Gait Keepers

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Words || Erin Christie        

In the early hours of a Sunday morning in late August, a group of partiers were out in Sydney’s inner-western suburb of Newtown when they were denied entry to the Marlborough Hotel. One member of the group, who happened to be out celebrating her 21st birthday, was apparently believed by the venue security to be intoxicated. They allegedly belittled and mocked the individual, claiming to not realise that the girl, rather than being drunk, was affected by cerebral palsy.

The girl chose to remain anonymous from reports, but the story has been gathered from various accounts. One of her mother’s friends, Liane Gorham, wrote to the venue’s Facebook page, stating that “My friend’s beautiful and inspiring daughter was refused entry on the night of her 21st birthday. She suffers from cerebral palsy. Disgraceful and discriminating”. Another patron of the Marlborough Hotel on the same night reported that he allegedly heard a security guard say ‘watch this disabled bitch fall’ while the other security guards laughed. Fun fact: the slurring of speech brought on by the effects of cerebral palsy is incredibly different from the effects brought on by alcohol. If this seems like a no-brainer, it’s because it is. This story made me so angry, got me so worked up, that it’s taken however long since its’ occurrence in August for me to be able to write about it.

To their credit, the Marlborough took swift action. By the following Tuesday, the security guards in question had been removed from working at the hotel, or any other venue owned by Solotel. In addition, the security company employed by the Marlborough would be organising anti-discrimination training for its staff. Management staff apologised unreservedly, leading the girl’s mother to state she was “glad to see the hotel has reacted to quickly rectify the situation and put in more processes”.

Also suffering from cerebral palsy, I watched this story unfold with distilled horror. I’m incredibly privileged to appear able-bodied, with my disability affecting me in ways that are mostly unseen or unnoticeable to the untrained eye. I have a slightly crooked neck, a twitchy set of muscles all throughout my body, and what my friend has deemed ‘my Nemo arm’, which is so weakened from treatment to control tremors that I can barely lift a one-kilogram dumbbell at the gym. However, I am not so affected as to ever be confused for drunk, as if that’s even remotely possible. The ignorance of the security guards in this story seemed too stark to actually exist, and I was definitely convinced it was an act of discrimination.

However, the story has followed me and stuck in my brain due to an incident that occurred to me in early September, merely weeks after this girl was denied entry on the basis of her disability. It was the real reason for the aforementioned rage that’s swelled in my stomach over the last few months. I suppose you can never really understand something until it happens to you- but not to worry, it did. I was meeting family in PJ Gallagher’s Irish pub in Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter for a birthday dinner. They were having drinks until I arrived, after which we’d moved over to a restaurant to eat. I’d made the unfortunate decision to wear heels, something I do maybe once annually due to it being incredibly difficult for me to walk in them. I tottered up to the seccy, and handed him my driver’s license with an expectant smile.

“How much have you had to drink?” he asked immediately.

“What? Nothing” I said, surprised.

“You’re walking strangely,” he told me.

“What?” I repeated, unsure if I’d heard the man. My following instinct was to almost laugh. This guy thought I was wasted because I couldn’t walk in heels. Forget disability, did he know anything about women?

“Do you have a disability?” he asked abruptly, gesturing to my legs.

Hold up. I snatched my license back off him. “Yes,” I replied, trying to maintain any dignity that I might still have in his eyes. “I have cerebral palsy.” His face seemed to plainly read ‘that’s not a thing’, and he glared me right down for a little bit too long. “You be careful,” he told me, stepped aside to let me pass.

The incident left me raging. I told friends in and out of Grapeshot who agreed it was really fucked up to ask anyone that question in any context. How are security guards mixed up when it comes to discerning between inebriation and disability? Is it genuinely confusing? Bartender friends have assured me it’s not, and only a complete dickhead would confuse the two, but I remain a little bit unconvinced. All we can really do though is be committed to education. The staff at the Marly will hopefully undergo their anti-discrimination training and avoid all incidents such as this in the future. P.J. Gallagher’s should probably follow in their footsteps, but my fear and discomfort around complaining mean they probably won’t (that one is on me, and I am sorry).

In the meantime, I’d really like to gently encourage individuals to do their research in order to be more accepting towards the disabled community. There’s a bunch of little things you can do quite easily. First of all, flick to our ‘I don’t get it’ section for this month, and I will see you all there.

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