GAY DATING AND DISABILITY

By Samuel Leighton-Dore

All I want is a happy, safe and loving relationship.”

When he was 13-years-old, Sydney-based Charitha De Silva began noticing men in the advertisements at his local shopping centre. As with many young and closeted gay men, these images acted as the airbrushed catalyst for sexual self-exploration; he liked the way they looked and quickly realised that he wasn’t actually all that interested in women.

Cheers for the collective heads-up, you Didier Cohen-like genetically-bless cyborgs.

I first met Charitha several months ago while shooting my short documentary The Dateables as part of the Metro Screen #Screenability initiative for Disability Week. My goal was to explore common themes of love, dating and sexuality as experienced by those with a disability. Charitha was attending a dance event we were covering and agreed to be interviewed in the small mustard-curtained room next-door.

Despite having dropped some fabulous moves to the likes of Katy Perry and Beyonce, I was acutely aware that this particular event didn’t really cater to his personal needs.

After all, he was the only gay man there.

“I was a little embarrassed about telling my family that I wanted a boyfriend,” Charitha admits to Heaps Gay – “I definitely didn’t want to tell my school friends.”

Born with a significant global developmental delay, Charitha has always found it a tad challenging to understand social situations and respond appropriately in conversations. Understandably, this has made it especially hard for him to find a partner – particularly when you consider that our aesthetically focused, non-monogamous, perpetually right-swiping, dick-pic-ing LGBTQI dating landscape can be emotionally taxing to navigate for even the most seasoned romantics.

“When I told my family that I wanted a boyfriend, my Mum and sisters started looking around for a club where I could meet people like me,” he says.

“But we couldn’t find one in Sydney.”

This was a cause of great frustration for his family, who were desperate for Char to experience the same independence and range of relationship experiences as other boys his age.

Charitha with his mother.
Charitha with his mother.

“When we realised that Charitha was identifying as gay, we started to look around for a suitable LGBTQI social club that would be a safe and friendly place for him to be. We hoped that he could develop friendships there and maybe eventually find a partner,” explains his sister, Siobhan, who reflects fondly on her brother’s journey.

“Charitha came into our family just after his third birthday and couldn’t talk or do anything for himself. It took a long time for him to be able to talk and be understood, so it was hard for him to express himself. He was also born with a congenital heart disease, which meant he was often sick and spent a lot of time in the hospital for the first 10-12 years of his life.”

Rather than accept the notable absence of support for young men like Charitha, the super-inspiring family have decided to do something about it, helping to startup The Rainbow Bridge Social Club – a unique group for young LGBTQI people on the broad spectrum of intellectual disability to meet, make friends, and form meaningful romantic relationships.

The Rainbow Bridge Social Club.
The Rainbow Bridge Social Club.

Now, to celebrate the launch of Rainbow Bridge Social Club, the all-round legends at Twenty10 are hosting the group’s first party on – appropriately – Valentine’s Day.

The party will be held at the Twenty10 offices in Chippendale, with DJ Nacho Pop spinning tunes, Cupid shooting loved-up arrows, and all LGBTQI-identifying 16-26-year-olds on the spectrum of intellectual disability welcome.

It’s bound to be a big night for Charitha – with another one to follow soon-after.

“I’m going to march in the Mardi Gras parade just like I did last year,” he tells us.

“I hope one day the Rainbow Bridge Social Club will have the chance to march under its own banner.”

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