LGBTI with disabilities: the reality

Although the constitution offers people of all sexual orientations the same rights, discrimination remains prevalent – especially among the LGBTI community with disabilities

The South African Constitution was the first in the world to prohibit unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, which guarantees equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. This includes being allowed to get married and adopt children. Most western countries are very accepting of open expression of sexual orientation.

So is all well in the rainbow nation? Not yet. Discrimination persists, especially against people with disabilities. Many LGBTI people with disabilities struggle to “find their place”, to break out of social isolation and find intimate partners.

In the LGBTI community, we are bombarded with images of young, beautiful, able-bodied people. So when someone finds you attractive, it can easily happen that you regard them with suspicion. Sometimes you feel betrayed by your own community. The pain of rejection by the LGBTI community is greater than the rejection by the straight community, as many LGBTI people have faced some form of discrimination themselves.

Most gay bars – by accident and not by design – are inaccessible. Nonetheless, people with disabilities will find a way around those physical barriers to also enjoy the fun. If you have a severe disability and rely on a caregiver, you might have to deal with the negative reaction from them regarding your sexuality if they are ill-informed.

Some teenagers with disabilities feel guilty about having a disability and about their sexual orientation. They don’t want to come out to their families, because they feel it would be too much for them to bear on top of the disability.

There is a need for more dialogue around the issues facing LGBTI people with disabilities if we are all to experience a non-discriminatory inclusive society.

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