Finding Resources for Disabled LGBTQ+ People in Michigan Is Difficult. It Shouldn’t Have to Be.

By |2021-06-08T12:40:50-04:00June 8th, 2021|Opinion|

In 2018 I wrote an article about accessibility in LGBTQ+ spaces. This year, I want to analyze what local options are available to disabled queer people looking for support in Southeast Michigan.
Rather, I wanted to. What I found instead was disappointing.
After searching many resource lists for both disabled people and LGBTQ+ people, it was immediately clear that the individuals compiling LGBTQ+ lists did not consider indicating disability-friendly resources, and similar for safe spaces for disabled people indicating queer acceptance.
Some examples include Affirmations, a well-known community center in Ferndale that supports a number of LGBTQ+ needs; University of Michigan; the Michigan government website; and the official Henry Ford Health System website. Both Michigan’s government site and Henry Ford have LGBTQ+ resource pages with no mention of disability inclusion.
Affirmations surprised me most — its Health & Wellness section on its website does not use the word “disabled” a single time, and only cites two references that cite support for physically disabled people. The list prioritizes mental health resources, but LGBTQ+ people struggle with more than mental health concerns.
LGBTmap has a report on disability within the LGBTQ+ population. Based on data from the 2016 California Health Interview Survey, two in five transgender adults and one in four LGB adults report being disabled. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which surveyed more than 26,000 transgender people, 39 percent of trans people reported having at least one disability.
Although downplaying the effect physical disability has on the LGBTQ+ population is harmful, it also is prudent to mention that 17.4 million disabled people, or 32.9 percent of the disabled population, also experience mental illness. LGBTQ+ people in Michigan, based on data from 2015-2016 by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, were 44.2 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, versus 20.8 percent of non-LGBTQ+ adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disabled adults report experiencing mental illness five times the rate of abled adults. If we are to take mental health seriously, it is mandatory that research and resource compilations not exclude physically disabled people and their intersections.
One microaggression that repeatedly stabbed me in the eyes while I was doing this research is the compulsory use of person-first language. Most disabled people prefer identity-first language, in which we call ourselves “disabled,” not a “person with a disability.” Despite this, the vast majority of academia, spearheaded by abled researchers and policy-writers, insist on using person-first language. While that isn’t directly in the control of LGBTQ+ organizations compiling resources, it is valuable to note that appropriate terminology is very important to LGBTQ+ people. Being misgendered or referred to by an outdated term, especially one considered a slur, is a damaging experience, which is why LGBTQ+ organizations should keep abreast of modern terminology. While understanding that this is critical, why are LGBTQ+ organizations ignoring the terminology needs within the disabled community? It is dismissive, and again, mostly overlooked by abled LGBTQ+ authority figures.
Despite all the room for improvement, there are still people doing their best to support disabled LGBTQ+ people.
The LGBT Aging Center has a solid number of resources for seniors in Michigan, and Detroit Disability Power has LGBTQ+ friendly events and resources. Michigan State University has a Sexual and Gender Minority Clinic in East Lansing. There is a SAGE resource guide that provides information about the Disability Network of Oakland and Macomb — even that one resource is better than nothing, though it would be great for that to grow even further.
One of the more exciting resources I found was information about the Ruth Ellis Center and Full Circle Communities collaborating to build 43 units of supportive housing for LGBTQ+ youth, who experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate. The development hopes to be open sometime in mid-2021, though it has not been announced if this date has been affected by COVID-19.
These are great steps, but we need much more. The LGBTQ+ community is not truly inclusive unless the organizations providing resources consider intersections of race, disability, class and gender. As many people have said before, awareness is the first step. Decentering the narrative that forces respectability standards on LGBTQ+ people, portraying us as deviants with a few role models that are — more often than not — white upper-middle-class married couples, will go a long way to opening a non-stigmatizing narrative for LGBTQ+ people of color, disabled LGBTQ+ people and LGBTQ+ people who are considered to have “high-risk” lifestyles, such as sex workers.
Yes, we are more than our disabilities and more than the ways we struggle or experience oppression. The LGBTQ+ experience, when allowed to thrive, is one of love and joy. Still, we won’t ever reach the “love and joy” part while excluding vulnerable members of our community.
Going into Pride 2021, I truly hope groups and events will take more care to provide accessible options for disabled members of the community.

About the Author:

Jem Zero
Jem Zero is a disabled queer content creator. Ze is currently pursuing an accounting certificate to compliment zir career as a writer, photographer, and artist. Most days, ze can be found making fruitless attempts to preserve zir spinal integrity while bent over zir computer, pumping out everything from essays on equal media representation to science fiction & fantasy romance with hard-hitting political themes. Connect with zir at www.jemzero.com, at www.facebook.com/jemzero.art, or [email protected]