Ross is gay man living with a disability based in Glasgow. He is queer poet, film maker, activist, access coordinator and film curator.
He has worked with a number of organisations including SQIFF (Scottish Queer International Film Festival). As part of his working SQIFF he held a number of roles such as media assistance as well as a film curator, where he created a strand of films looking at sexuality and disability. Since then, he has been working as an access consultant for the group to make sure LGBT+ spaces are truly available to all.
What were your experiences like growing up?
Being disabled since birth has given me a greater awareness of how wider society treats people living with a disability. I was brought up very ‘mainstream’ as I attended a mainstream primary and secondary school which was a mixed bag as I got some support but it wasn’t always consistent. I had a very supportive family life and I guess you could say very protected upbringing. I think is because I was the only one of my siblings with a disability and there were far more barriers I had to face as well as fewer opportunities. There seems to be more awareness and want to understand the needs of disabled people today, far more than when I was growing up. In school, I was told what I can and can’t do rather than the staff asking me what I felt capable of, and this has really stuck with me throughout my life. I was actually told by staff who were supporting me that I wouldn’t get very good exam results, and I ended up getting really good results.
When I realised I was gay during my secondary school years I was always dealing with a range of surgeries and health concerns. Therefore, I kind of put coming out on the back burner, but I also need that time to understand my sexuality on my own terms. My coming out story is a bit of a roller coaster, similar to other LGBT+ people. I originally came out as bisexual, as it felt safer even though I knew that I was gay. I regret doing this because now I understand sexuality better, I know that some people are just bisexual and it's as legitimate sexuality as any other.
What’s it like being an out gay man in Scotland?
I’ve been out as a gay man for five years and I can say that living in Scotland, I feel very liberated and free to be open about who I am. Scotland now feels more progressive than other areas, but there is still a long way to go. LGBT+ community can feel at times too focused on vanity, being someone living with a physical disability I have felt that I don’t fit in. When I talk about my sexuality, I’m very proud to be a gay man and what that has meant over the years: community, standing up for who you are, and supporting one another. However, apps don’t feel the same, again vanity and being obsessed with your appearance are their main currency, and that can have a profoundly negative impact on your mental and physical health. I have always had a troubled relationship with apps, as I was worried, thinking do I come out about living with a disability? I thought people would judge me for being disabled. Being open about your sexuality means you may have to fight some battles and I’ve felt that as well about being disabled. I’m very proud to be an openly gay and disabled, as both have taught me how to challenge outdated ideas and battle to have my story told. I always felt that I had a story or a voice that I wanted to share, I feel this is why recently I’ve started to do a lot of poetry about living with a disability, mental health, and sexuality. I’m also happy to say that I’ve recently been published, which was a very validating experience for me and it thanks to all the people who came before us that I can feel free able to share my experiences.
What does LGBT History Month mean to you?
This month is about celebrating the stories, experiences, and lives of those who made Scotland what it is today. There are great things like teaching LGBT history in school, you can be open and free about your sexuality and we’ve got Pride festival popping up all over the country. Nowadays there are also so many more LGBT+ allies, I feel if I were to experience homophobia now people would rally around and support me. LGBT history month is so important because it makes our experiences more visible, it helps people say hey there is someone like me out there. Shows, like It’s a Sin, are starting a much wider conversation about our community and hopefully will increase understanding, and act as a reminder to learn from the past. But I want our ideas about LGBT History is to expand to include all members such as those living with disabilities.
What's your experience of accessing LGBT+ spaces?
When it comes to LGBT+ spaces, I think many say they are for all members of the LBGT+ community but in reality, that’s only half true. Access can be a real problem for LGBT+ people with disabilities, and it’s definitely something I’ve experienced. I’ve heard every excuse under the sun for why they can’t be accessible, but I’m very for venues being open that they aren’t accessible because it's better to be clear than have someone feel uncomfortable in that space. When it comes to dating apps, I’m never sure whether or not to disclose my disability. Apps don’t feel like a comfortable space to talk about disability, which made me feel like I'd be judged for being disabled. These spaces can be very image-focused and my experiences on these apps have had an impact on my health and wellbeing.
What advice would you give to someone who has just come out?
Be yourself, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and just know that it will happen. You’re venturing into a new world and that can be a scary process. By coming out you’ve done something really courageous and it just shows the strength that you already have. Through this process, you’ll learn so much about yourself and I hope that people show you kindness and that in return you’ll do that for the next generation of people coming out.
Just know that your struggle is worth it, and it may take time but you will find yourself.