Disabled LGBT students highlight misconceptions of community



Carley Hull

More than 25 Kent State students, faculty and staff attended the Q-and-A event Access Denied Wednesday to ask two panelists how being disabled and in the LGBT community affects them at the university.

“I think (Access Denied) is important because it highlights and brings to light an issue that is not often discussed,” said Amy Quillin, director of Student Accessibility Services. “Disability is not often discussed, and the intersection of disability and sexuality is not discussed.”

In celebration of LBGT History Month and disAbility Awareness Month, the event took place at 5 p.m. in the Student Center as part of the LGBT Student Center’s Queering History Series and was co-sponsored by Student Accessibility Services.

“I’m here because disability rights and disability culture needs to be discussed more,” said panelist Adam Smith, a senior math and physics major who has autism and identifies in the LGBT community.

Smith is a pseudonym for the panelist, who asked to remain anonymous due to personal reasons. He will be referred to as Smith through the remainder of the article.

Incorrect Stereotypes of the disabled/LGBT community

1.) All disabled people are sad.

– Both Smith and O’Malley said they are happy people and that people with Down syndrome are the happiest people they have ever met.

2.) Only children can be disabled.

– Smith said he is a 25-years-old with Autism and, clearly, not a child.

3.) People with mental health problems are violent

– Smith said more people with mental health issues are victims of abuse when medication is not involved.

4.) People with disabilities don’t like people.

– Both Smith and O’Malley said being disabled doesn’t make you asocial.

5.) Disabled people can’t have crushes or romantic relationships.

– O’Malley said she can still have crushes and attractions, and Smith said he has had relationships despite his autism.

6.) Disabled people can not understand their sexuality because of their disability.

– Smith said being queer is part of him, not his disability.

7.) A person is depressed because of their LGBT sexuality.

– O’Malley said people have falsely linked depression to the fact a person does not have heterosexual relationships, when many are fine with their sexuality.

Students asked a broad range of questions to Smith and fellow panelist Annie O’Malley, rehabilitation and counseling graduate student with albinism and visual impairment who identifies as gay. Smith and O’Malley covered the correct LGBT terminology, misconceptions of being disabled and LGBT and what the university should do to make the university more accessible to their community.

More than 15 of the students attending the event were residence assistants looking for seminar hours and asking questions about handling disability and sexuality in their residence halls.

When an RA asked why the university should have gender-neutral housing, Smith said it could provide a safe space for transgenders from bullying.

“It needs to happen,” Smith said. “It is not only beneficial, but should be required.”

O’Malley said she was often bullied in the residence halls not just because of her sexuality but also because of her albinism.

“I used to pass by the dorms and people would yell, ‘Hey albino,’“ she said.

Now, O’Malley said she now doesn’t see her labels as a bad thing because they define her.

“Some people don’t like labels, but for me, I love them,” O’Malley said.

Helping students with LGBT identities and disabilities in the classroom was also discussed.

Because disabilities are not often apparent, Smith said professors often do not realize a student needs help.

“Best thing people can do is ask and do things to make (campus) more accessible,” Smith said.

If you see a student on campus with an apparent disability, don’t try to help them without asking, O’Malley said, because even a wheelchair is a part of their body. Asking is the most important way to help, she said.

Students, however, should still accept help if they need it, Smith said after explaining he was too proud to ask for an Individualized Education Program until his third year of college.

“Don’t be too proud,” Smith said. “It’s OK to need help.”

After learning to accept help, Smith and O’Malley both said they want to use their disabilities to help people.

“I still want to use my disability to educate and make (everything) more accessible,” O’Malley said.

Contact Carley Hull at [email protected].