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The intersection of being LGBT+ and disabled

Jul. 9, 2018
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As June comes to a close, so does Pride Month. But recently a friend and I were having a conversation, and I brought up the fact that I’d never been to Pride and that it made feel less valid as a queer person. She told me that you don’t have to go to pride to be proud—you should be proud all the time. Until that moment, that was not something I’d never considered. 

Now, in addition to being queer, I’m also disabled, and the one time I did find it easy to celebrate who I am as a queer person was in college during the week of National Coming Out Day (October 11). I was all in: drag shows, drag bingo, NOH8 photo shoots, It Gets Better videos, the whole nine. I was never prouder to be myself than during that week. That was the closest I got to Pride, because it came to me and wasn’t hard to access as a disabled person. 

However, after college (in The Real World) is a bit different. Every disabled person on Earth knows that the world we live in isn’t build for us—we have to adapt, no matter how illegal the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) makes it for businesses and other places to be inaccessible. (Right now, Congress is trying to practically get rid off the ADA by making it so that businesses may take as long as they like to become accessible.) And the world is inaccessible in other ways, too, like in the spaces that are often “built” for those of us who are marginalized. Here's a little secret that all disabled people know: marginalized spaces are built for marginalized people—except for those with disabilities. Wild, right? Not really, because not many people have to think about it. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, disabled people make up 20% of the population, which makes us the largest marginalized population. Now, you might be wondering, if that’s the case, why aren’t disabled people considered more often in the making of spaces? The answer to that is actually super simple. We’re not seen as people with autonomy, and able-bodied people, for the most part, don’t think outside themselves, and when they do it’s still quite small-minded or just lazy—like if you call a restaurant to ask about accessibility and they tell you we only have one small step! If restaurants can barely get it together, why would I, as a disabled, wheelchair-using human expect any more significant (whether that be within Pride or any place else) spaces to do so? Luckily, I don’t. 

You could also ask why more disabled people aren’t designated as part of the planning of these spaces so that we could be included. The answer is one in the same: we would still have to be seen as functioning, autonomous, and valid people. 

Believe it or not, it can occasionally hurt more to be shut out of LGBT+ spaces because it took me so long to accept being both queer and disabled. I felt like the two had no business existing in the same body, because my life was already difficult (which is no doubt ableist thinking). When I finally accepted the two being one within myself, it didn’t occur to me that the rest of the queer world would not embrace it. In the queer world, marriage equality was granted by the Supreme Court three years ago, but for disabled people, we can’t get married without some sort of penalty. You can lose your insurance and SSI because you have a partner who makes money. Disabled people have gotten divorced so they could keep Medicaid, and their able-bodied spouses have even signed what’s known as a Spousal Refusal Form, which essentially states that they refuse to care for their disabled spouse so the spouse needs to keep Medicaid—but the form is only available in New York, Connecticut, and Florida, and to be honest it’s insulting as hell. Fundamentally, traditional insurance won’t pay for all that disability requires. For disabled LGBT+ people, marriage equality is as real as the Easter Bunny.

In general, most spaces that have to deal with sex or sexuality don’t cater to disability. They aren’t thought to coexist. Society counts on sex equaling ability, and disability is seen as something to pity, so why would the two ever overlap? Yet there are plenty of disabled folks with active, beautiful sex lives. This just means that able-bodied people scarcely think beyond the scope of their ability, even when they think they don’t. 

There is nothing that would make me take back being both queer and disabled, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating. Whether shut out of Pride, sex with other people, the institution of marriage, or whatever else you can think of, my identity is valid to me—the only person it has to be valid to—and though no one can take that from me, there are things that LGBT+, disabled people have to encounter as a result of their intersections that you can only understand if you’re one of us.