In February, Hoodline interviewed author and disability advocate Belo Cipriani. Cipriani had just been nominated as a Community Grand Marshal in the 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade. Cipriani joins Judy Dlugacz, Alicia Garza, and Brian Basinger in receiving this year's honor.
Cipriani, was elated to inform Hoodline that he made the cut. On June 28th, Belo Cipriani will serve as a Community Grand Marshal in the San Francisco Pride Parade, which this year has the theme "Equality Without Exception". Cipriani's participation is historic: he's the first blind grand marshal in Pride history.
"It felt as though time stopped," Cipriani told Hoodline when he was informed by Marsha Levine of SF Pride. "I had my computer read the message over and over. After a few minutes of that, the news began to become tangible."
Cipriani was fully sighted until age 27. His life changed forever a horrific night in 2007 he was brutally assaulted in the Castro. He was kicked directly in his eyes. Four surgeries failed to restore his sight. Cipriani is what the blind community calls a "total"—he has no light or movement perception of any kind.
It took a while for the shock to wear off—Cipriani has spoken of having to grieve for the loss of his sight. Now, at 34 years old, he has landed on his feet and forged a new and successful life for himself. Currently the Writer-in-Residence at Holy Names University in Oakland, Cipriani authors Seeing in the Dark, a monthly syndicated column, which is seen locally in Bay Area Reporter. He's also the official spokesperson for Guide Dogs For the Blind and is the author of two books: Midday Dreams and the award-winning Blind: A Memoir.
San Francisco's Lighthouse For the Blind and Visually Impaired, where Cipriani received training for his rehabilitation as a blind person, couldn't be prouder of their former student. "Belo Cipriani is an exemplary figure for both the LGBTQ community and the blindness community," the Lighthouse posted on its website on April 29th. "He has emerged not only as an incredibly resilient character, but one who is willing to share his most personal experiences both in print and in person."
Cipriani told Hoodline that he hopes his participation in the parade will educate people and raise public awareness. "People with disabilities are generally not a part of popular culture," he said. "And if a disabled face makes it into the media, they are usually played by able-bodied people who are only able to present an unauthentic rendition of disability."
He feels that his selection shows that the LGBTQ community is trying to be more inclusive. "It means a lot to me that I was selected by the Pride board and I hope that this honor paves the way for more people with physical disabilities," he said.
Cipriani hopes that others will follow suit. "I think that LGBTQ businesses can help shape misconceptions around disabilities by using disabled people in their advertisements," he opined. "The more disabled people are seen and known about, the easier it will be for the community to understand that we are not so different."
The misconceptions people have about the blind are many, Cipriani says. "I think that people may not know that blind men and women come in all shapes and with all sorts or personalities," he said. "I am often told that I am nothing like a blind person someone has met before. I always tell them that it's because no two people are the same."
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