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Some children and adults with cerebral palsy are also part of the LGBTQ community. Stigma still exists for disabilities and LGBTQ individuals, which means they are vulnerable to bullying and discrimination. Thankfully, today’s society is more accepting of sexual orientation and identity than ever before and there are many resources available to support individuals.
Bullies Target LGBT Kids With Cerebral Palsy
According to the Anti-Bully Alliance, more than 65% of disabled LGBTQ children and teens have gone through intense homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic bullying, more so than non-disabled LGBTQ peers. According to the National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, Lauren Seager-Smith,
We are very concerned by reports of dual discrimination, bullying and marginalisation experienced by disabled young people that identify as LGBT+. There are clear steps we can take to change the situation – we must listen to disabled young people in our schools and act on their recommendations, fight for statutory sex and relationships education that is inclusive of all young people, and make sure our anti-bullying initiatives do not exclude those children most at risk.”
However, fighting for the rights of LGBTQ disabled young people isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. Executive Director of the National Children’s Bureau, Jonathan Charlesworth, said that more in-depth research is needed surrounding people who are gay and disabled.
He indicated that the research should focus on a whole approach to school bullying, as well as prejudice-based bullying.
Despite all of society’s advances in acceptance of sexual orientation and identity differences, one of the biggest hurdles faced by LGBTQ children and teens today is the lack of resources at schools for handling homophobia and the resulting bullying.
The Atlantic reports that numerous LGBT kids said there had been several times when they told their teachers about bullying issues, but they did nothing to help. The lack of action resulted in many students developing deep depression and, in some cases, self-harm.
Cerebral Palsy and LGBT Advocacy
Despite being bullied and taunted, some LGBT teens with cerebral palsy grew up to face the challenges head-on. They fought for themselves and others where teachers and schools failed.
For instance, 25-year-old Thomas Banks, from Australia, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a toddler but knew he was gay by the time he was 12. Throughout childhood, he was called names and teased mercilessly. Even today, he hears numerous myths that unaware people think about disabled people.
“Some of the misconceptions about people with disabilities are that some people think [cerebral palsy] is an intellectual disability, but it’s not, said Banks. “ Some other people think I’m stupid, but I’m not. And people think people with disabilities are asexual.”
Instead of dwelling on the issue, Banks became a writer and advocate for being gay with a disability. He even created his own theatrical play, Someone like Thomas Banks, which explores how he uses the Internet to date and find love.
He also raises community awareness through workshops, where he talks about communication difficulties that many people with cerebral palsy go through.
“A lot of my messages in my workshops are about taking the time to listen, understand and interact with people who have disabilities because it’s not that hard if you have time.”
Another advocate turned his life into a book, which became the premise for an upcoming sitcom. Ryan O’Connell, 29, seemed the least likely to create a book about his life, given no one outside of his close circle of friends knew he had cerebral palsy.
No one knew he was gay either, but he was tired of hiding his authentic self, and with the creation of I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, he found a way to open up about being gay and living with cerebral palsy.
After Warner Bros. acquired the rights to his book and told him his life would be based on a new show, O’Connell was understandably excited. He hopes the show will bring awareness and help other gay, disabled people have a relatable outlet.
Any gay person — spoiler, all gay people — that have felt ‘other’ and not like they fit into the mold, this is the show for them. For me, putting a gay disabled character on TV is the number 1 most important thing. We could help so many people by doing this.”
How You Can Help
Stopbullying.gov, a non-profit site that provides valuable information from various government agencies, writes that young LGBTQ people with disabilities are at a heightened risk of being bullied and ridiculed.
However, there are several things the community can do to help these children:
- Keep communication open and try to understand the issues they’re dealing with. Being disabled is difficult in itself, but kids going through harassment because of their sexual orientation is, as mentioned earlier, a double-edged sword. Parents, friends, and loved ones should show compassion.
- Contact the school board if your child is being bullied and the school is not helping. If you’re still not getting results, consider filling out a harassment report with the Department of Education.
- Learn your state laws that take action when harassment of disabled LGBTQ children occurs.
- Always protect your child’s privacy or your child’s friends’ privacy.
- Help create alliances and clubs within the community for disabled LGBTQ children, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club.
- Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) official page on LGBTQ health.
- Monitor social media accounts, and be certain to report any abusive online behavior.
Additional Information to Consider
LGBT children with cerebral palsy or other disorders are at a heightened risk of depression and suicide. If you ever feel your child or anyone else feels suicidal, contact the following organizations for help:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-TALK (8256) (24-hours)
- The Gay Lesbian Bi-Sexual & Transgender National Hotline: (888) THE-GLNA
- The Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386 (24-hours)
- Disabled young people that identify as LGBT+ bullied and silenced in our schools. (n.d.). Anti-Bullying Alliance | United against bullying.
Retrieved from: https://anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/aba-our-work/news-opinion/disabled-young-people-identify-lgbt-bullied-and-silenced-our-schools
- Higgins, M. (2016, October 18). LGBT students are still not safe at school. The Atlantic
Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/school-is-still-not-safe-for-lgbt-students/504368/
- Richardson, O. (2015, November 1). Theatre review: Someone like Thomas banks confronts preconceptions about love and disability. The Sydney Morning Herald.
Retrieved from: https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/theatre/theatre-review-someone-like-thomas-banks-20151101-gknxeb.html
- I'm special: And other lies we tell ourselves (Book, 2015) [WorldCat.org]. (n.d.). WorldCat.org: The World's Largest Library Catalog.
Retrieved from: https://www.worldcat.org/title/im-special-and-other-lies-we-tell-ourselves/oclc/894746829
- Bullying of LGBT Youth and Those Perceived to Have Different Sexual Orientations. (n.d.). StopBullying.gov.
Retrieved from: https://www.stopbullying.gov/sites/default/files/2017-09/lgbtyouthtipsheet.pdf