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Friday, July 25, 2014

Belo Cipriani: Bay Area Blind Writer Sees Light at the End of the Tunnel

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 7:10 AM

click to enlarge Belo Cipriani - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Belo Cipriani
Belo Cipriani's Blind: A Memoir is the kind of book that should have made Oprah's Book Club — it's a life-changing read. Cipriani, an openly gay Bay Area resident, chronicles the harrowing night in 2007 when he was brutally assaulted by a group of former friends. He was kicked in the face repeatedly. One of those devastating blows went directly into his eyes, leaving the then-26-year-old blind.

What followed, as he shares in his emotionally riveting memoir, were failed surgical attempts to restore his sight. Cipriani then spent years rehabilitating himself and reclaiming his life.

Belo Cipriani is now 35 years old. He lives on his own, works full time as a writer, and is the official spokesperson for Guide Dogs For the Blind. He's at peace with what happened to him and has even forgiven his attackers. 

In honor of the 25th anniversary (July 26) of the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which coincides with the launch of his new, syndicated column "Seeing in the Dark," SF Weekly chats with Belo Cipriani about his life. 
SF Weekly: What happened the night you were attacked?

Cipriani: I was assaulted by a group of gay men in San Francisco's Castro District. These guys were at one point my best friends growing up. They were a group of gay boys I met when I first came out in San Jose. We were like brothers but had drifted over time. When I stumbled upon them in the city that night I was happy to see them. They greeted me with insults and instantly jumped me. 

SF Weekly: Can you describe your emotions after this?

Cipriani: Although I had many eye surgeries, they all failed and I was left blind. The initial shock lasted a few days, then I became seriously depressed. It took a few months for me to work through my depression but eventually I was rehabilitated. I credit my family for my recovery, in particular my mom. She moved into my condo and didn't just help me learn to be blind, she helped me heal emotionally. She never told me it would be okay. She told me that blindness would be hard but not impossible to manage. She also said that blindness would bring people into my life I would otherwise never have met. She was right.

SF Weekly: Was your family accepting of your sexuality?   

Cipriani: I came out to my family as a teen and they were very accepting. My mom attended a few PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) meetings and took me to the local gay center. She allowed me to date, have boyfriends, and allowed my gay friends to hang out at our home. I feel like I became closer to my four sisters after I came out. If anything, coming out at 16 was the best thing for me. I no longer had to pretend or act. I was embraced fully for who I was.

SF Weekly: Can You describe your new column "Seeing in the Dark?"

Cipriani: "Seeing in the Dark" will show people what it's like to experience life as a blind person. It will cover dating, work, and disability social justice. My goal is to give people a more authentic dose of disability because what most people know about disability is outdated. In many cases, most myths about disability were created by Hollywood and touch very lightly on the real disability experience. Most of the disabled characters in movies and on TV are played by actors who are able bodied, often giving flawed perceptions which focus on pity.

SF Weekly: Will you write a second book?

Cipriani: I am the writer-in-residence at Holy Names University in Oakland where for the past few years I have been working on a book of fiction. The novel is about dreams and how people connect with each other in the dream world. It's magical realism and focuses on the dream experiences of two Latina sisters. The book will be published in 2015 by ASD Publishing.

SF Weekly: July 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Can you talk about what the ADA means to you?

Cipriani: The ADA is the most powerful piece of legislation since the Civil Rights Act. It gives people with disabilities the right to equal access and it means independence for me. Without it I would not be able to work, live on my own or even have my guide dog Oslo with me in public. Without the ADA, I wouldn't be.

SF Weekly: Have people become more sensitive to disability issues? Where might there be room for improvement and what can be done to make things better?

Cipriani: I feel like there is a general interest by the public to learn about different disabilities. There is very little representation of the disabled in popular media. I wish there were more ad campaigns that featured people with disabilities, especially since we use the same stuff everyone else does. I always laugh at big brands with so called inclusive marketing initiatives who never use disabled people in their ads. People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the country, yet we are often overlooked by the mainstream media.

Look for Belo Cipriani's "Seeing In The Dark" starting July 30 published in South Florida Gay News  and other publications.

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