These are true stories written by LGBTQ+ self-advocates. We wrote these stories in our own words and used our real names. We chose these stories so you will learn more about our lives.
Some of the stories could be intense or uncomfortable to read. Please remember to take self care!
If you are an LGBTQ+ person with an intellectual or developmental disability and want to share a story in the guidebook, contact us at Rainbow@WeAreMASS.org
When I was born, the doctor told my mother to send me to an institution because of my disability. My mother refused to send me to the institution and advocated for me to go to school with everyone else in my community. I am glad I had opportunities to learn and meet people in school. I did not get support in school to read and write. I did learn many life skills like cooking and cleaning. When I was in high school, I listened to the driver’s education manual on tape over and over and then I passed the road test and got my driver’s license. A disability agency offered me a full-time job so I quit school without graduating. I had many jobs, including working as a supervisor at a hotel.
I always knew that my gender felt different inside, but I did not tell anyone for a long time. When I got older and I lived on my own, I would go out to buy women’s clothes and I would wear them but then I would throw them away. I was trying to figure out who I was and having turmoil. For a long time, if I was getting dressed up, I was relaxed. When I went back to how I was supposed to dress, I was stressed. In my brain I was feminine and a woman. I went to go see a therapist and she explained to me that it was in my DNA, in my genes. I got to the idea in my head that God made me like this, that this was a gift that God gave me.
My mother was not happy with it when she found out and I was depressed but I was trying to overcome it. She didn’t approve of it and she didn’t understand it but on her deathbed she forgave me and she told me she loved me regardless. My family basically disowned me after my mother died. I went to my mother’s funeral and I went to give my sister a hug and she basically put her hands up and said, “Nope.”
I have a lot of other people in my life now who understand me and support me. I have a service coordinator, a support staff, doctors, coworkers, and friends who all know who I am and support me for who I am. I live in my own apartment, where I care for my rabbit and two cats. I get a few hours of support each week from a provider agency. My supporter picks up my groceries and helps me to schedule and attend medical appointments. I talk at my ISP meetings about my goals for my gender, like taking hormones and getting surgery. I also work toward my other goals, like managing my money and buying a car. The way I look at it, you’re never done becoming who you are.
I started the Rainbow Support Groups of MA 18 years ago so that LGBTQ+ people with IDD could support each other. People come to my groups to share advice and meet friends. I also help groups get started all over the country and I teach training about LGBTQ+ people with disabilities. I am happy that I can make a difference in the world so that people can be their true selves. The truth will set you free!
A Poignant Lesson About the “R” Word
Special Education teachers are supposed to be supportive and sensitive.
However, there was this one time when I was in a special education class and students were being disruptive and not paying attention. The teacher got mad and told me and the rest of the class that “you better knock it off or I’ll put a sign on the door that says – This Is The Retard Room – that will teach you a lesson.”
This made me very angry and upset. This kind of behavior from a teacher should never be allowed!
My name is Drew Palumbo and I am going to tell you a story. I would like to start off by saying that I have a Learning Disability, Depression and Anxiety and intellectual disability. My family found out I had a disability when I was 3 years old when I had my first seizure. My seizures were very mild. I would go into a very deep stare. I would not be able to see anything or hear anything. It was very scary. I got made fun of because of that. And I also had a very bad speech problem when I was a kid. I used to stutter a lot. I could not say words right. It would take me a long time to say a word. People thought I was yelling at them but I was not. I could not help it. People were very mean to me and would call me the R word and they would tell me to learn how to talk.
I am also Transgender. For me transgender means I was born a girl but that did not match my insides. I felt like a boy. I was trapped in a girl’s body. I was really happy when I was a kid when I had a flat chest. I would really sometimes pass as a boy. Kids from my school called me a boy, but little did they know that made me feel so happy! When I got older things started to change. I started growing chest. I felt like they should not be growing. I did not know why they were growing. I always knew I was a boy but I did not have the language for it. I did not know there was a name for who I am. I thought I was crazy and that I was the only one in the world that felt like this. I thought something was wrong with me. I remember thinking what name I wanted to change my name to. That was Drew. I used to take my brother’s swim shorts and wear them. When I was really young my mom told me to throw them away but I took them back. I would love wearing them. It made me so happy.
