Every year on October 11, we recognize National Coming Out Day, which celebrates coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+). “Coming out” refers to the disclosure of sexuality or gender identity to friends, family, or colleagues. It is a courageous and life-changing act that allows people to live authentically as themselves. People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) come from all different backgrounds and are also diverse in their sexuality and gender identity.
Emerging research shows that many people with IDD don’t accept the rigid binaries of gender or sexuality and identify themselves as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Despite this, the topics of gender and sexuality remain taboo and are not often discussed by family members and Direct Support Professionals.
Supporting Safe Spaces seeks to fill this gap and gives organizations in western New York tools and resources to support people at the intersection of IDD and LGBTQ+. It is a train the trainer program that is grant funded by the New York Health Foundation and led by The Arc of Monroe. More information on how to bring this to your organization can be found at www.ArcMonroe.org/SupportingSafeSpaces.
One topic that is explored in depth in the Supporting Safe Spaces program is the concept of how to support someone who is in the process of coming out. When we support someone or have someone in our lives come out to us, we should recognize the importance of that moment to them and the courage that it takes. It is important that we respect the person’s dignity and confidentiality. The fact that this person is sharing this information with us means that we play an important role in their life, so we should take that seriously by creating a safe space, actively listening, and meeting the person where they are at.
People can be in different phases of coming out and may decide that it is best to be out only in certain environments but not others. This is why it is so important that we respect a person’s confidentiality, and empower them to identify what type of support or resources they need if they choose to tell others. When we tell others about an individual’s sexuality or gender identity without their consent, this is considered “outing” and can be a traumatic experience, essentially forcing a person to share something that they are not yet ready to identify. Everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is in a different phase of coming out and how much of their sexuality or gender identity that they reveal to others in their life is entirely up to them. In our field of supporting people with IDD, confidential information is often exchanged among members of a support team so that everyone can be aware of a person’s unique needs. It is important that we treat this disclosure with a more significant level of confidentiality, and let the person be in charge of who is aware.
Ways to support someone coming out include:
- Listen to what it might mean for them. Just because someone identifies a certain way, doesn’t mean they fit the perfect definition of it.
- Start to use the name and pronouns they ask you to use.
- Connect them with peer support in support groups or local LGBTQ+ organizations.
- Do not ask a million questions; let the person share what they want when they are ready.
- Be an active ally by showing your support with rainbow gear, attending pride events, and supporting LGBTQ+ businesses.
- Role-play coming out to others, or situations where someone may be asked about their sexuality or gender identity.
- Find movies, books, and streaming shows with LGBTQ+ characters.
Providing a safe space where people with IDD can discuss or find out more about their sexual or gender identity is an important person-centered practice. It affirms our belief that each individual is the expert of their own lives. On National Coming Out Day, let’s all take an opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community, and identify one action we can take to be an ally for someone we support.
For more information on how to bring this to your organization, visit www.ArcMonroe.org/SupportingSafeSpaces.
At The Arc of Monroe, Brian Potvin is Coordinator of Person-Centered Approaches and a true Advocacy Champion. Growing out of his broad experiences with the LGBTQ+/IDD population, Brian developed the “Supporting Safe Spaces” curriculum in 2019 and in the past two years, has utilized these materials to conduct training for Arc constituents. To connect with Brian to learn more about bringing Supporting Safe Spaces to your organization, contact him at: email@example.com, (585) 643-0097, www.ArcMonroe.org/SafeSpaces.