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LGBTQ+ people with disabilities face compounded barriers

June is Pride month, a celebration of the contributions of people from the LGBTQ+ community, including people with disabilities.

When you think of a person with autism, what image comes to mind? If you think of a white, straight, cisgender male, you are not alone. But the reality is that people with disabilities have many different identities, as we all do.

One in four LGBTQ+ people has a disability. Two in five transgender people have disabilities. That’s 3 million to 5 million people in the United States who are both LGBTQ+ and disabled.

Both communities face barriers to inclusion, but when you combine having a disability with being in the LGBTQ+ community, those barriers are significantly compounded.

One major barrier is full and inclusive access to health care. People with disabilities frequently struggle to find providers who understand their complex needs or who deny or fail to recommend treatment because of assumptions made about the person’s capacity or life span. If they are also LGBTQ+, they may additionally struggle to find health care providers who are competent in LGBTQ+ care. Health care providers can also make presumptions about sexual activity and gender that miss critical medical care and sex-education needs.

Being an LGBTQ+ youth with disabilities means being subject to increased bullying. Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youths with disabilities are more likely to be harassed, severely disciplined or drop out of school than LGBTQ+ youths without disabilities.

Other barriers experienced by LGBTQ+ people with disabilities include significantly lower employment rates; increased rates of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression; and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. And of course, legal protections that exist for people with disabilities are poorly enforced, while the limited protections in place for LGBTQ+ people are coming under attack across the nation.

LGBTQ+ people with disabilities also report feeling invisible within both communities. The LGBTQ+ community often disregards the needs of people with disabilities, and disability groups do not recognize the specific needs of their LGBTQ+ peers. An example of this problem is the widely acclaimed documentary “Crip Camp,” which brings excellent attention to the history of the disability rights movement, while at the same time centering white and heteronormative voices as the predominant participants in that movement.

Yet both LGBTQ+ Pride month and Disability Pride month (July) are not just about raising awareness about these barriers. They are dedicated to bringing our attention to those invisible people who have been trailblazers, influencers and role models in our society. This includes the historic activists who fought to get us where we are today, and the modern activists working tirelessly to push us forward. You can learn more about these disabled LGBTQ+ activists in places like the World Institute on Disability: https://tinyurl.com/yck2y2xk.

As a result of increased awareness, LGBTQ+ and disability groups are becoming more inclusive of the diversity within their communities. But the jobs of these groups and individual disabled LGBTQ+ activists will be involve less pushing of the river if we all remember the vast diversity of identities we all bring.

Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.