THE INTERSECTION OF LGBTQ+ PRIDE, SEXUALITY, AND DISABILITY

By Erin Vallely, ATI Advocacy Specialist

Introduction

With 3 to 5 million disabled individuals identifying as LGBTQ+, Pride month highlights the importance of the intersection of disability, sexuality, and LGBTQ+ identities.  For many reasons, disabled individuals’ gender identity and sexuality are rarely discussed.  Their invisibility erases their existence within LGBTQ+ communities and other gender and sexuality conversations and spaces.  Ignoring these intersections hurts disabled individuals and society.

The Problems and Consequences of Exclusion 

Society often assumes disabled individuals are incapable of, do not want, or are not wanted in, romantic relationships.  Parents, teachers, and service providers frequently do not discuss relationships, sexuality or LGBTQ+ topics because they believe they are protecting disabled individuals from dangerous situations.  Others do not believe disabled individuals can understand the topics or understand themselves in these ways.  Still others do not believe they should have bodily or social autonomy and actively restrict what disabled individuals can do and are exposed to.  When disability is not represented in relationship, sexuality, and LGBTQ+ topics, exclusion by default becomes the norm.  For example, a 2020 national report stated that only 73% of LGBTQ+ centers have minimally accessible spaces and only 23% have programming geared towards disabled individuals.  

Despite these attitudes, disabled individuals fall on the spectrum of gender identity, sexual orientation, and interest in sexual activities just as their nondisabled peers do.  Many research studies have shown that disabled individuals who do not receive meaningful education in these topics are much more likely to have unsafe sexual experiences and be victims of emotional and sexual abuse.  At least 15% of disabled individuals have been violently victimized by an intimate partner.  In addition, estimates indicate only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving developmentally disabled individuals are reported to the police.  Disabled individuals who do not have relationship and sexual health knowledge are also much more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections, have unwanted pregnancies, and not get basic sexual health preventive screenings or care.  

These complications can be traumatic for disabled individuals and come with significant social costs such as police investigations, sexual trauma mental health services, and avoidable medical bills.  Additionally, inaccessible LGBTQ+ spaces, educational programs and events contribute to these problems and can harm disabled individuals’ mental health due to exclusion and lack of community.  

Get Involved! 

Although LGBTQ+ Pride month is over, improving sexuality education and accessibility to sexuality education and LGBTQ+ spaces must be prioritized year-round.  Over the coming months, ATI will be introducing a new program to help address these issues in the Cortland community.  In the meantime, here are some steps you can take to contribute to the disability community’s advocacy efforts.

If you have questions or concerns about healthy relationships, LGBTQ+ identities, or sex education, please do not hesitate to contact Erin Vallely at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  She can help answer your questions and connect you with resources to meet your needs.