‘The most important thing I have done is get them [disabled and LGBT people] to move out of their own comfort zone and look at the other issues…’
Kath Gillespie Sells
Katherine ‘Kath’ Gillespie Sells is a psychotherapist, writer, disability rights campaigner and LGBT+ rights campaigner. Sells was a ward sister at Barnet General Hospital when she became disabled as a result of a splinter in her finger, which led to a serious infection. She eventually needed to use a wheelchair. After becoming disabled she re-trained as a teacher.
She has three sons. Her marriage ended at the time she came out as a lesbian woman. She raised her young children with her former partner Dilis Clare. She co-parented with her former husband.
In 1989 Sells founded the national disability campaign group Regard. She was 38 years old. Regard is a volunteer run organisation for LGBT+ people who self-identify as disabled. Sells started Regard after struggling to attend Pride events. As a young lesbian woman with children, it was very hard to take part.
She was Chair and Director of Regard for more than ten years. It is still run by its members, for its members and continues to have no office or paid staff. When she founded Regard, Sells said disabled LGBT+ people weren’t accepted either by the disability movement or by the LGBT+ community. She has worked to bring those two communities together.
She says both groups need to look at other people’s issues. In 1989 she discovered that many disabled LGBT+ people felt they had only just got their disability recognised. The last thing they wanted was to risk that by raising LGBT+ issues.
Regard follows the Social Model of Disability not the Medical Model. The Social Model says society needs to change. Society needs to remove the barriers to inclusion and equal rights. LGBT+ people are much more likely to be disabled than the population as a whole, for a variety of reasons. This is not often recognised.
Regard provides information, advice and support. They work to reduce isolation for LGBT disabled people. They also campaign on issues affecting disabled LGBT+ people. Individual committee members work with other organisations on subjects such as hate crime, issues for young people and HIV. They work with national organisations for Scotland and Wales.
In 1996 Sells co-authored two pioneering books, ‘The Sexual Politics of Disability’ and ‘She Dances to Different Drums’. Now semi-retired, she works part-time as an equality consultant and as a psychotherapist. She still works ‘in the background’ for Regard. In recent years she has pushed hard for better access at live music venues. She travels to watch her son’s concerts. (Dan Gillespie Sells is the lead singer of the band ‘The Feeling’)
In 2011 Sells was London Pride’s Grand Marshall. Pride had grown and she said the access strategy had to expand with it. ‘Regard always needs to keep putting pressure on. If you stop talking about your rights, they can slip away. We need a lot more organisation, involvement and inclusion. If you’ve got a national organisation such as Regard, Pride organisers need to use them.’