Queers On Wheels was an organization for physically disabled people. Founded by Eva Sweeney in 2004, Queers On Wheels produced literature, gave classes and workshops on sexuality and disability, offered support, and provided community for physically disabled folks, regardless of orientation, gender expression, or physiology.
An important issue for Queers On Wheels was the issue of a healthy sex life for disabled LGBTQ people. The safety of people with AIDS and safer sex practices promoted by the Gay community likewise brought sexuality to the fore in ways that the general public has been unable or unwilling to do. Queers On Wheels’ work on the topic of erotic pleasure for disabled people may be seen as a further development of Gay folklife concerning health and sexuality.
Sweeney is a Lesbian who is active in the Queer community. Due to lack of oxygen to her brain during birth, she has cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal, communicating by means of an alphabet board and a laser pointer. She requires full-time help for daily tasks.
Sweeney came out to her parents while in her teens, and became president of her high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. But her willingness to engage the public did not provide her with a community made up of people who faced the same issues she faced, neither could she find information and services that dealt with people in her situation. Like other disabled and differently-able Gay people, Sweeney discovered that her sexual orientation isolated her:
When I first started exploring my unique identity, I wanted to find people like me. I searched online, called disability organizations, and GLBTQ organizations. Nobody had information pertaining to my identity as a Queer disabled person. I felt lost, caught between two communities. The GLBTQ community, although it had no information for me, was welcoming. The disabled community, however, ranged from being politely negative to downright rude. They always have been scared and discouraging about sex, even heterosexual sex. I have had experiences where organizations have hung up on me for asking the simple question, “Do you have information pertaining to the disabled Queer community?” Having these experiences not only made me feel alienated, but it also made me think of other people who might be calling and asking these same questions.
Sweeney began Queers On Wheels in her early twenties. The internet was a major aid for Sweeney and her organization, which still has its own site at disqueers.tripod.com. Through the internet, Sweeney was able to contact thousands of people and form a community. The website offered various workshops on sexuality, disability training, and LGBTQ sensitivity training.
Sex as Healthy
Sweeney and Queers On Wheels expanded the awareness of LGBTQ people to include sexuality in the discussion of wellbeing. One problem that disabled people have is an unspoken assumption that disabled people do not have sex. This precludes any discussion as to what challenges might be encountered when desiring sex, not just as a source of pleasure but as an important part of an individual’s overall health. One of the most important topics for Queers On Wheels is how to have sex, a subject that even members of the LGBTQ community often view as private in ways that disabled people cannot if the disability prevents engagement in sex without help. Queers On Wheels opened up discussion on the following topics:
How to hire and maintain healthy working relationships with aides
How to talk to a girlfriend or boyfriend about one’s disability
How to deal with having aides when one is dating
How and when to discuss safer sex with a significant other
How to adapt sex toys such as vibrators and dildos and many other sexual devices
How to masturbate if one needs assistance
In 2004, Sweeney and Teresa Tunaley published a book, Queers On Wheels: The Essential Guide for the Physically Disabled GLBTQ Community. The book deals with Queer identity and disabled people’s access to sexual expression.
Butler, Ruth and Hester Parr. Mind and Body Spaces: Geographies of Illness, Impairment, and Disability. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Sweeney, Eva and Teresa Tunaley. Queers on Wheels: The Essential Guide for the Physically Disabled GLBTQ Community. Pasadena, CA: Queers On Wheels, 2004.