Throughout LGBTQ Pride Month (June), the LGBTQ community will be reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. 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. The LGBTQ rights movement has made tremendous progress over the past five years, but there is a lot of work left to be done to ensure that LGBTQ people are truly equal.
Both people who identify as LGBTQ and people who have invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities like dyslexia, mental health or ADHD have to decide whether or not to “come out of the closet.” This is not an easy decision for most people because of the uncertainty of whether or not acceptance will follow. LGBTQ youth who come out sometimes are rejected by their families and friends. Some are even kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets. According to a University of Chicago report, LGBTQ young adults had a 120 percent higher risk of reporting homelessness compared to youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender.
Some celebrities and business leaders are using their voice to share their stories, educating people about both visible and invisible disabilities. They are defying the statistics and have remained highly successful with their disabilities. Notable examples include CNN anchor Anderson Cooper who is dyslexic, actor Josh Feldman who is deaf, comedian Stephen Fry who has bipolar disorder, artist Frida Kahlo who had polio and spinal and pelvis damage, Eddie Ndopu who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, YouTuber Tyler Oakley who has depression, writer Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha who is chronically ill, model Aaron Philip who is a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy and journalist Melissa Yingst who is deaf.
Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. These celebrities are making a difference in how audiences, both LGBTQ and straight, perceive disability and in setting high expectations for youth with disabilities. People with disabilities of all backgrounds can be amongst the highest achievers on earth. Having LGBTQ people with disabilities as positive role models for success is important for children and young adults who identify as members of both of these communities.
RespectAbility, a national nonprofit working to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities, will be celebrating Pride Month by highlighting the intersection of disability and LGBTQ daily on its social media channels. RespectAbility has benefited from the work of staff and Fellows who identify as a member of both the disability and LGBTQ communities. Read about the experiences of Spring 2018 Communications Fellow Eric Ascher, 2015-2016 Democracy and Outreach Fellow Justin Chappell and National Leadership Director Ben Spangenberg. Additional team members will be sharing more throughout the month.
Others like television pioneer Jonathan Murray and philanthropist Darren Walker who do not have a disability themselves but know what it is like to be stigmatized as people who are openly gay have used their influence to ensure more inclusion of people with disabilities as well. Their work has enabled many more people who identify as both LGBTQ and having a disability to succeed.
“It is vital to fight stigmas and advance opportunities so all people who have faced prejudice can achieve a better future,” said RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.
The consequences of stigma, bullying and rejection can literally be life and death. The Trevor Project reports that 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. Society needs to fight stigmas and promote acceptance so that LGBTQ people know that they are valued and that they matter.
The role models mentioned above are especially important to acknowledge during LGBTQ Pride Month. However, their work should be valued and appreciated year-round. RespectAbility will be sharing more statistics and articles about LGBTQ issues, along with more personal reflections and profiles of influential LGBTQ people with disabilities throughout the entire month and will continue to recognize their important contributions on a regular basis.