Alex Toft, PhD, is a Research Fellow in Children and Families Research at Coventry University. He is a sociologist and his research interests include sexuality and identity, spirituality, human rights and the well-being of children and families. He is the author of numerous wide-ranging publications with articles in Sexualities, Industrial Law Journal and Archives of Disease in Childhood, with chapters in Researching Non- heterosexual Sexualities (2012), and The Ashgate Research Companion to Contemporary Religion and Sexuality (2012). He has worked on projects funded by organisations such as NSPCC and the Fundamental Rights Agency (EU), and British Academy.
As young people navigate adolescence, they ask questions about their sexual attractions and how they understand gender. If they are fortunate, they have access to sex and relationship educators or mentors and support networks. But my research with young people who identify as LGBT+ and disabled shows that they are often treated as though their gender or sexuality is just a phase.
In my research looking at the experiences of young people aged between 16 and 25, we’ve seen how harmful this approach can be. Not recognising that young disabled people can be LGBT+ can reduce their ability to have fulfilling sexual lives. It also reduces the chance that they will receive appropriate help and support in relation to their sexuality or gender throughout their lives.
Seeing sexuality or gender as a phase is not new. But for the young people we work with, it comes as a result of misconceptions about their disability, sexuality and their age. As one young person put it, with regards to their disability:
I do sometimes think that my mum thinks my whole mental health issues and my autism…I think she hopes it’ll go away, she goes on about me getting a job which makes me feel even worse. It makes me feel panicky. It makes me feel like she wants a better child than I am, like I am not good enough because I don’t want work.
These ideas about disability often work alongside misconceptions about sexuality. One young person explained how being gay was “blamed” on their disability. They felt that people think you are LGBT+ “because you are ill or have autism”. Read more via the Conversation