Understanding Disability in the LGBTQ+ Community

Produced by the HRC Foundation

Last updated: 8/12/2022

Disability refers to conditions that impair the body or mind and make it more difficult or impossible to do certain activities or functions of daily living. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) states that a range of disabilities can impact a person’s vision, movement, thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, hearing, mental health and social relationships.

Societal norms pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as norms around ability, often work to deny LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities opportunities that others enjoy in their daily lives. Some studies have even proposed that the traumatic effect of discrimination and rejection on LGBTQ+ people’s mental and physical health can itself be considered a disability. Disabled LGBTQ+ people who live at the intersection of these two identities can face compounded discrimination and stigmatization, and it is important for those who serve, interact with, and love and care for those individuals to understand this complex dynamic.

Rates of disability among LGBTQ+ people

HRC Foundation analyzed the disability core questions in the 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a nationally representative survey of adults across the United States, and found that LGBTQ+ adults, and transgender adults in particular, were significantly more likely than non-LGBTQ+ adults to self-report having at least one disability. Overall, one in three (36%) LGBTQ+ adults self-reported having a disability, compared with one in four (24%) non-LGBTQ+ (cisgender and heterosexual) adults. In addition, more than a third (35%) of cisgender LGBQ+ adults, and more than half (52%) of transgender adults (including both LGBQ+ and straight transgender adults), self-reported a disability (Table 1).

Table 1: Reported Disability Among U.S. Adults by Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity (2020)
Type of Disability LGBTQ+ Transgender Cisgender LGBQ+ Non-LGBTQ+
Any Disability 36% 52% 35% 24%
Cognitive 25% 35% 24% 9%
Hearing 5% 9% 5% 6%
Independent Living 12% 18% 12% 6%
Mobility 10% 19% 10% 12%
Self-care 3% 8% 3% 3%
Vision 7% 20% 6% 5%
Note: Data come from HRC Foundation’s internal analysis of the disability core questions in the 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a nationally representative survey of adults (age 18+) across the United States. All proportions are survey weighted, following CDC guidelines. Results are restricted to the 32 states and Guam who included the optional BRFSS module collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data, approximately 57% of the full 2020 BRFSS sample. For an overview of which core questions reflect which type of disability, please visit the CDC’s website.

LGBTQ+ adults most commonly reported having cognitive disability. About one-quarter (24%) of cisgender LGBQ+ adults, and a third (35%) of transgender adults reported this, compared to less than one in ten (9%) non-LGBTQ+ adults. Cognitive disabilities are most common among young people, so this may be due to the younger age of LGBTQ+ adults in the sample.

Much less is known about prevalence of disabilities among LGBTQ+ youth. In the HRC Foundation 2018 LGBTQ+ Youth Report, which surveyed over 12,000 LGBTQ+ youth age 13-17 from across the United States, one in seven (15%) LGBTQ+ youth said they had a disability. More recently, a 2020 Trevor Project survey found that 5% of LGBTQ+ reported having deafness or a hearing disability, whereas a 2021 Trevor Project survey found that 5% of LGBTQ+ youth were diagnosed with autism.

Read More about Disabled LGBTQ+ People

A Call to Action

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be disabled than non-LGBTQ+ people. The duality of their identities as LGBTQ+ and disabled increases the amount of discrimination and bias they face in their daily lives, at school, at the doctors, or at work. The barriers disabled LGBTQ+ people face start early in life. Disabled LGBTQ+ youth are bullied in school at elevated rights, which can lead to adverse outcomes such as dropping out of school. In healthcare settings, disabled LGBTQ+ people face higher risk of discrimination than both their cisgender and heterosexual peers with disabilities, and their LGBTQ+ peers without disabilities, which can cause them to avoid care and lead to unmet health needs and greater health risks. Disabled LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to face adverse economic outcomes, such as poverty, due to earning less for equal work, facing higher unemployment or lacking access to inclusive workplace benefits. Taken together, these troubling trends serve as a call to action for educators, service providers, healthcare professionals and employers to create more inclusive environments for disabled LGBTQ+ people throughout life and all spaces of daily living.

Resources for LGBTQ+ People Living with Disabilities

Resources for Schools and Educators

Resources for Health Care Professionals and Institutions

Resources for Employers

Additional Resources

The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ+ community.