I came out to my friends in September 2004. My friends at youth pride were very accepting of me. I told some of my friends that I was transgender. I had a friend emailing me telling me my name is not Drew and she doesn’t hang out with people that are gay like me. That really hurt my feelings. I knew this person since I was in second grade so I was hoping she would care. I am still a great person. I am not a bad person. They really shut me out like I was never part of their friendship. You would think they would understand because they have a disability and they got made fun of and called names. You would think they know how it feels to be heartbroken, but they don’t.
One of my really good friends from Special Olympics was always there for me. She let me cry on her shoulder. She did not like how other people would treat me. She was always there for me. I could talk to her about anything. I remember when I first told her I was transgender. She did not care. She said that was fine. We were still friends and I was always there for her. Then in 2007 she passed away in her sleep. I was heartbroken. I did not know why she had to leave me. I thought I did something wrong. I did not know why god had to take her away from me. I felt like I had no one to talk to to understand me. I felt like I wanted to die because I wanted to be with her.
I came out to my Special Olympics coach. I told him I was transgender and wanted him to call me Drew and he told me it’s not on the forms so he won’t call me Drew and he said I am a girl not a boy. He pretty much kicked me off the team for being myself. Now I am on a new team. They accept me and call me Andy. I love it.
I live in a program called shared living. I had a hard time finding the right person to live with. Most of them were very transphobic. One person I lived with I had to bind my chest down 24\7 because they had a kid. They did not want the kid to know about me. I painted my nails. They had a breakdown, like they flipped out on me. Just for painting my nails black. One person I lived with, whatever I did was wrong or whatever I said was wrong. It got to the point I ended up in the hospital 5 times that year cuz I could not take it. I wanted to die. I had a plan and everything that year because I just could not go on. Now I live with a great person. We are like brother and sister. She accepts and supports me. I love her like a sister. I moved in 2020. I’ve been living with her for 3 years now. We go on vacations and go shopping. She helps me out with whatever I need help with.
I went on testosterone in 2008. It made my voice get deeper and grow hair and look more like a guy. I finally got to pass as a guy which made me so happy. And in 2012 I got my top surgery. When I got out of surgery I was so happy. I finally got to take my shirt off for the first time and I felt like a kid in a toy store. It was the best thing I have done for myself. Now it is 2023 I am in the process of having bottom surgery phalloplasty. It is a lot of steps to take so it will be awhile but I am in the process. Well that was my story. I am now a happy person for the most part. I am being myself. I am who I am.
An Open Letter
My life has so many stories I can share, however, I am choosing one to share with professionals today. I am a woman, daughter, sister, lesbian and I happen to have an intellectual disability. My choice of who I love is my decision and only my decision. Love is the most important part of my life. I need to live my life fully. Being a part of the LGBTQ community helps me feel safe and accepted more than any other marginalized community I am involved with. One of the reasons is seeing one another and loving them for who they are. Being a part of the LGBTQ community has been the safest place for me to be a member of in the last couple of years and I have found the most powerful, unconditional love for one another. I am so lucky to be a part of the Gay, Lebian, Transgender, Queeer, Non-binary or just yourself; like me family! I define myself by using just my name, “Nicole” because that is who I am! First of all, being a part of a community like the LGBTQ is just being yourself with or without labels. I live my life without any labels at all, being me is what matters more than anything. Love is so powerful, more than anything else in the universe. Being gay in the world can be great and I have had some good times. However, our culture will never accept me being a human being who has feelings and dreams, and who wants a future with a partner I love. They don’t see me, they only see I have an intellectual disability. I do not feel safe in the current world we live in. Being gay and having an intellectual disability, I feel like a ghost, but more vulnerable. It is more than identifying as lesbian, it is Being accepted in the LGBTQ community is all about loving everyone and getting to know who they are no matter what. I have so many role models in my life who are a part of an amazing group called, “The Love Community”. My dream is to be a part of this elite group of the LGBTQ community and be authentic friends with Ruby Rose, Brandi Carlile, Laverne Cox, and Aisha Kate Dillon by just being me.
