LGBTQ People with Disabilities
*This section was created as a collaboration between GLAAD and RespectAbility
A Large Intersection
The LGBTQ community and the disability community intersect in significant ways. According to research published in 2012, fully 36% of women in the LGBTQ community and 30% of men in the community also self-identify as people with disabilities. Twenty-six percent of gay men and 40% of bisexual men disclosed having a disability, as did 36% of lesbians and 36% of bisexual women. Research from the Movement Advancement Project estimated that 3 to 5 million LGBTQ people live with one or more disabilities.
Further research done by UCLA via the California Health Interview Survey shows that trans people “are significantly more likely to report having a disability due to a physical, mental or emotional condition.”
Just as LGBTQ status cuts across every demographic — gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc. — so does disability. – Too often, people with disabilities are represented by straight, white men in a wheelchair. Ensure that LGBTQ people of color are included in stories about disabled people. Additionally, think about the diversity of disability — including people who are deaf or blind, have a cognitive disability like Down syndrome, or a non-visible disability such as a learning disability like dyslexia or mental health condition like anxiety or depression.
People who are LGBTQ and people who have non-visible disabilities, including learning disabilities like dyslexia, mental health conditions, or ADHD, have to decide whether it is safe or not to “come out of the closet.” When these identities intersect, the compounding oppression presents a set of problems of its own.
Just as people with disabilities fear discrimination and face bias throughout the hiring process, far too many LGBTQ people have experienced discrimination or bias in the workplace.
People in both communities face alarmingly high rates of sexual assault. CDC research found that 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of straight women. Twenty-six percent of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29% of straight men. People with disabilities are three times as likely to be sexually assaulted as their peers without disabilities.
Language to use
When describing people, as always, ask them how they would like to be described. Some people prefer Person-First Language (e.g. woman with a disability), which puts the emphasis on the person first, followed by a description of the disability. Others prefer Disability-First Language (e.g. disabled woman), which puts the emphasis on the disability. Ask people whose disability is referred to or otherwise presented in your work how they talk about themselves.
Avoid terms like “handicapped,” “physically challenged,” “special,” “special needs,” and “differently-abled,” which are patronizing. People with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA.
Avoid passive, problematic terms like “wheelchair-bound” and “suffers from.” People with disabilities are not “victims.” Nor should people with disabilities be described as “inspirational,” “brave,” or “courageous” just because they have a disability. Avoid “inspiration porn,” which is the portrayal of disabled people as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability. Additionally, avoid common ableist language such as “crazy” when describing people with mental health conditions.
Referring to someone without a disability as “normal” implies that people with disabilities are “abnormal.” Instead, use non-disabled or does not have a disability. In some cases, the word typical can be used to describe a non-disabled condition.
Ableism, which may be subconscious, is discrimination in favor of non-disabled people. It is the belief that people with disabilities are less human, less valuable, and less capable than non-disabled people.
Reach out to experts with lived disability experiences to bring authenticity and cultural accuracy to your piece. Interview disabled people directly, rather than talking to parents or teachers.
Stereotypes to avoid
Avoid harmful stereotypes, when reporting on LGBTQ people with disabilities:
- Do not focus on the physical features of a disability in a way that causes people to be afraid of those who are different from them.
- Do not define someone solely by their disability, or as a “victim” of their disability.
- Do not imply that people with disabilities are unable or unworthy of making rational decisions.
- Do not reinforce the idea that disability is something a person must overcome.
- Do not frame coverage with the idea that people with disabilities need to be taken care of or “cured.” Instead, frame coverage as what should change in society to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.
RespectAbility’s Solutions Center