Early in the eighth grade, one of my friends posted a video on Facebook using the webcam on his computer and lots of visual effects as a fun waste of time. I decided to steal his idea, making a silly little video that I intended for just my friends to see. This one decision to make and upload a video changed everything.
I did not have the right privacy settings turned on, so anyone could view my profile if they wanted to. Naturally, two of the school bullies found the video, downloaded it and re-uploaded it to YouTube with the comments section turned on. One person wrote “Eric is a r***rd that goes to my school.” As someone who is on the autism spectrum, that really hurt. Other people would walk up to me in the hallway, quoting lines from the video and would just laugh at me. It was horrible, and while I do not think about the situation anymore, I could not stop thinking about it for a long time. This was just one incident in a long personal history of being marginalized and bullied.
About a year later, I started to realize that I was gay. Winston Churchill High School had a Gay-Straight Alliance, and I would have loved to participate in it. But I stayed away because everyone in the club was automatically assumed to be gay. I was afraid to be seen as gay because I already was being bullied for the video and for my general social awkwardness, and I knew being “the gay kid” could only worsen my situation. This is a horrible thing to admit, because no child deserves to feel intimidated because of his disability or her sexuality. No child deserves to feel intimidated for any reason at all. But I felt intimidated.
Things have dramatically improved in my life since high school. I am lucky that I have a family that loves me, that I have friends who support me and that I live in a progressive area like Montgomery County, Maryland. Many people are less lucky. If LGBTQ youth with disabilities are not treated with the respect they deserve, the consequences are literally life and death.
According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. Forty percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, 92 percent of them before the age of 25. LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. And each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. These statistics are unacceptable in 2018, and society needs to work harder to ensure that everyone knows that they are valued and that they matter.
I am openly gay, openly on the autism spectrum, and proud of who I am. Among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women also identify as having a disability. The disability community intersects with every other minority group, and the LGBTQ community is no exception.
I want other people to have the same opportunities that I have. But for that to happen, stigmas against LGBTQ people and people with disabilities need to disappear. The reason I decided to be a National Leadership Fellow at RespectAbility is that I want to help create a world where no kid has to go through what I went through. I want every LGBTQ person and every person with a disability to feel comfortable coming out and being proud of who they are.
Appearance on AMI Radio: The Pulse
We continue our Pride celebrations with Lauren Appelbaum and Eric Ascher from RespectAbility. Lauren is the organization’s communications director and Eric is a communications fellow with the organization’s National Leadership Program. They discuss the intersection of disability and sexuality. They also explore issues of identity, sex education and poverty within the LGBTQ+ disability community. This is the July 4, 2018.