LGBT people with learning disabilities have often faced barriers when it comes to their identity – but some are now using their negative experiences to bring about change.
“I thought I was going mad, I thought there was something wrong with me.” That’s how Shaun Webster felt when he first realised he was attracted to both men and women.
Shaun is 48 now, but It took him over a decade to come out as bisexual – in part he says, because of barriers many LGBT people with learning disabilities face. Shaun has short-term memory issues and dyslexia. He attended a special needs school when he was younger, where he says he wasn’t given a “proper sex education”.
“I didn’t know what bisexual meant,” he says. “Special needs schools didn’t do proper sex education for people with learning disabilities. They think people like us don’t have sex.”
In 2019, relationship, sex and health education was made mandatory in all schools in England. Before that, special needs schools didn’t have a mandate to provide sex education, so the provision was often mixed. For some people, the lack of sex education in their youth made it really hard for them to come out as LGBT in later life.
Shaun says the little sex education he did get largely focused on “making babies rather than explaining terms like gay, bisexual, trans and non-binary”. He didn’t come out until he was 38, but says he wishes he could have sooner. “Coming out when you’re 38 is a big thing to do. It’s life-changing.” When he did, he says he felt “a huge weight had been lifted” and he is now proud to be bisexual.
Shaun now works for Change, a learning disability charity, and as part of his work he helps to give sex education lessons.
One of the sessions Shaun runs focuses on sex and relationships, while the other looks at LGBTQ+ awareness. He says they talk about everything from sex, consent and the difference between friendships and relationships.https://www.bbc.com/news/disability-56111149