An Introduction to the Leeds LGBTQ+ Health Inclusion Project for Sexual Health Week 2019
This week (18th – 22nd September) is Sexual Health Week, and as the theme of the week is “Sex, Relationships and Disability”, we thought this would be a great opportunity to share details of a fantastic new project that Advonet is running this year, in partnership with Yorkshire MESMAC and CHANGE; and with funding from the Government Equality Office – the Leeds LGBTQ+ Health Inclusion Project.
We know that sexual health, and reproductive rights are areas that have been historically largely ignored in the field of disability politics – in favour of more “structural” and “social” concerns (Finger, 1992). Sexual freedom though, is a fundamental human right – not only in terms of access to sexual identity and self-expression, but also of the right not to experience discrimination in other areas of your life as a result of your sexual identity.
Too often, disabled people have found ourselves at the sharp end of such discriminations, only to then find that our own political movements lack the tools or capacity to resist effectively, as we do in other domains. But we also know from research, that where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have access to sexual self-advocacy training and support they experience this as “relating to knowing and respecting themselves, respect for others, choices, speaking up, having their rights respected, getting information, healthy relationships, and interdependence” and they suggest that things that would increase their self-advocacy are: expanding access to information and sexual health services, removing systemic barriers, educating others, increasing access to counselling, and developing opportunities for sexual self-expression (Friedman et al., 2014).
This is why we are excited to be able to harness this momentum, and use the principles and tools of self-advocacy to support people who are otherwise at risk of being multiply marginalized as both members of LGBTQ+ communities, and as being autistic, having a learning disability and/or experiencing mental health difficulties.
We are doing this by pursuing the following key aims:
- To improve the understanding of health professionals of working with people who identify as LGBTQ+ and are either autistic, have a learning disability, or mental health difficulties, through training that is co-designed, and co-delivered with people who have lived experience of these issues
- To enable people in LGBTQ+ communities who are autistic, who have learning disabilities and/or who have mental health difficulties to develop self-advocacy skills to understand their rights, to put forward their needs, and to communicate their wishes around health-related decisions
- To develop peer-support networks between people with similar experiences
- To demonstrate increased access to health services/increased positive experiences of healthcare for people in the target populations through this support
The project is innovative in that it works flexibly across multiple identities and communities – a factor that is important given that in reality, people are likely to fall into multiple “categories” (e.g. a person might be autistic and have a learning disability, or they might have a learning disability and experience mental health difficulties), alongside which, we often find that where organisations specialize within one particular field, people find themselves forced to “prioritize” which of their diagnostic or sexual identities they wish to be understood and accommodated – a circumstance that is all but forced to fail in the pursuit of equality and of upholding people’s rights. For this reason, we are passionate about having the opportunity to engage with the challenges, and celebrate the victories, that come with this flexible, united approach, and, through our ongoing extensive service-evaluation, to share what we are learning with others keen to work in this way.
What is Self-Advocacy?
At the heart of the project are the principles and tools of self-advocacy. Self-advocacy has been a key approach for disabled people’s organisations – particularly in the context of intellectual and developmental disabilities, since the mid- to late twentieth century, and has been the focus of a body of research and discussion – with many people and organisations keen to set out their “approach” or “framework” (see, for example, Aspis, 1997, who was concerned to ensure the meaningful involvement of intellectually disabled people in the development of self-advocacy; Walsh-Burke and Marcusen, 1999, who designed “The Cancer Survival Toolbox”, and Test et al., 2005a, who set out a “conceptual framework” for self-advocacy).
There is evidence that people are keen for more information and involvement in healthcare decision-making (Brashers et al., 1999; Walsh-Burke and Marcusen, 1999), that individuals of varying ages and (dis)abilities can learn self-advocacy skills (Test et al., 2005b), and that belonging to a self-advocacy group can impact people in a wide range of ways, including: identifying positive change in self-concept, and experiencing a positive social environment (Beart et al., 2004); and experiencing “empowerment”, through gaining awareness of societal discrimination, individual rights and personal strengths, taking action through participation in community organisations, and working collaboratively with supportive advisors (Miller and Keys, 1996).
We are delivering self-advocacy courses in the form of 6 weekly workshops that cover the themes of:
- Introduction to self-advocacy
- Knowing yourself
- Your rights and support
- Effective communication strategies
- Assertiveness skills, and
- Championing positive change
The courses have been designed, and are facilitated by people with lived experience of the issues at hand, as well as experience of setting up and delivering self-advocacy and peer support – along with input and guidance from the project steering group. The workshops include a broad range of discussion and other activities, and take place in a sensitive, supportive, and confidential environment.
The first course of workshops has just been completed, and we are very much looking forward to the next one beginning soon.
You can find out more about Leeds LGBTQ+ Health Inclusion Project by contacting the team by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling the Advonet office on 0113 244 0606 or by following us on Twitter at @LeedsLGBTQ.