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Finding space for Halifax’s LGBTQ2S+ disabled community

This past July, thousands of people descended upon Halifax’s urban core to take part in the city’s pride festival events, such as the pride parade, block parties and drag shows. 

Several of these events took place at Menz & Mollyz Bar, Halifax’s popular queer-centred drinking space. But, with a flight of stairs to greet entrants and no elevator service, people with mobility issues can’t safely access the venue.  

The message of the pride festival is one of acceptance, but inaccessible venue bookings have prevented the participation and performances of people with disabilities and mobility-related issues. 

For Vicky Levack, a disability rights advocate, the message is loud and clear.  

“They’re saying ‘OK, you can be queer, but we don’t want you to be here if you’re disabled,’” Levack says. “You can either be queer or disabled. You can’t be both.” 

Finding accessible space 

Some local drag troupes like the Queens of the Glamazon have been booking more events at the Bus Stop Theatre, a small arts venue that is wheelchair accessible.  

Audrey Eastwood, the theatre’s venue manager, describes the Bus Stop’s mandate as “affordable and accessible” and hopes to provide a safe space for those with often nowhere else to go.  

“There’s been folks who are wheelchair users who have come [to the Bus Stop] who have never gotten to go out to drag shows before because the spaces the shows were previously held in were inaccessible to them,” says Eastwood. “So, it’s just been a huge amount of joy … seeing all these people who haven’t had the opportunity to see shows like this before and are having the best night.”  

Eastwood says since the Glamazon has begun booking at the Bus Stop, the venue has seen an increase in queer-specific bookings. 

 “There’s people who didn’t know about our venue or people who are looking to make their shows more accessible,” she says. “We are really one of the only accessible spaces left.” 

Fighting stairs 

Years ago, Levack and a friend attempted to attend a drag show at Menz & Mollyz during Pride week but were faced with a flight of stairs upon entering the bar. Because Levack uses a wheelchair, she was forced to turn around and leave.  

Levack says she was making an effort to support the queer community during the pride festival, but found that by booking events at Menz & Mollyz, the festival was not following through with its message of acceptance.  

In an email to the Dalhousie Gazette, executive director of Halifax Pride Adam Reid said that none of the pride festival events held at Menz & Mollyz were organized by Halifax Pride itself. All events held at this venue were organized by various community groups. Reid said Halifax Pride is “committed to removing barriers that limit participation at events.” 

“We appreciate accessibility as an area that requires considerable care, and are committed to expanding and improving these efforts,” said Reid in his email. “Through event planner meetings and ongoing communications, we share these lessons with other community organizations to encourage greater accessibility throughout the Halifax Pride Festival.” 

Halifax Pride, the non-profit organization that organizes the city’s pride festival, has made efforts to address accessibility needs. The last pride parade featured a wheelchair accessible viewing platform, a low-sensory viewing area and even live audio description during the event. 

At inaccessible venues and businesses, however, Levack believes people with disabilities are considered “second-class citizens.”  She believes neither performers nor attendees should book or attend events at inaccessible venues.  

Jess Smith, a board member of Halifax Pride and social media coordinator for the Queens of the Glamazon drag shows, recalls trying to help a friend with mobility issues up the stairs at Menz & Mollyz. 

“[It’s] the only way they can see the show,” Smith says. 

Smith, a drag performer themself, is glad to see the Glamazon booking events at more accessible venues like the Bus Stop, the Marquee and the Atlantica. Smith also says all ages venues like the Bus Stop help young people see drag shows when they are barred from that culture by 19-plus events. 

According to Smith, there’s no financial risk involved in booking space at Menz & Mollyz as there’s no cost of venue for the Glamazon and the profits come from cover. But while more accessible venues like the Bus Stop come with additional costs, Smith believes producers need to keep in mind the risk of not being profitable versus excluding a community and losing that audience.  

“In a community where being inclusive and accepting is so very important, we are actually shutting out a huge portion of people that we need to be aware of,” says Smith. 

Menz & Mollyz did not respond to requests for comment. 

Accessibility Act

The press secretary for Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, David Jackson, wrote in an email to the Gazette that “the Premier is committed to expanding accessibility for all Nova Scotians,” noting the current Liberal government created the province’s first Accessibility Act of 2017.  

The Act aims to make Nova Scotia meet certain accessibility standards by 2030. These standards will be determined through collaboration between the provincial government, people with disabilities and public and private sector organizations.   

“We have the legislation. These businesses have to get with the law,” Levack says. “I think it’s important for queer folks with disabilities to have the space other queer folks get. My money is just as good as anybody else’s.” 

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