Feature Issue on Sexuality and Gender Identity for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
Proud and Supported
An uprising ignited the gay pride movement on June 28, 1969, when police were met with resistance as they entered the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. Frequently, over the course of many years, New York City police would raid this bar and others in the city that were frequented by gay, lesbian, transgender, and other patrons. On this particular night, the patrons were at their limit of being targeted, abused, and arrested for their sexual identity. This night spurred a cascade of demonstrations, protests, and nationwide awareness of the discrimination against gay men, lesbians, transgender people, sex workers, and other marginalized people with particular gender and sexual identities that were deemed deviant. Exactly one year later, on June 28, 1970, the world’s first Pride parades stepped off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. These parades and marches spread quickly throughout the country and the world.
Similarly, people with physical, mental, intellectual, and other disabilities protested discrimination in various forms. Sit-ins, news exposés, and marches happened throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. With the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, awareness and understanding of disability culture and the disability community rose even higher, and the disability pride movement grew.
Both marginalized communities (the LGBTQ+ community and the disability community) became a major focus in the national spotlight in the succeeding years. Developments in addressing the legal, civil, and human rights of both groups began to take hold. Research, greater acceptance, and advocacy created an environment where the idea of being proud of who one is, regardless of disability or gender and sexual identity, became a popular movement. Celebrating one’s identity based on these attributes and characteristics became a driving aspiration for those in the pride movements. Historically, people with disabilities and people who identify as LGBTQ+ were met with horrible discrimination. People who identified as LGBTQ+ had to closet themselves in order to stay safe and prevent all sorts of bad actions against them. People with disabilities were victims of not only public discriminatory actions, but also were systemically sentenced to institutions, segregation, and other abuses. Pride has been an antidote and response to years of prejudice and marginalization. Proud and Supported is founded on this history.
An LGBTQ+ Pride march commemorates the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Photo by Marie Ueda, courtesy of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society
Over several years, the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC) created training with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who identify as LGBTQ+, their families, and staff. The DDPC conducted focus groups that identified a great need for future work in supporting those with disabilities from the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the suggestions included providing resources and training to increase the reach and skills of current self-identified disability LGBTQ+ groups, strengthening the network between groups with a LGBTQ+ disability focus, and building stronger connections with LGBTQ+ groups that do not have a disability focus. Participants additionally noted a need for more training and education about sexuality for individuals with disabilities, their families, and staff. They cited multiple barriers to connecting with other LGBTQ+ individuals, a lack of appropriate and safe venues to discuss being (and supporting others who are) LGBTQ+ with a disability, and increased feelings of social isolation due to stigma and a lack of social opportunities.
Beginning in 2022, the DDPC brought together The National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP), The Burton Blatt Institute, and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network for a three-year grant called Proud and Supported. The project aims to increase opportunities to connect with the LGBTQ+ community, and strengthen advocacy by and with people with disabilities who identify as LGBTQ+. Specifically, it will:
- Help build the capacity of and connection between current and future disability LGBTQ+ advocacy and support groups.
- Educate and train support staff, individuals with disabilities, and families about sexuality and gender identity, and being LGBTQ+ with a disability.
- Support inclusive communities and social opportunities for those with disabilities who identify as LGBTQ+.
The project has gained momentum and popularity. We have reached more than 200 participants and will likely exceed 400 by the end of the project in 2024. Survey results have given us a qualitative measure of how well received the information and topic are among direct support professionals, people with disabilities and their families, and all allies who have participated. Many comments and feedback include gratitude for covering an area in training that has historically gone unaddressed.
Specific content areas we discuss in the training include the NADSP Code of Ethics to inform DSP practices, particularly person-centered supports, advocacy, justice, fairness, equity, and self-determination; self-identity labeling as a starting point, not an end point; the importance of using preferred pronouns; helping people identify themselves beyond pronouns; navigating one’s personal, familial, and general bias and assumptions; empowerment strategies for DSPs to use in their daily practice; finding and using LGBTQ+ friendly and affirming community resources and networks; how to interact with the medical, clinical, and therapeutic community; and, finally, self-protection and self-advocacy. People with lived experience of disability deliver this material through monthly, one-hour interactive webinar broadcasts.
Another major component of the project is our website, www.proudandsupported.org. This is a comprehensive clearinghouse of updated, high-quality resources and materials for people with disabilities who identify as LGBTQ+, as well as resources for people who support them.
The Proud and Supported project will continue following the ending of the grant. NADSP intends to create a robust curriculum that incorporates all of the practices, resources, and materials developed in the last three years. Our hope is that organizations, families, people with disabilities, and allies can benefit from what we have created. Everyone should have a place at the table of justice, fairness, and equity. The spirit and activities of Proud and Supported will promote this goal.