The human rights of LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
Human rights are the ways that all people deserve to be treated so that they have dignity as human beings. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities should have the same human rights as other people. This means that laws should protect our rights. The people who support us should respect our rights. In this chapter we wrote about some of the human rights of all people, that are not always respected in the lives of LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve respect, information, self-determination, privacy, safety, and dignity of risk.
We have the right to be treated with respect. That means accepting us and who we each are as an individual person. We should be treated like a person with our own thoughts and feelings. Being LGBTQ+ is part of who we are and we should be appreciated for who we are. That means appreciating our gender and sexualities, whether or not we are LGBTQ+. If you have negative opinions about LGBTQ+ people, you should keep those to yourself. It is disrespectful to bully us, judge us, or to tell us that who we are is wrong. Sometimes people dismiss LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and say that we are confused or mistaken. Some people try to force us not to be LGBTQ+. That is disrespectful to us. We are each our own person and we can have our own values. Showing respect means listening to who we say we are and appreciating all the aspects that make up who we are.
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be given the information they need. This means telling us information about the world. The information must be accessible so we can understand it. Just because we did not understand something the first time, that does not mean we will never understand. If you try to teach or explain something and we do not understand at first, then you should keep trying different ways so that we can learn. For example, if information is written down but someone with an intellectual or developmental disability cannot read it, then you should read the information to that person. If the vocabulary is too complicated, then you can explain in plain language. Plain language means using everyday words that we know and understand. Other things that can help people to understand information are: showing drawings or pictures, playing videos, and giving examples.
We should be able to get information about gender and sexuality. We should learn about LGBTQ+ identities. Some people think that because a person has a disability, that they will not be able to understand gender or sexuality. Some people try to hide information about gender and sexuality from us because they think we are too vulnerable or we will get confused about who we are. These things are not true! We have genders and sexualities just like anyone else does. We have the right to access information that we can understand.
There are sexuality education curriculums and resources out there that are made to be accessible to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We have information and resources throughout this book about supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to understand gender and sexuality. We even wrote a whole chapter about accessible sexuality education. Keep reading!
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the right to self-determination. That means that we should have control over our own lives and be able to make our own decisions. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities like us speak up and advocate for ourselves so we can choose things like where we live, who we spend time with, what we do for work, and how we spend our own money. Think about all the things that you have decided in your own life. Wouldn’t you be unhappy if someone else decided everything for you?
Sometimes family members or staff try to control us or make decisions for us because they think that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not capable of deciding things for ourselves, or because they think they are protecting us. We don’t think that’s right. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have thoughts and opinions like everyone else. We have the right to decide what we want and need so that we can have lives that we enjoy. Whether we need a little support from time to time or a lot of support every day, all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have preferences and interests. Everyone has ways to communicate what they want and need, even if they aren’t using words. If you pay attention to our decisions and to what we like and don’t like, you can support us to have self-determination and make the life we want for ourselves.
Many LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are denied self-determination. They have family members and staff who try to control how they dress, how they style their hair, where they go, and who they date. Sometimes our family members and staff think it is wrong or dangerous to be LGBTQ+. Being LGBTQ+ is part of who we are. We feel rejected and unhappy when we are not able to express our true selves. We have the right to decide how to express our genders and our sexualities. That is why this guidebook is based on the principle of self-determination.
People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the right to freely express their gender and sexuality. You should not tell people with intellectual and developmental disabilities how to express themselves. A good supporter is someone who respects the desires and preferences of the person they are supporting, not someone who enforces their own beliefs about gender and sexuality. You will see throughout this guidebook that the best way to support LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is to listen to them, follow their lead, and support them to express themselves in the ways that feel right for them.
People express their gender in all different ways, including by the clothes they wear, how they style their hair, whether they wear makeup, and how they use their voice. Some people express their gender by using a name different from the one they were given at birth or by using the gender pronouns that are right for them. Please don’t limit us with beliefs about how men are supposed to dress or how women should act. There are all different ways that people express their gender. Some people with intellectual and developmental disabilities need support expressing their gender. For example, they might need assistance to get dressed, go shopping, apply makeup, or change their name. We have the right to get support to make our own decisions about how we express our gender.
Many people are interested in romantic and sexual relationships. Dating, being in relationships, getting married, having sex, having a family: these are all important goals to many people. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the same right to make decisions about what relationships they are in, who they date, whether to get married, whether to have sex, how they have sex, and who they have sex with. Some of us might want more information about sexuality or need help navigating relationships. We don’t want people trying to stop us from finding meaningful relationships and expressing ourselves.
