Los Angeles, California, June 28 – According to GLAAD’s 2018-2019 Where We Are on TV Report, while the 2018-19 television season includes 18 characters with disabilities, versus 16 in 2017-18, that number still vastly underrepresents the actual number of people with disabilities, representing less than one-sixth. Furthermore, while more than one-third of LGBTQ+ adults have a disability, GLAAD’s report found only four LGBTQ+ characters with disabilities.
Ryan O’Connell is helping to change that. His new Netflix series Special premiered earlier this year and broke new ground for representation of LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities. For Pride Month 2019, RespectAbility asked O’Connell a few questions about his life, intersectionality, and where he hopes Special will go in the future.
Q: On Special, you compare coming out as gay to coming out as disabled. Why do you think it was easy for you to do the first and harder to do the second?
In a bizarro way, I think it’s easier to be gay than disabled. I mean, look at all the Pride stuff going on right now. All the events, all the discourse, all the corporations showing their support. Can you imagine something on that scale for disability? I can’t! There still is limited dialogue and visibility around disability and until that changes self-love for a disabled person is going to be hard.
Q: Do you ever feel like you need to choose between different identities?
No. In the past I would’ve chosen gay over disabled any day but now I find the intersection of my identities chic.
Q: Are Pride celebrations accessible to people with disabilities? What needs to be done to ensure that people who are LGBTQ with disabilities feel part of both communities?
A lot of them aren’t! I mean, honey, I was the grand marshal of LA Pride and I had to go onstage that wasn’t handicap accessible and give a speech. I’m fortunate to be pretty mild in my disability so it wasn’t an issue but the irony is not lost on me that all these events I’ve been doing about disability are not actually accessible for disabled people. I don’t think this out of malice. I just don’t think people have thought of disabled people being in those spaces. It’s very Ali Stoker winning her Tony. The stage wasn’t accessible because no one thought a person in a wheelchair was going to win a f**king Tony but guess what? Someone did, babe. SO START BUILDING THOSE RAMPS!
Q: Special broke new ground for LGBTQ+ and disability representation on screen. What scenes were you the most proud of?
The sex scene. I don’t have a kid/never want one but that scene was my goddamn baby and I’m so proud of how it turned out. It accomplished everything I hoped for which is to show a gay sex scene that feels honest, real, funny and hot.
Q: You’ve talked about a desire to do more seasons of Special. Where would you like to see the show go in future episodes?
I think Ryan feels like since he came out about his disability and no one cared, he’s done, his life is perfect now, YAY CP! But it’s not that simple. Next season I’d really like to see him still grapple with his disability as someone who is supposed to be out and proud. Also, more gay sex obvs.
Q: What would you say to a young LGBTQ+ person with a disability who is scared to come out? What advice would you give them?
Fighting who you are is a fight you can NEVER win. While it’s scary and hard, living your life authentically is the best gift you could ever give yourself.