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Queen’s birthday honours: Award for LGBT activist ‘sends message to community’

A veteran disabled lesbian activist says her recognition in the Queen’s birthday honours has sent an important and Kath and Dan Gillespie Sells at Stonewall Awardspositive “communication” to the disabled lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Kath Gillespie-Sells, who founded the disabled LGBT organisation Regard in 1989 and ran it for more than 10 years from her London home, has been awarded an MBE for services to disabled LGBT people.

When she founded Regard, she said, disabled LGBT people were “falling between two camps”, neither accepted by the disability movement nor by the LGBT community.

She believes she has been recognised for her work in bringing those two communities together. 

She said: “The most important thing I have done is get them to move out of their own comfort zone and look at the other issues and become more encompassing of other people’s issues.”

At the time she founded Regard, she said, many disabled people sadly “felt they had only just got recognised and the last thing they wanted was to lose favour” by raising LGBT issues.

On one occasion, she said, Regard “hijacked” a British Council of Disabled People conference and forced them to “talk about lesbians all day”.

Regard, she said, has pointed out that all disability issues have a “particular impact that is different” on disabled lesbians and gay people.

But despite the progress that has been made, she said Regard still needs to keep pushing for stronger rights.

She said: “All so-called minority or marginalised groups, when you think you have arrived, don’t ever assume that you have. Just keep your guard up and keep moving forward and reminding people, because it’s easy to slip back.”

Although she said she never goes anywhere “without all barrels blazing”, she is also “welcomed in most places”.

She said: “When I have had to chain myself to railings, I have, but good common-sense problem-solving with tea and biscuits wherever possible is much better.

“When that doesn’t work and you have whole institutions working against you, you do have to take a much harder line.”

Gillespie-Sells, who has three sons and became a grandmother for the first time this year, said she believed that her MBE would “open doors” and provide “a little bit of extra clout”.

Now semi-retired, she still works part-time as an equality consultant and as a psychotherapist, as well as working “in the background” for Regard. She is also the co-author of books such as The Sexual Politics of Disability and She Dances to Different Drums.

And she pushes hard for better access at live music venues when she travels to watch performances by her son, Dan Gillespie-Sells, the lead singer of the pop group The Feeling.

She believes that her MBE represents real progress for the disabled LGBT community, and hopes that it could lead to other members receiving such honours.

She said: “I do think it is a recognition, a communication to our world, to our community.”