Partners in Advocacy

People with Learning Disabilities and Same-Sex Relationships

The Group
Partners in Advocacy provides advocacy to children, young people and adults with learning disabilities in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Midlothian and West Lothian. Individual advocacy involves standing alongside someone who is facing problems or changes in their lives, or who is isolated or vulnerable, to help them explore what they want and makes decisions, to support them to say what they want, and to make sure they are heard and respected. 

What were they trying to achieve?
The aims of the research were: 

  • to increase the responsiveness of services to people with learning disabilities who experience same-sex attraction
  • to identify the issues and obstacles an advocate might face in this context
  • to identify ways that advocacy agencies can support advocates
  • to identify sources of support available to people with learning disabilities who experience same-sex attraction
  • to develop information resources to help provide better advocacy 

How did they go about it?
People with learning disabilities and lesbians, gay men and bisexual people were involved as members of the advisory group and as researchers. Two pairs of researchers ran a total of ten group interviews with a total of 91 people of various backgrounds. Groups discussed the difficulties faced by people with learning disabilities who might want a same-sex relationship, and the help or support that might people need.  

What did they learn?
There is still a great deal of prejudice against people with learning disabilities who want to have same-sex relationships, and, as the issue of sexuality of people with learning disabilities often is, it is a taboo area for staff, carers and families. There is virtually no discussion of the subject, and almost no information given to people with learning disabilities. There are two other main obstacles: discrimination against people with learning disabilities, including gay people, and discrimination against people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual, including people with learning disabilities. Discrimination and prejudice can be unaware as well as overt; and can be internalised (believed by those subject to it). These obstacles could be overcome by good practice; information and support; and more acknowledgment of people's rights and choices. Specific recommendations made by the research include: 

  • inclusive organisational policies
  • training for staff, for lesbian, gay and bisexual organisations and for learning disability organisations
  • production of specialist information and resources
  • inclusive sex education materials.
  • organisations to enable staff to support same-sex relationships and to be open about their own sexuality
  • funding for specific services
  • appropriate guidance and training for advocacy organisations nationally 

What difference did it make?
Partners in Advocacy produced two versions of the research report, including one designed to be accessible to people with learning disabilities, a set of guidelines for advocates who are supporting people with learning disabilities who want same-sex relationships (which would be useful for any carers) and a supplement to the report containing training exercises. As a result of the research, Partners in Advocacy have acquired funding a self-advocacy group and crisis advocacy services for lesbian, gay and bisexual people with learning disabilities. 

The Administrator
Partners in Advocacy
Unit 17
John Cotton Business Centre
10 Sunnyside
Tel:  0131 478 7723
Fax:  0131 478 7729