Squaring the Disability
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Published in: May-June 2018 issue.


PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES face many problems, some intrinsic to the disability, some the result of living in a world designed for those without disabilities, and some the result of prejudice. LGBT people have special reason to sympathize with the disabled, since there are inherent similarities between the difficulties faced by both minorities. Indeed, there is a significant overlap between the LGBT and disabled worlds, as disabilities are more common among LGBT people than among the general population. The converse is also true: disabled people are more likely to identify as a sexual minority than are abled people.

            Statistics tell a tale. American Journal of Public Health (Jan. 2012) reports that “approximately 25 percent of heterosexual women” experience a disability, and the figure for both lesbians and bisexual women is 36 percent. It also reports that 22 percent of heterosexual men have a disability, versus 26 percent of gay men. Although the disparity is small between straight and gay men, it is unexpectedly large between these two groups and bisexual males, forty percent of whom have a disability.

            What’s more, behaviors and difficulties associated with disability are higher among LGBT people. Notes the study: “The age-adjusted likelihoods of current smoking, frequent mental distress, and arthritis for both lesbians and women who are bisexual are notably higher than for heterosexual women.” Among males (adjusting for age), gay and bisexual men are more likely than straight men to be current smokers. They are also more apt to suffer from mental distress and poor physical health. Of course, one of the largest issues for gay and bisexual men is HIV-related disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 600,000 gay and bisexual American men have HIV. Although many of these men are asymptomatic, there are some who are disabled because of HIV-related ailments.

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Denise Noe is a writer whose work has been published in The Humanist, The Literary Hatchet,and other periodicals.