Sometimes LGBTQ+ adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not allowed to make their own legal decisions. They may have a guardian, conservator, health care proxy, or some other arrangement where another person is assigned to make legal decisions for them. Even when a person does not make their own legal decisions, they still have the right to decide how they express their gender and sexuality. LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have guardians still have the right to be in romantic and sexual relationships.
Sometimes LGBTQ+ adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have legal guardians who are not accepting or supportive of their LGBTQ+ identity. This can be a really bad situation. There are guardians who won’t allow the person with an intellectual or developmental disability to express their gender or sexuality. For example, one of the transgender people we talked to had parents who wouldn’t let them start gender hormones. Some of the people we talked to who live in group homes said that their group home staff wouldn’t support them to go to Pride events or gay bars. Having an unsupportive guardian can make people feel trapped and hopeless. If an LGBTQ+ person with intellectual or developmental disabilities wants your help getting a more supportive guardian or getting off of guardianship, you should try to help them with that too. Supported Decision-Making, for example, is a great way for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to make their own decisions and get support when they need it. You should help LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities use Supported Decision-Making, if that’s what they want.
Like everyone, we have the right to privacy in our lives. That means we should be able to have time in our rooms or our homes, alone or in private with other people. If a person with an intellectual or developmental disability is an adult, they should be able to have an adult level of privacy. We should be able to communicate with people without someone listening in on our conversations. We should be able to have privacy to be intimate with our partners. Even people who need a lot of support to be healthy and safe can be supported to have alone time. They might want to have a romantic or sexual private moment alone or with someone they have a relationship with. People should also be allowed to have privacy on the computer, because they might want to explore, look up something, or have a conversation with someone that is personal or sexual.
We also have the right for our personal information to be kept private. It is not okay to tell our information to other people without asking us. If you know information about our gender or our sexuality, it is not okay to tell other people about it. That is not respecting our privacy. Our staff, families, and guardians do not need to be told every detail about our lives. We should make the decisions regarding information about us that gets shared.
For example, maybe an adult at the group home where you work bought a pair of high heels that he likes to wear at home. You might want to tell his parents about it so they can support him or talk with him about it. That is not your choice to make. It is his right to decide if he wants to talk to his parents about it. You can offer to support him with talking to his parents, if that is what he wants.
We have a right to privacy with our bodies, our relationships, and our information. It is our decision to tell someone about how we express ourselves.
We also have the right to be safe from harm. Being treated with respect, accessing information, making our own decisions, and having privacy prevents harm to us because it protects our human rights.
Some people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are restricted because caregivers think it will protect our safety or the safety of others. It can be difficult to balance the right to safey with the right to self-determination.
There can be some risks to being out as LGBTQ+ but it is not okay to restrict someone from being LGBTQ+ for safety reasons. Instead, we have the right to support so we can be safe when we express ourselves. We can learn to advocate for ourselves and protect ourselves too.
We also have the right to due process. That means that if our human rights are restricted, there must be a very good strong reason and there must be a plan to support the person to get that right back.
Dignity of Risk
Many decisions have risks and rewards. We know our supporters worry about risks because they want us to be safe and healthy. Many supporters are so worried about risks that they are overprotective and prevent us from trying new things or putting ourselves out there. We know that there are risks to decisions about gender and sexuality. For example, people who wear clothes that don’t conform to traditional gender roles sometimes get harassed or attacked. Sometimes people get their heart broken in a relationship or get a sexually transmitted infection from a sexual partner. If we don’t already know, we have the right to learn about the risks and rewards of different decisions.
We also know that many LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have caregivers who try to stop them from dating and having sex, and so people hide their relationships and try to keep them secret. If we are forced to hide, then we have no one to turn to when we need support. We think that is wrong! It is not fair to stop us from expressing ourselves in order to prevent risks. If we have information and people we trust, then we will be prepared to avoid many of these risks. We want to be ready to handle the risks of life that come our way. We should be able to decide for ourselves if something is worth the risks. We hope this guidebook will help you to provide information and build trust, so that if we do need support as we self-determine our gender and sexuality, you can be someone who we can turn to.
Our human rights matter. The human rights of LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be recognized and protected. We hope this guidebook will help you to promote the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities so they can be their true selves with dignity and respect.
- What does respect mean to you?
- What are some of the decisions that you make in your everyday life?
- Why is privacy important to you?
- What are some risks that you have taken in your life? Did any of those risks have rewards for you?