By: The Arc’s Talk About Sexual Violence Project and The Rainbow Program

How bias and discrimination impact survivors with developmental disabilities within the LGBTQIA+ community

Survivors of sexual violence with developmental disabilities (DD) within the LGBTQIA+ community often experience bias and discrimination which impacts their access to services:

  • There is a lack of sexuality education among this population which can increase their risk of being sexually violated
  • Society tends to minimize or ignore the sexuality of people with DD or not realize that they are sexual beings with sexual feelings, desires and needs.
  • Survivors often feel misunderstood and judged, so they don’t feel safe reaching out for help
  • They often try to hide who they really are
  • They face painful rejection by family and friends
  • They can also face discrimination at work
  • They are not allowed to make choices or supported by others to make their own choices
  • They can feel isolated because of a lack of support to help them meet and date others or establish long-term, fulfilling relationships
A woman in a bright pink sleeveless blouse stands smiling with her arms on her hips. She has blonde hair and behind her is the siding of a house.

Pauline Bosma

While there is little data on the percentage of disabled LGBTQ+ people who are victimized by crime, the statistics on the victimization of disabled people and LGBTQ+ people individually display the need for further investigation and support.

People might assume that everyone is heterosexual and so they assume that consensual same-sex relationships are abuse. They might feel like they have no one to trust if they want to report abuse. Sometimes when LGBTQ+ people with IDD report same-sex abuse, people think it was consensual, even if it was not.” – Pauline Bosma, Rainbow Program Coordinator

(Rainbow groups are groups for self-advocates who are members of both the disability community as well as the LGBTQ+ community.)

How can we address this bias and discrimination?

In order to address the bias, we have to educate society about two key things: how we can effectively include the LGBTQIA+ community in sexual education and violence prevention and  how to provide much-needed accommodations that allow survivors to feel and actually be included in their own sexual education, justice, or healing process.

Having an attitude and core value of inclusion means:

  • You actively listen to survivors with curiosity and compassion
  • You believe them
  • Your personal values don’t impact the quality of care you provide
  • You see them as a trauma survivor first, not their disability

Providing accommodations for survivors can look like this:

  • You speak to them directly, not to their care provider or family member
  • You ask them if they want peer support
  • You use active listening skills when talking to them
  • You show real concern for them and are patient with them
  • You comfort them in ways they can understand
  • You use everyday words and ask them if they understand what you are saying
  • You help them understand any paperwork they need to read or sign

How can society make real change for a new direction in the future?

Survivors with DD within the LGBTQIA+ community must be given the opportunity to lead the way to speak out when they are ready, provided training and education on this topic, be seen and trusted as experts on their own experiences, sought out by the community and policymakers for their valuable contributions, and not be seen or treated as a token in any way.

Survivors with DD within the LGBTQIA+ community shared their tips on how to make change:

  • We can learn how to speak up for ourselves and others!
  • We want to be active in our health care and recovery
  • We can train professionals about how they can speak to us, so we understand them and how to make our own choices
  • We can join coalitions related to this topic in our communities and states
  • We can be on the frontlines to help start a national conversation about sexual violence prevention
  • We can make sure to talk about self-care in advocacy groups so people feel supported
  • We can dream up ways to ensure long term support for survivors

“We believe Adult Protective Services, health care, and law enforcement can collaborate to strengthen their understanding about how people with disabilities and people in the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced discrimination when reporting abuse. We can all work together with survivors taking a leadership role in training. Nothing About Us Without Us!” – Patty Quatieri and Kecia Weller, Survivor Self-Advocates

Learn more about The Arc’s Talk About Sexual Violence project and more about the Rainbow Group.



Building Partnership Initiative, Peer Support Network

Patty Quatieri and Kecia Weller, Co-Chairs

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