Our Lives, Our Choices, Our Rights!

Accepting and supporting LGBTQ+ adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities

There’s some people they come out to their sexuality, they may not be taken seriously because like, “Oh, yeah, you’re just being manipulated.” I say, “Wrong!” That could be really who they are. If you see somebody coming out, you need to take that seriously. You can help and support in ways that are age appropriate for them to be able to express their sexuality.
avatar of Benjamin
I wish I had someone like an elder pointing out, like, the do’s and don’ts of dating, and that you can pull away consent at any time.
avatar of Gabe
I do need help with finding a girlfriend. It’s hard to find a girlfriend. It’s hard to find a place to meet other gay people. I saw some partners at church.
avatar of Rachel
We want just to live, and be who we are, and not be pigeonholed by people who don’t understand us. I want everyone, everywhere, to be peaceful and I want everyone to understand that people with disabilities, we are people. We are humans. We love one another. We want to date people. We want to be sexual. We want everything that everyone else wants. That’s all we want.
avatar of Melissa

Show acceptance

The participants described times when they felt accepted and talked about what acceptance looks like. Here are some things supporters can do to show acceptance for LGBTQ+ people:

  • Send positive messages

    You can show people that you accept the LGBTQ+ community by sending positive messages about LGBTQ+ people. When you see LGBTQ+ people in the community or on TV, you should make positive comments and show that you are accepting of gender and sexual diversity. Even if you do not know anyone LGBTQ+ is listening, you should still speak positively so that people know you are an accepting and supportive person. You could also have a rainbow flag on your desk or pin on your bag to show that you are accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Then, if someone is thinking about coming out as LGBTQ+, hopefully they will see that you are an accepting person to talk to.

  • Educate yourself

    Reading this guidebook is a great start to understanding and supporting LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are websites, articles, books, and videos about LGBTQ+ people and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Check out our resources page to continue your learning.

  • Believe us

    When we come out or talk to you about our gender and sexuality, it is important to believe that what we say is true. You should not dismiss what we say or try to convince us that it is not true. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be LGBTQ+ just like anyone else can and you should believe what we say.

  • Listen to us

    It is important to listen to us to understand who we are and what our goals are in life. Someone does not have to meet a definition in the dictionary. People have diverse ways of describing who they are. People express their gender and sexuality in many different ways. You should listen to what we say about who we are. You can ask us questions to learn more about who we are. We should be able to talk to you if we feel comfortable.

  • Tell us that you accept us!

    You can show you accept someone by telling them! If someone says they are LGBTQ+, you can tell them that you are happy for them and that you accept them. You should not judge them or say negative things about who they are. You can tell them that you support them and love them for who they are.

  • Use our names and pronouns

    It is important to call someone by the correct name and pronouns to show that you accept them. Someone might use different names and pronouns depending on where they are and who they are with. For example, if someone asks to go by a different name at their group home, they might not want to use that name in public or with their parents. You can ask them when it is okay to use their new name.

Follow our lead

Everyone is different. We all have many different identities and experiences, and want to express our gender and sexuality in different ways.

  • Ask us how you can support us

    You should not assume that a person needs support or that they want a certain type of support. Our participants agreed that the best way to support someone is to listen to what they say and follow their cues. You can ask someone if there is anything you can do to support them, and follow their lead.

  • Let us decide what information to share

    It is our choice if we want to talk to people about our gender, sexuality, or being LGBTQ+. You should not tell other people our personal information without our permission.

  • Let us decide how to express ourselves

    It is our choice how we express ourselves. Here are some examples of what we get to decide about our gender and sexuality:

    • Our name and pronouns
    • The clothes and shoes we wear
    • Our hairstyle and makeup
    • Taking gender-affirming hormones
    • Having gender-affirming surgery
    • Having privacy by ourselves or with other people
    • Looking at porn if we want to
    • Getting sex toys if we want to
    • If, when, and who to have sex with
    • If, when, and who to date
    • Whether to have children
    • Whether to get married

Provide assistance

It is wonderful when people tell us that they accept us, but that is not enough. We want to speak our truth and we also want to be able to live our truth. That means we might need assistance with expressing ourselves. Supporters should follow through on assisting us when we need it.

