July 2, 2014 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Wheelchair theft prompts support for D.C. gay man
D'Arcee Neal, gay news, Washington Blade

D’Arcee Neal (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A 28-year-old gay man who is wheelchair bound due to cerebral palsy became the beneficiary of an outpouring of community support last week after his custom-made, lightweight wheelchair was stolen outside the Logan Circle home of a friend.

D’Arcee Neal, who works for the national disability group United Cerebral Palsy and sings with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, said the theft of his wheelchair effectively left him immobilized, unable to perform basic daily tasks and unable to travel to and from work at his downtown D.C. office.

He said the customized wheelchair, which gave him both mobility and the dignity of being self-sufficient, would cost about $5,000 to replace.

Knowing the predicament he faced, his friend Nicole Marissa Yates took it upon herself to create a page on the fundraising website GoFundMe without telling Neal she had done so.

“I don’t know what it feels like to have your mobility taken away from you, but I imagine that even though he’s a strong, vibrant individual, he feels violated,” Yates wrote in a message posted on the fundraising site. “As his friends and family, we can come together to show him that we love and support him by funding his new chair,” Yates wrote. “Thank you for your contribution – anything helps!”

According to a report on the website, 155 people contributed a total of $7,300 in five days. Yates said the effort received a boost when Channel 4 News reporter Jackie Benson did a story about the wheelchair theft that included an interview with Neal on the evening news.

Neal told the Blade he’s grateful for the support he received from members of the community along with friends who contributed to the fund. He said the funds enabled him to purchase a temporary $400 wheelchair for his immediate use while he arranges for another custom made, lightweight and high-speed chair to be made. That could take as much as a month or more, he said. He plans to donate the temporary chair to a local charity.

He said he left the chair that was stolen in what he thought was an inconspicuous spot near the steps to the basement apartment at his friend’s place while apartment sitting for the friend. He isn’t able to drag or move the chair up or down steps, he said, in a world in which very few private residences are wheelchair accessible.

According to Neal, he prides himself on keeping in good physical shape by crawling up and down entrance steps – both at his friends’ homes and his own basement apartment in Anacostia, where he keeps his wheelchair outside in a concealed location.

“There are handicapped accessible apartments and homes but the rent is thousands of dollars a month more than I can afford,” he said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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