Department of Health

Working with LGBTI people with disabilities

Key messages

  • LGBTI people with disabilities can face challenges that influence the services and supports they seek and receive.
  • A lack of supports and services can lead to isolation and vulnerability, bullying, mental health issues and legal issues, and may result in risk-taking behaviour or self-harm.
  • Discrimination and barriers preventing LGBTI people with disabilities expressing their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status may be profound.

People with disabilities, including people with a sensory, physical, neurological or intellectual disability or a combination of these disabilities, can access a range of support services to help them live more independently in the community. However, people who are LGBTI with disabilities can face challenges that influence the services and supports they seek and their interaction with service providers.

A lack of supports and services may lead to isolation and vulnerability, bullying, mental health issues and legal issues, and may result in risk-taking behaviour or self-harm. Even when services are accessed, the needs of people with disabilities who are LGBTI can sometimes be ignored if services are not inclusive. For example, LGBTI adults with intellectual disability living in supported accommodation may find expression of their sexual identity difficult in non-inclusive environments.

Discrimination and barriers preventing people who are LGBTI with disabilities expressing their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status may be profound. People who are LGBTI with disabilities may rely on a small network of supporters or carers who may not be aware of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. Alternatively, they may be open about their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status but feel that this is sometimes ignored as a result of their disability.

Through coming out, some people who are LGBTI with disabilities may have lost vital family support to manage their disabilities and may find themselves distanced from peers with disabilities. In some circumstances, there can be a lack of communication and education between disability service providers and the wider LGBTI community. Sometimes they may also experience isolation and marginalisation within the LGBTI community.

While there is limited research in disability and the LGBTI community, current research suggests that:

  • People with disabilities may be at higher risk for sexual abuse, including intimate partner violence, than in the general population
  • Same-sex attracted, gender diverse and intersex (SSAGDI) young people with disabilities may be at higher risk for compromised sexual health due to a lack of appropriate sex education
  • SSAGDI young people with intellectual disabilities may feel ‘invisible’ if sexual health education is not inclusive
  • People who are LGBTI with disabilities are often treated as heterosexual or non-sexual.
  • Providing information and opportunities to develop and express sexual orientation or gender identity can result in positive health outcomes. Avenues of sexual identity expression include conversation, reading material, social media and social groups, all of which can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of people who are LGBTI with a disability.

Providing information and opportunities for people with disabilities who are LGBTI to develop and express sexual orientation or gender identity can result in positive health outcomes. Avenues of sexual identity expression include conversation, reading material, social media and social groups, all of which can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing.

References

Abbott, D., 2013, Nudge, nudge, wink, wink: love, sex and gay men with intellectual disabilities - a helping hand or a human right? Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 57(11):1079-1087.

Lofgren-Mayenrtenson, L., 2009, The Invisibility of Young Homosexual Women and Men with Intellectual Disabilities, Sexuality and Disability 27(1):21-26.

Noonan, A., and Taylor Gomez, M., 2010, Who's Missing? Awareness of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People with Intellectual Disability, Sexuality & Disability 29(2):175-180.

Stoffelen, J., Kok, G., Hospers, H., and Curfs, L. M. G., 2013, Homosexuality among people with a mild intellectual disability: an explorative study on the lived experiences of homosexual people in the Netherlands with a mild intellectual disability, Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 57(3):257-267.

Reviewed 09 September 2015

Health.vic

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