  • Assist us with the steps to express ourselves

    There are some things that LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities might need assistance with to express their gender and sexuality. Here are some things that our participants said they might want or need help with:

    • Telling them that it is okay to be LGBTQ+ and nothing is wrong with them
    • Deciding if they want to come out, who to come out to, or how to come out
    • Looking up information online about the LGBTQ+ community
    • Transportation
    • Going to LGBTQ+ support groups or Pride events
    • Making an online dating profile
    • Making social plans or setting up dates
    • Answering questions about dating, relationships, and sex
    • Practicing safe sex
    • Shopping for new clothes
    • Taking the steps to legally change their name
    • Finding a doctor who knows about LGBTQ+ health
    • Getting STI testing and treatment
    • Finding a gender therapist or hormone doctor
    • Making medical appointments related to gender transition, such as hormones or surgery
    • Managing medications for gender transition or STI prevention
    • Finding an accepting mental health provider
  • Teach LGBTQ+ inclusive sexuality education

    People with intellectual and developmental disabilities should have access to sexuality education. We should be able to learn about gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ+ relationships. This topic is so important that we wrote a whole chapter about it!

Facilitate community connections

LGBTQ+ people have been around for a long time and we have been figuring things out and learning from our experiences. We have supported one another in times when no one else would. We can show each other that we are not alone and it is okay to be LGBTQ+. We can be there for each other and share our wisdom. Here are some ways you could support someone to connect with their communities:

  • Support groups

    Support groups can be a great place to meet people who share our identities and to see that we are not alone. They can help us figure out who we are and what our goals are. We can make friends and get advice when we go to support groups. People might want to join LGBTQ+ support groups, support groups related to a specific identity (like support groups for trans women), or support groups for LGBTQ+ people with other identities (such as groups for Black LGBTQ+ people). There are also online and in-person Rainbow Groups specifically for LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

  • LGBTQ+ places and events

    There are coffee shops, restaurants, bars, streets, even entire cities where LGBTQ+ people gather. There are all types of events by and for LGBTQ+ people, such as Pride parades and festivals, dance parties, drag shows, singing groups, and sports teams. Sometimes these places and events are still not accessible to or understanding of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are part of the LGBTQ+ community and we should be supported to go to LGBTQ+ places and events if we want to.

  • Mentors

    Many of our participants wished they had an LGBTQ+ mentor, someone LGBTQ+ who could relate to their experience and could talk to them or give them advice. If someone is looking for support, they might want to connect with a mentor, such as an LGBTQ+ self-advocate, staff, or someone from the community who they could relate to. They might also be able to see role models through content on the internet, such as videos where people share their stories.

Advocate alongside us!

The participants had many great ideas about how we can all work together to help make the world a better place for LGBTQ+ people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is not easy changing the world, so we need our friends, families, staff, and service providers to advocate alongside us to promote acceptance and support for LGBTQ+ people. Here are some of our participants’ ideas about what we can do:

  • Change attitudes

    There are still negative beliefs about LGBTQ+ people, about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and about other groups of people. You can help spread visibility and positive messages that promote self-determination and human rights for LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, so that people can see us for who we are and treat us fairly. We hope that reading and sharing this guidebook will help to promote positive attitudes about our communities.

  • Our stories

    People will better understand us and support us when they learn about our experiences and perspectives. We wrote this guidebook because people need to learn from our stories and our voices. You can support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to tell their own stories and to teach professionals about their lives. LGBTQ+ self-advocates in your local community might be interested in leading training. Sharing your stories and teaching others is hard work, and self-advocates should be paid for their work. You can also hire the authors of this guidebook to lead training about supporting LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

  • Anti-racism

    Many LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are also Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Racism harms our community. We believe in racial justice to change beliefs, behaviors, and policies that harm Black, Indigenous, and people of color so that our world can be a safer and more equitable place.

  • Access to employment

    All people, including diverse groups of LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, want and need competitive integrated employment. Employment can help us to have choice and control over our own lives. We can all advocate against workplace discrimination, and promote the education, training, and hiring of people who are LGBTQ+ and have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

  • Ending discrimination

    No one should be discriminated against for their disability, their gender, their sexuality or any of their other identities. Discrimination for any reason harms LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities too.

  • Improving laws and policies for our quality of life

    The participants talked about many laws and policies that need to be improved to promote higher quality of life for LGBTQ+ people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This includes getting the supports and services we need, promoting alternatives to guardianship so we can make our own decisions, and improving access to housing and healthcare. We recommend following self-advocacy groups and organizations run by and for people with disabilities so that you can learn how to get involved in ongoing advocacy efforts. It is important that the voices of leaders and activists who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color are central in advocacy to improve our laws and policies.

Reflection Questions

  1. An Autistic person you support has recently grown out their hair and started painting their nails. You notice that they often look at women’s clothing shops on the computer, but have not purchased anything. They have not talked with you about gender identity or expression. What could you do to show that you are an accepting person, and support their gender self-determination?
  2. A woman with an intellectual disability comes to you and tells you that she is bisexual. She says that her case manager will only allow her to go out on dates with men. She has a girlfriend that she has been keeping a secret, and she wishes she could spend time with her girlfriend at her home, which is a group home. How would you respond when she talks to you about this?