-bodied gay men. Over the years, however, we have worked hard to challenge this notion, to include people of colour and make sure that our bi, our trans, our intersex, our asexual and aromatic siblings feel welcome, seen and supported. While it is important to acknowledge how far we’ve come, there is a long road ahead of us, and there are many communities under our rainbow that need our support.
For this volunteer profile, we sat down with Nem (she/her, they/them), a vocal advocate for persons with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community, who has been involved with Dublin LGBTQ+ since 2018.
How did you first become involved with Dublin Pride?
“In 2018, I worked for Together4Yes, the national campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment. As we were wrapping things up after the referendum, my friend Karl suggested that I pop over to Montague Street and speak to his friend Eddie because Dublin Pride was looking to hire more people for the festival that year. So after finishing up with the Together4Yes campaign, I thought I should do something different. I went to Montague Street, applied to work with Dublin Pride, and the rest is history!”
What role does Dublin Pride play within the wider LGBTQ+ community?
“I think Dublin Pride is uniquely placed to form invaluable connections between different community groups; many of which are doing incredible work with few resources. Pride, at its best, is a touchstone that supports and brings together LGBTQI+ community organisations that nurture, console and fight for our community members every day and against all odds.
Its unique position allows Pride to support members of our community whose voices too often go unheard. This includes Traveller and migrant LGBTQI+ folk, the transgender community, intersex people and disabled queer folk. It’s been wonderful to see Pride grow into this role, with innovations such as Winter Pride and the Older Than Pride and neuro[diverse] queer social groups.
The visibility and pride that the Dublin Pride Festival brings to our community can’t be overstated. The sheer joy of being able to be as queer as you like in the heart of your city and celebrated for it just can’t be put into words. Attending my first Pride soothed old wounds I didn’t even know I had and gave me a feeling of belonging.”
What has been your most memorable moment while volunteering for Dublin Pride?
“There are many to choose from, but a moment that meant a lot to me personally was when an older lesbian who used mobility aids sought me out at the Pride Village Quiet Zone after the parade to tell me that the accessibility initiatives I’d introduced while with Pride had enabled her to be there. It meant so much to her and her partner that they could be part of the parade thanks to the Rainbow Bus provided by Dublin Bus, and she confided that she had resigned herself to never being able to participate in Dublin Pride and to celebrate with her community in her lifetime. It’s a moment that has stayed with me and motivated me to always seek to include as much of our community as possible in everything we do.”
What advice would you give to someone who was considering volunteering for Dublin Pride?
“Do it! You’ll learn so much from being part of Dublin Pride. From the experiences to the amazing volunteer crew, who are as brilliant, funny, caring and passionate a group as you could ever hope to meet. Volunteers also bring their own invaluable experiences and insights to the table. They raise issues and suggest ideas to keep Pride growing and improving when it comes to representing our diverse and thriving LGBTQI+ community.”
In 2005, the disabilities act was brought into law to ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in society. The act was brought forward and passed to further the rights of a person with a disability both physical and mental conditions. How has this act changed the lives of people with disabilities?
“Disabled people exist in all of our communities but are too often excluded, marginalised and unseen. We too easily assume that disabled people’s existence and the struggle for equality can be reduced solely to access and healthcare issues and fail to include the largest minority group in our advocacy. We forget that the same standard we expect in all our other work – nothing about us without us – also extends to our disabled siblings and that approximately 1 in 5 members of our community is disabled.
Accessibility is incredibly important, and it’s heartening to see the steps being taken in this direction by many community groups. What most people don’t realise though, is that many disabled people don’t have equal legal and civil rights in this country right now. Disabled people to this very day continue to be locked up in institutions against their will, denied their right to marry the person they love, to start a family, or even choose what to wear, when to eat or where to go. Any one of us interested in and working towards equality needs to listen to the voices of disabled people – and not just people claiming to speak on their behalf – so that we can be true allies and create a truly equal society for all.”
Has accessibility improved in the LGBTQ+ community to include people with disabilities?
“I have seen a genuine commitment to and interest in accessibility from many of the community groups I’ve worked with. This gives me hope that if we stand together, we can finally turn the tide on disability rights in Ireland. No minority can successfully secure their rights and bring about social inclusion without allies, and I sincerely believe that there are many communities, organisations and individuals in Ireland who want to be true allies to all who are marginalised and unheard.
There is also much we can learn from each other. Conversion therapies continue to be widely used on autistic and other neurodivergent (ND) children. The lessons learned from the LGBTQ+ activists who did such great work in stopping the use of conversion therapy against queer kids could help save lives and break the cycle of trauma for the next generation of ND people. Disabled people’s organisations are some of the best people to turn to for life hacks online and alternative forms of organising, having years of experience of ‘business as usual’ not being an option. We are stronger together and our communities richer when all of us have a seat at the table.”
Why is activism important to you?
“When you think of the strides Ireland has made towards real equality over the past decades – from Marriage Equality and Repeal to the Stand for Truth rally and the Justice for Magdalenes campaign – they all came about from the work of activists and advocates over many years. Although we still have a long way to go in terms of trans healthcare, the This Is Me campaign has been incredible in increasing public understanding and awareness of the issue and placing it on the government’s agenda. Advocacy is also fundamental in shifting public attitudes to create a more understanding, compassionate and inclusive society and in educating legislators on the impact and gaps of current laws. Some legislators, particularly the Seanad’s Civil Engagement Group, have introduced and amended legislation in ways that make meaningful changes in people’s real lives by engaging with advocates, activists and community organisations, showing that dedicated advocacy can genuinely shape the country we live in.
That being said, there are many among us who are still pushed to the margins and who don’t have equal access to rights many of us take for granted, including undocumented migrants and people living in Direct Provision, our trans and intersex siblings, Deaf and disabled people, people of colour, adoptees, LGBTQ+ parents and sadly many more – we all need to demand better and to make sure that no-one gets left behind.”
Finally, how are you getting through life in lockdown?
“Luckily, through my involvement in disability rights, feminist, LGBTQI+ and anti-racist groups, I have both been kept busy and gotten to work alongside fantastic and uplifting people. In particular, the disabled advocates I know are witty, passionate and strong as hell and have kept me positive and supported over the past year. I’m also autistic and mobility-impaired, so remote working and not being able to access all the social spaces I’d like to, is something I’ve been learning to do for years. Although things will be tough for the foreseeable future, I’m hopeful that we’ll get through it and that we’ll build on the accessibility improvements and new ways to connect with our communities that Covid has shown are possible.”
The Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride Volunteer Programme aims to be as diverse and inclusive as possible. We welcome volunteers from all communities as well as LGBTQ+ allies and aim to provide a safe space for everyone. If you are interested in joining the volunteer team at Dublin Pride, please fill out this form.
Photo credit: Kyran O'Brien