Coming out on being gay with a disability

Navigating sexuality and disability can be tricky. Source: Getty Images

How do you navigate having a disability and finding love as an LGBTQI young person? Insight meets one man creating a safe space for sexuality and disability.

When Charitha de Silva was 15 years-old, he came to is adoptive mother Mary McMahon to tell her, quite simply, the he was gay and wanted a boyfriend. 

It wasn't much of a surprise. 

Mary had been noticing for some years how he would stop in front of posters of men at the shopping centre, admiring them and telling his mother how "dashing" he thought they looked.

When making this admission, Mary wanted to be sure: did he know what having a boyfriend meant? Yes. Did he know what it meant to be gay? Yes.

From there, it was a case of finding a way for him to explore his sexuality comfortably. 

"We decided that we would try and find a place that would be suitable for him, and having rung various gay organisations, nobody provided any sort of social group for young people with intellectual disabilities who were on the LGBTQI spectrum," Mary tells Insight's Jenny Brockie. 

"We wanted him to be happy, we wanted him to be safe and we wanted him, if possible, at some stage to find a partner," she says. 

And so, the Rainbow Bridge Social Club came into being. 

"It's a place for young queer people who want to meet in a safe and happy environment," explains Mary. "To make friends, maybe find a partner, and whose parents will feel comfortable that their children are in a safe environment." 

The Club launched on Valentine's Day this year, with Charitha giving a small speech: 

"I hope this club goes on for a long time," he said. "I hope we all become friends and I hope I get a boyfriend!"

Charitha also met someone at the Club. 

"He's strong, he's kind and happy, good looking," he says, when asked by Jenny Brockie what the man is like. 

There is growing recognition that disability and sexuality are not mutually exclusive. 

Ahead of this year's Mardi Gras, disability organisations teamed up to encourage their members to join the parade and festivities. 

"I think [for] people with disabilities it’s really important for us to go to the Mardi Gras because often people with disabilities are not considered as having sexuality and that’s not true at all," said Emily Dash, a 25 year-old writer, actor and motivational speaker with cerebral palsy. 

It is something Mary has encountered raising Charitha too, particularly around sex education. 

“I think it's because there's so much else that [teachers] think they need to address … I think a lot of people like to think that people with disabilities don't have any sex urges so it's not important,” she says. 

Mary and Charitha's story is part of Insight's greater look this week at the complexities of negotiating sex with a serious physical or intellectual disability. 

The Rainbow Bridge Social Club's next event is on the 17th April. 


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