I am already discriminated against for having an intellectual disability. No one takes me seriously, not in my career or my private life. People don’t take the time to get to know me, by the way, I am pretty funny and I like discussing classic movies. In my life, it is just so hard, to begin with. If it is not enough for me to have a disability, being gay is a struggle all by itself. Will I not be enough for the rest of my life? As a gay person with an extra chromosome, Down Syndrome, I need you to see me. When I came out it was the easiest thing I have ever done, it is me and I am proud of myself and my accomplishments. I want to educate and help break barriers for people just like me who have an intellectual disability and do not conform to mainstream sexuality. I am so tired of hearing, “Do you have a boyfriend”? I have learned to say automatically, “No, I am gay. However, I do not have a girlfriend at this time. Why? Do you know of a wonderful woman who would like to date me”? By the way, would you ask my mother or sister that question? If your answer is no, then why are you asking me”?
Love is the most powerful thing on this planet and the whole universe, as Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, “Love is the greatest force in the universe”. Money, Greed, Power, and Control will never conquer anything, it only builds up hate. The power of love hopefully will take over our world, so join me and love the love with me. The kindness of the LGBTQ community helps me feel safe and I am happy to be a part of it. Life is short, live it to the fullest, be guarded so so much love in your heart; love everyone for who they are whether they are gay, a person with a disability, or someone who does not identify as a man or woman. I would say, it is no one’s business who I love and how I love. Some people need to stay in their own lane and live their life the way they choose and not put their beliefs on others.
Upon closing, I would like everyone to know me for me, always, and just me. I have a heart full of love and would like peace all over this globe. I want EVERYONE to be seen, not only in the LGBTQ and Disability Community but all PEOPLE. I hope I can inspire you by just being myself. I would like people who genuinely care about me to reach out to a person with an intellectual disability and truly see them. My hope is you have a real authentic heart for people with an intellectual disability and respect who they love, whether they are gay or not. I love you all and thank you for reading my inspirational words today.
My First Gay Experiences
I was at the age of 8 years old and I was in grammar school at the time. I went to the bathroom to use the washroom and while I was using the bathroom, a guy named James from my gym class came into the bathroom. He came into the stall that I was using and my pants were already down. He pulled his pants down and put his penis inside my butt. I was feeling scared, nervous, and it kind of felt good. It felt pretty good. And that was my first time doing something like that with a boy so he definitely was my first experience with a guy. Then after that I kind of had feelings for guys. Sometimes you have to experiment with what you like because you never know if you like girls or boys. Sometimes you have to try it out. It all starts when you’re young.
When you are a kid sometimes you don’t know what is right or wrong. It is when you get older you learn what is right and wrong. When I was like 15 in high school I had another experiment with my best friend. His name was Anthony. Anthony was a straight guy that I had a crush on. I never told him. One day I went to use the bathroom so he followed me to the bathroom. As I was using the bathroom he came to use the bathroom by me and he put his hands on my penis. It felt different and it felt pretty good. I remember I put my hand on his penis too. One thing went onto the next. I went down and gave him head and then he gave me head too. This was my first time ever getting head from a straight dude and it was my best experience. It felt pretty good. We almost got in trouble. It was definitely worth getting in trouble for. That’s how I know I like guys. It was the best experience ever. I had my first experiences when I was pretty young. So that’s how I know that I’m gay.
This Is Me
My name is Christian Hamlet. I am a gay man who has an intellectual disability. I came out as gay when I was twenty-four years old but I knew I was before that, I would say age fifteen or so. Growing up was tough for me as I started to realize I liked the same sex. I was lost and confused. As time went on I wanted more and more to live as my authentic self, but I always had the fear of rejection. Will I lose friends? Will my family reject me?
I am very fortunate to have such a very supportive support system and it starts with my family. My mother was very accepting. I remember my heart being in my throat when I finally just said it. But her response was what I hope all parents would have and that is, “It’s okay, I love you for you. It doesn’t matter who you love as long as you are happy, that is all I care about.” I was so relieved. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my chest.
I now feel I can live my life as my authentic self. Do I still have my struggles? Yes, but I am learning how to cope with the negative people and the hate we all feel in the LGBTQIA+ community. I found peace in who I am and I wish so many others like myself can do the same.