By Ross Tanner (he/they)
The intersection of two or more different identities can be tricky. Belonging to two or more marginalised groups comes not only with its own prejudices from internal and external factors, but belonging to two is a whole other ball game with prejudices and discrimination transcending from other dimensions. To be disabled and part of the LGBTQ+ community is not uncommon; one third of queer people have a disability or long-term health condition. I did a little bit of research to explore and understand this a bit more. However, I would like to disclose that I am a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, gay man and therefore my lived experience of being part of the LGBTQ+ community is not representative of the people/groups I mention in this post.
When I first set out to do research for this, I naively typed into my search engine “disability and being gay” and quelle surprise the first thing that showed up was a research paper on whether homosexuality is a disability with the conclusion confirming that it was. This implication of homosexuality being an impairment is not only damaging to all queer people but further damaging to queer people with disabilities. This narrative is too common and undermines the experiences of queer people, specifically those with long-term health conditions. In an interview with the Guardian in 2018, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard said “Telling someone I am gay is instantly accepted, no questions asked, generally with a smile. Telling someone I am disabled comes with, “No, really? You don’t look it”, and a scrutinising look. Nobody has ever accused every single gay person of “scrounging off the state”, but people have openly said that about disabled people, in front of me.” The problems people with disabilities face and the problems the LGBTQ+ community face, despite their overlap and similarities in some respects, cannot be lumped together.
While the two communities' problems cannot be lumped together, LGBTQ+ people with disabilities still feeling these problems on a deeper level is an indictment to the diversity of the community. A big issue facing LGBTQ+ people with disabilities, that is extremely prominent in both the queer community and wider society, is their desexualisation. The view that disabled people have no sex drive or lust undermines their humanity and, specifically if they’re queer, their identity. While being LGBTQ+ is not all about sex, it is still an aspect of the human experience that most of us will experience at some point in our life. However, the over sexualisation of the queer community and the desexualisation of disabled people often leave them on the outskirts of the community with their ‘gayness’ seen as invalid; this further renders any conversations surround asexuality.
Furthermore, many able-bodied gay people like me did not receive any appropriate sex education in school and had to receive education from other sources. This is a serious issue within the gay community because often porn and other sources do not teach you about safe-sex and the realities of being intimate with someone else. It does not prepare you for the emotional and physical toll gay sex can have and far too often this ignorance amongst young LGBTQ+ people is exploited. However, once again this issue is more damaging for disabled members of the community, as often education received in class is not always applicable, accessible, or representative. Emily Yates, from the BBC, explains: “[L]essons and workshops are not designed for us. There are few, if any, subtitled and audio-described [sex education] videos, information is usually not easy to read or understand, and the bodies in these videos and photos rarely, if ever, reflect disability of any kind”.
Loneliness is yet another issue that Disabled LGBTQ+ people feel more acutely, as a result of both societal, and inter-community issues.. The isolation caused by the LGBTQ+ community and it’s ableist standards, as discussed above, contribute to disabled people’s loneliness. This is compounded with attitudes external to the community towards people for their disability; two-thirds of the British public admit that they feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people. To reiterate, only one in three people that are comfortable with talking to a disabled person. Further compounded with them being part of the community (throwing in homophobia, biphobia, transphobia), LGBTQ+ people with disabilities are extremely marginalised.
There are many wider issues facing people with disabilities that have deeper effects on those who are LGBTQ+, where the two identities seem to have a multiplying effect, but shockingly little research has been done, so we are often left to guess. For example, 3 in 10disabled 16-24 year olds (29 per cent) are not in education, training or work, compared to nine per cent of those without disabilities. There is no known statistic to reflect how this disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ experience but if you read Stonewall’s research paper ‘shut out’ it highlights interviews and people’s experiences of school and the workforce. There are many, many other examples such as the intersection between being sexually assaulted being LGBTQ+ and disabled. A Guardian article revealed that half of LGBTQ+ disabled women reported unwanted touching, 38% reported sexual assault and almost a quarter (24%) reported serious sexual assault or rape. Disabled LGBTQ+men reported significantly higher levels of sexual harassment and assault than non-disabled men, with more than one in four (28%) reporting sexual assault. The stats are even more horrifying when compared to 80% of disabled women and 8% of disabled men reporting sexual assault, compared to 20% of women and 4% of men in the general population. These statistics are chilling and there is little to no research into the people that fall into both groups, which is telling of society's value of disabled people and LGBTQ+ people. However, these statistics set a terrifying precedent for those who fall in the intersection. Access to healthcare and race are two other issues that fall into this gap, where research has not been done despite it’s seemingly glaring need from inside the community.
In the words of Adam Eli “Queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere”. It is our responsibility as queer people to be beacons of our community and everyone that’s part of it. This post does not negate any hardship or discrimination felt by anyone in the LGBTQ+ community as we all have had equally valid experiences and that is why we should use this to empathise with all members of our community and understand the unique difficulties they face. Please use this article as an introduction, a starting point to your research, into the intersectionality of being queer and having a disability, to challenge your stereotypes, to the conversations you have and the changes you make. I am sure you will agree, that we desperately need to make them. So, whether you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, or an ally to the community, it is our turn to all become allies to our Disabled members.
Some resources for reading more:
Disability, Sex, Relationships and Dating Roundtable | Hannah Witton:
Regard’s Pride Access Guide: http://regard.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Pride-Guide-PDF.pdf
‘Shut out’ by stonewall: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/shut_out_2020.pdf
Resources for disabled LGBT people and LGBT people with accessibility needs:
disabled-world.com/disability/sexuality/lgbt/ accessed on July 11th 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/13/people-accept-that-im-gay-but-not-that-im-disabled accessed on July 11th 2020
meloukhia.net/2014/05/desexualising_disability/ accessed on July 11th 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/15/disability-and-sex-are-not-mutually-exclusive?CMP=twt_gu accessed on July 12th 2020
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/may/17/survey-finds-70-of-lgbt-people-sexually-harassed-at-work accessed on July 12th 2020
https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/about-sexual-violence/statistics-sexual-violence/ accessed on July 12th 2020
(Originally published 13/07/20)