Education and Skills

Disabled LGBT+ young people face a battle just to be taken seriously

LGBT community members and activists demostrate in front of the Supreme Court of Justice, to demand for same-sex marriage, in San Jose, Costa Rica August 4,2018. Picture taken August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Research with young people who identify as LGBT+ and disabled shows that they are often treated as though their gender or sexuality is just a phase. Image: REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

Alex Toft
Research Fellow in Children and Families Research, Coventry University
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Education and Skills?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Education is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Education

As young people navigate adolescence, they ask questions about their sexual attractions and how they understand gender. If they are fortunate, they have access to sex and relationship educators or mentors and support networks. But my research with young people who identify as LGBT+ and disabled shows that they are often treated as though their gender or sexuality is just a phase.

In my research looking at the experiences of young people aged between 16 and 25, we’ve seen how harmful this approach can be. Not recognising that young disabled people can be LGBT+ can reduce their ability to have fulfilling sexual lives. It also reduces the chance that they will receive appropriate help and support in relation to their sexuality or gender throughout their lives.

Seeing sexuality or gender as a phase is not new. But for the young people we work with, it comes as a result of misconceptions about their disability, sexuality and their age. As one young person put it, with regards to their disability:

I do sometimes think that my mum thinks my whole mental health issues and my autism…I think she hopes it’ll go away, she goes on about me getting a job which makes me feel even worse. It makes me feel panicky. It makes me feel like she wants a better child than I am, like I am not good enough because I don’t want work.

These ideas about disability often work alongside misconceptions about sexuality. One young person explained how being gay was “blamed” on their disability. They felt that people think you are LGBT+ “because you are ill or have autism”.

In addition to confusion about disability and sexuality, young people reported challenges due to their age. One interviewee was told to hold off on identifying in one way until they’re older and more mature; “so that you know for sure, so it gives you time”.

These reactions suggest that there is resistance to young disabled people identifying as LGBT+. There seems to be a perception that young disabled people cannot understand LGBT+ sexuality. But the stories the young people told me show a long process of working to understand sexuality and gender. Such decisions were not trivial or a result of trends.

It’s not a phase

Labelling sexuality as a phase suggests that it is something through which one will pass, emerging on other side as heterosexual. This frames anything other than heterosexuality as being flawed and suggests that there is something undesirable about being LGBT+. One young person said that they thought being “LGBT in the heterosexual world is a bad thing”. As a society, we appear to be more accepting of LGBT+ identities. Yet not for young disabled LGBT+ people who are seen as non-sexual and unable to understand what LGBT+ means.

We need to think about sexuality and gender as part of life and not a passing moment. This is important because young disabled LGBT+ people need appropriate support. Labelling their sexuality as a phase denies them access to information and support as their sexuality is not seen as being valid. They may suffer physical and mental violence and discrimination because of who they are, and are left to fight on their own because no one recognises them for who they are.

In order to work against societal attitudes and misconceptions, we need to listen to the experiences of young disabled LGBT+ people and understand that they are experts in their own lives. Dismissing sexuality as a phase says a lot about societal attitudes towards what it means to be young, disabled and LGBT+. Yet most importantly, such reactions have a direct impact upon the intimate lives of young disabled people as they work against such challenges to make sense of who they are.

Loading...
Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Education and SkillsCivil SocietyWellbeing and Mental Health
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How to harness generative AI and other emerging technologies to close the opportunity gap

Jeff Maggioncalda

June 21, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum