Mar 102018
 

The Internet is giant! It’s a library that will never get full (at least, I hope it won’t) and has decades of material. Most of us can barely get through news (fake or not) and opinions posted each day, let alone find the gems of the past. This week’s post is from Dave Hingsburger, published way back in 2006. (I think that makes it about 500 years old in Internet-time.) Dave started his blog that year, and has been writing, almost daily, since then.

I’ve written before about how much I admire Dave’s work.

He was one of the first to publicly (at great risk to his career) give voice to the fact that people with developmental or intellectual disabilities are sexual beings, that they have the right to have their loves and desires acknowledged and supported.

Here he is, doing that support.

Today I’m going shopping for a dildo and a butt plug – on work time, on a work mission. There are times I love working in the area of sexuality. This is one of them.

The weird thing is that when I’m actually in the store looking for the purchase, I get kind of shy. I want to yell out “I’M HERE IN A PROFESSIONAL CAPACITY AS A THERAPIST WORKING WITH THOSE WHO ONCE HAD THEIR SEXUALITY REPRESSED – THESE ARE NOT FOR ME!!!”

Read the rest of this terrific post.

Jun 272017
 

Graphic of a hand making a thumbs-up gesture.A week ago I snuck into the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals Webinar on supporting people with intellectual disability who are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, or something else under the label of LGBTQ+. It felt like sneaking because I don’t work with folks with intellectual or developmental disability, directly or otherwise, but, actually, I signed up like everyone else. I’d heard about the Webinar on Dave Hingsburger‘s blog and I wanted to hear what he and the other panelists had to say.

I didn’t want to take a spot from someone who needed to be there for their work, so I signed up five minutes before the talk was scheduled to start, figuring that would make everything fair! :-)

Why did I go if I’m not a direct support professional? Promoting healthy sexuality for everyone is what I do. These conversations we’re having online are just the tiniest, tiniest part of what’s happening with disabled people’s sexualities in the world. If I can be a voice, no matter how small, to bring some of that into the light, I will.

I’m not going to go through all the facts and statistics they covered in this talk. They’re all in this article (this is a PDF file) from the International Journal For Direct Support Professionals.

Don’t be put off by the word journal. This one’s easy to read – not full of scholarly words and long rambly sentences. Basically, it looks like this journal is written for busy people who need the facts as quickly as possible!

But, there were a few interesting tidbits from the Webinar I’d like to share.

***

It shouldn’t still need saying, but people with developmental disabilities are entitled to the same rights as all people; including (from the journal article linked above):

  • Sexuality and sexual expression
  • Dignity and respect
  • Privacy, confidentiality and freedom of association
  • Access sexual education reflective of their cultural, religious and moral values

That people with intellectual disabilities haven’t been respected in these ways has lead to tremendous harm. Dave told the story of a client who had grown up in an institution, but was living in the community when Dave met him. The client was deeply depressed, though most of his care team decided he was just unmotivated. Dave and other supportive staff eventually learned that this man had had a long-term relationship with another man with intellectual disability when he lived in the institution. This man was grieving the loss of his lover. Once understanding staff members new what was going on, the lovers were reunited.

That story had a happy ending, but it just as well could not have – and the ending might not have been any happier if the couple in question was heterosexual.

The denial that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities even have a sexuality runs so deep that just asserting their desire and right to date someone can be like them “coming out” – no matter what their sexual orientation is. For a person with an intellectual disability, just announcing that they have a crush, or are in love, or have sexual feelings and desires is met with disbelief, ridicule, rejection, punishment – no matter the gender of their crush object or lover.

***

This panel worked on answering: How do people with intellectual disabilities know it’s safe to talk about their sexual orientation and sex and sexuality in general?

A few quotes that jumped out at me related to how folks work with their clients:

“If you haven’t made yourself a clear ally, you’re not an ally.”

“People in your care need to feel safe from you.”

“It’s my job to earn their trust not their job to give me their trust.”

“When you push someone to have a conversation, that just becomes another kind of abusive act.”

Allow people (applies just as well to friends or family as to clients) to come forward when they feel most comfortable.

Show acceptance and willingness to listen by being nonjudgmental in other areas of their lives.

For example: Avoid judgmental comments on their preferences, such as that they shouldn’t put jam on their peanut butter and toast because it has too many calories. (Support professionals are their to support adults with intellectual disabilities with living their lives to the fullest. That means not micromanaging or taking autonomy away – making sure these adults have choices, and access to whichever choice they choose. )

People will not trust you with the bigger stuff if you’re always harping at them about the smaller things.

Direct support professionals were encouraged to figure out who will be the carrier of sexuality information at their agency. Talking about sex and sexuality is something most people are pretty bad at, and giving the right information to clients with intellectual disabilities means being able to talk comfortably about sex and comunicate details in ways clients will understand and remember.

I really appreciated how honest and down-to-earth the speakers were – acknowledging that sexuality is messy to talk about in general,. We’re dealing with all sorts of social taboos, as well as the wrong-headed thinking that has governed the way the sexuality of people with intellectual disabilities has been “managed” for centuries. That’s not something anyone can reverse overnight, or through a journal article and an hour long panel discussion. I also appreciated that they acknowledged that many agencies serving adults with intellectual disabilities still have restrictive policies around acknowledging sexuality, and that staff at those agencies probably weren’t being given access to educational seminars like this one.

Postscript

As I was putting this post together, I came across this piece published in Slate last week. Really impressed with how the writer and editor chose to put this together, with the voices of folks with intellectual disability front and center.

Postscript the Second

The overall theme of this Webinar and the accompanying journal article was pride, and the article has one of the best, most direct, answer to the question: “Why isn’t there a straight pride day?” I’ve ever seen:

Because heterosexuality has never been outlawed, punished, or considered a mental illness and being heterosexual has never been cause for a child to be thrown out of a family, or for someone to lose their job or their home.

Aug 282015
 

Then my behaviour therapist called, I asked him how to get a girl friend, he said he’d draw up a plan with a step by step process.

Did you know that there are 176 steps that you need to climb in order to get out of loneliness.

That’s a lot. Loneliness can feel like a deep pit can’t it?

One Step Out Of Loneliness, Dave Hingsburger

Watch this animated film from Dave Hingsburger It’s safe for work unless your workplace objects to words like sex and penis.

Read the transcript here. or watch below.

Jul 052015
 

June 26 was a history-changing day. Marriage laws in the U.S. finally caught up with reality – many people’s reality, anyway.

This ruling opens up a whole new world of fredoms. It solves some of the problems that transgender people wishing to marry have faced up until now and gives same-gender couples the option to marry if they wish.

But the work, the struggle, the heartbreak isn’t over yet. more than half of the states still allow LGBQ and transgender people to be discriminated against by current or potential employers. Incidents of violence against LGBQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual queer) and transgender people is still frighteningly
high.

The legal battle aroud marriage equality has been about making sure that same-sex couples have the same rights and protections as mixed gender couples.

But, for many people with disabilities, no matter what either partner’s gender is or isn’t, marriage can mean the end of the same kind of safety and security other married couples count on. Not only do these couples have to contend with bias against, and disbelief of their relationships, but their financial security and access to health insurance is often removed or limited when they marry.

Love doesn’t always win either for folks with disabilities, especially for folks with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The love of and between disabled people is often discounted.

Love doesn’t win when people don’t take your desire to get married seriously. Love doesn’t win when you marry, but the housing that’s supposed to help you be as much a part of the community as possible doesn’t let you live together. Love doesn’t win when your wish to spend time with the person you love is seen as “cute,” or childlike. Love doesn’t win when you want to be recognized as a couple and do the things other couples do, whether you can legally marry or not, but the people around you, the people who are supposed to be supporting you, won’t let you do that.

Paul and Hava Forziano got married in 2013. Finding a place where they could live together proved to be a challenge.

It’s worth taking a good look at why the group homes where Mr. and Mrs. Forziano lived before marrying thought that helping them live together was “unprecedented,” “impossible” and “fraught with difficulties”.

IN defending these organizations, the legal team cited Mr. and Mrs. Forziano’s Individualized Service Plans (ISPs) as reasons why the couple could not live together and be adequately served by either group home. They label these plans as “complex treatment plans.”

An ISP is actually a “written personal plan, or blueprint, for a person with developmental disabilities that summarizes the help he or she wants and needs to achieve his or her own aspirations in life.”. Meeting residents’ medical and supervision needs is only part of the picture here. Actually meeting the requirements of Mr. and Mrs. Forziano’s ISPs would mean finding a way to help them live together, even if that meant referring them to another agency.

Not meeting Mr. and Mrs. Forziano’s “aspirations in life” – to live together as most married couples in North America traditionally do – is, I believe, backwards thinking. This is not what the community living movement is all about.

The wonderful part of this story is how supportive Paul and Hava’s families have been of their relationship, and of their desire to live together. Disabled people, especially developmentally disabled people, don’t often get that kind of support from their families.

Bill Ott and Shelley Belgard also have lots of family support. They’re not married legally, as doing so would reduce Shelley’s access to needed health insurance, but they had a commitment ceremony and live together. They live in a different part of the country, and their living support needs are different, so getting to live together after their marriage wasn’t the same sort of ordeal it was for Paul and Hava Forziano. Bill and Shelley had a tonne of support for being together, but still, when Shelley’s mother heard about their engagement, , her internal response was: “This, too, shall pass.”Bill and Shelley proved her wrong, and the couples therapist they worked with also went to bat for them. So, in addition to everything else Mr. Ott and Ms. Belgard had working for them, they had someone from the healthcare field willing to see that their disabilities didn’t diminish their love or their capacity to be together. Read the rest of their heartening and smile-inducing story here.

And one more story, among the thousands out there, most of which haven’t been told:

I won’t tell you much about the two men in this story – the two men who loved each other. You need to read this for yourself. It’s a capsule of discrimination against gay people, dismissal of disabled people’s wants and desires – and of love – and a reminder of this countrys history of cruelty and violence towards disabled people, especially by the folks tasked with supporting and helping them.

Here’s the story. I recommend having tissues handy.

Love did finally winfor these men.

Further Reading

Author’s Note

Referring to the couples mentioned in this post As Mr. and Mrs. Forziano and Mr. Ott and Ms. Belgard was intentional. I wanted to show respect for their relationships – their unions. Using more formal titles, and more formal language in telling their stories, was also a way to show that their stories are important, that we shouldn’t take them lightly. Since I don’t know them, consistently using their first names would have been overly familiar, and would have made them sound like children, not the adults they are.