Aaron Philip and Ableism
The intersectionality of ableism, sexual identity, and gender expression is one that is often never discussed. Members of the LGBT community who are disabled are often invisible are rarely seen within the community.
Aaron Philip, however, is far from invisible. Philip was born with cerebral palsy (a medical condition that affects motor function and often requires a wheelchair. Philip was determined to overcome and persevere (despite the cerebral palsy and years of homelessness due to the sky-high medical bills.) At age 14, she wrote a memoir ‘This Kid Can Fly: It’s about Ability, not Disability’ where she initially came out as genderfluid, and identified with “they/their” pronouns (Philip would later come to identify as a disabled gender non-conforming transwoman, using she/her pronouns.) Philip used social media as a way to express herself and would ultimately be discovered through Instagram to become the first black trans, disabled model to sign with Elite Model Management.
Philip hopes to fight the notion that transwomen’s gender presentation should align to stereotypical feminine gender norms. She also fights for greater representation and accessibility for models with wheelchairs and mobility aids (as well as casting trans models who aren’t passable and don’t conform to the gender binary.)
When it comes to Philip, she truly is an exception when it comes to the LGBT disabled community. The majority of the disabled LGBT community, unfortunately, isn’t awarded the same type of visibility and access.
Roughly one-third of the LGBT community is disabled (mentally disabled, physically disabled, chronic medical conditions, etc.). The LGBT community is not only prone to more medical issues but also have a harder time accessing healthcare than heterosexuals. Ableism is hardly limited to physical disabilities. Mental health, mental illness, and disease, which mostly is unseen and undetected, significantly impact the LGBT community. LGBT youth are more than four times more likely to commit suicide, and more than half of those identifying as transgender experience depression and anxiety. While those with physical and mental disabilities are in the majority of the LGBT community, they are largely underrepresented. Their struggles and trials usually go unnoticed. Many able-bodied LGBT people, already targeted for their sexuality or gender expression, fail to realize their privilege around their ableism or their duty to fight for their more marginalized brothers and sisters.
While the LGBT community continues to work to build a greater sense of community, its disabled is still mostly absent. That is due to the fact that two of the biggest meeting places for the community, nightclubs and community activist posts, are often inaccessible to disabled LGBT people.
Accessibility is an issue that is rarely spoken about, but when given a closer look, is actually a very big issue for those disabled within the community. Nightclubs are an example, and are often places that the LGBT community convene and gather. However, most are not accessible for disabled members of the LGBT community. Disabled LGBT people are also not likely to be represented within nightclubs or see any images of themselves. Even during LGBT community rallies and events, disabled LGBT people - some of the most marginalized and disparaged within the community - aren’t given a voice and are usually underrepresented if represented at all.
The disabled members of the community are not only fighting for LGBT equality and rights but are also fighting for basic accessibility, fair representation, and proper inclusion; both outside of the community and within it. It will be a long battle for true equity, but looking at the rise and success of Aaron Philip, I would say that we are on our way.
Barksdale, A. (2018, October 10). Vice - Travel. Retrieved from Vice: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/j53kp8/trans-disabled-teen-model-aaron-philip-fashion