NAVIGATION

LGBTQ+ Adults with Intellectual Disabilities Need Supportive Caregivers

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused


By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA

Adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) are often victims of discrimination simply because they have a disability. People with ID who identify as LGBTQ+ face further bullying and harassment simply because of whom they choose to love or how they express their identity.

(Our use of LGBTQ+ is meant to be inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, as well as those who identify as queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, etc.)

These individuals need support from their caregivers to ensure that they are able to meaningfully access the LGBTQ+ community and develop positive sexual identities. Without encouragement and support from family members, friends, and professionals who care for and about them, their ability to fully express their sexuality will be inhibited.

People with ID who identify as LGBTQ+ have the same right to express their sexuality as any other person. This fundamental right can be undermined when caregivers are unsure of how to discuss sexuality with the adult with ID. Creating environments where LGBTQ+ adults with ID feel safe to openly discuss their sexuality is challenging for most care providers. Talking about issues that are central to those in the LGBTQ+ community may make caregivers and family members feel uncomfortable because they do not have the knowledge to discuss these issues in an informed and empathetic manner.

Inclusive sexuality training for adults with ID and their care providers would be a step in the right direction. This training could address issues that all LGBTQ+ individuals face, such as:

  • understanding what it means to be LGBTQ+;

  • obtaining information on how to come out to family and friends;

  • learning about and observing safe sex practices; and

  • identifying appropriate community resources (i.e. therapists and support groups).

It is incumbent upon service providers and other caregivers to help LGBTQ+ adults with ID understand their rights as they attempt to build meaningful lives in a society that often seems homophobic and transphobic.

If you are a care provider for an LGBTQ+ adult with ID, you may need to seek support for yourself as you deal with the inevitable challenges of caring for someone in this population. Share your concerns with someone who can help you understand how to discuss these issues appropriately. If the individual in your care receives services from an outside agency, that organization’s team of professionals should be able to provide guidance and support and help you access helpful resources such as the ones listed below.

Healthy Relationships, Sexuality and Disability Resources Guide (prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services.)

Rainbow Support Groups, regional support groups for LGBTQ+ adults with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts. The Rainbow Support Group of Western Massachusetts meets the fourth Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Consortium, 187 High Street, Suite 303, Holyoke, Mass.

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People with Developmental Disabilities and Mental Retardation: Stories of the Rainbow Support Group, by John D. Allen.


Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Director of Clinical Services for the May Center for Adult Services in Western Massachusetts. She can be contacted in West Springfield, Mass., at mwalsh@mayinstitute.org.


May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit www.mayinstitute.org.