Supporting LGBTQIA+ People with Disabilities: A Conversation with Support Worker & Inclusivity Trainer Charlie

We sat down for a chat with Charlie, a 27-year-old disabled trans man, who works as a Support Worker and Inclusivity Trainer at ColourFull Abilities, a South Australian-based disability support organisation focussed on supporting the LGBTQIA+ community.  

For Charlie, queer and disability advocacy go hand-in-hand. As someone with both lived experiences, his work is centred around these intersecting spaces. “When you live in the intersection of disability and queer identities, you've got to try and find a space for yourself that's comfortable for both.”


Identity and representation 

Reflecting on the historical treatment of individuals with disabilities, Charlie notes a trend of reducing people to their disabilities, stripping away their individuality.  

“In disability spaces historically and unfortunately still presently, we see a lot of people getting boiled down to nothing but their disability. We see a lot of the personalities and the depth of human beings being taken away by the fact that they have complex needs or have different needs to the wider society. We see this reflected in the way that people talk about their experiences in disability, but we also see it reflected in legislation and policy.”

Supporting LGBTQIA+ people living with a disability 

Recognising the complexity and diversity within queer identities, Charlie advocates for trusting individuals to articulate their unique needs. 

“Something that I teach in my training, a little mantra that I say, listen to the voices of the people that are speaking. At the end of the day, when you've got a queer identity, it is complex and it is nuanced and it means different things to different people. The best way to support these intersecting needs is to trust the people living in the intersection to tell you what it is that they need.”


Looking to the future: Policy and human change 

Charlie sees two ways to make things better: changing policy and changing ourselves. Policies are important for protecting groups that are often left out, but Charlie also thinks it's important for individuals to learn and grow. 

 “There are multiple levels to change. I think we do need to see an in-depth policy change when dealing with the rights of, especially gender-diverse people to access the healthcare required to affirm their needs because unfortunately, we do have people with disabilities stuck in poor situations; poor family situations, in institutions, in supported living, who are not being given those opportunities.” 

“It’s a fundamental human right, the right to self-identify and the right to choose. But as I teach in my course, policy is never enough. Policy protects 10% and the rest is about human change. The onus then comes down to the individual and to self-education and self-practice.” 

Creating a culture of respect 

Charlie emphasises that genuine intent and ongoing education are the cornerstones of meaningful allyship and support. By encouraging a culture of understanding and respect, we can contribute to a more inclusive future where all intersecting identities are valued and validated. 

“As long as you've got the willingness and the intent, then you’re on the right track. People often get a bit scared of messing up. when we’re using somebody's new pronouns, for example, we get really stressed out that we might get it wrong.” 

“By and large, what we care about is intent, it’s that you are doing your absolute best and then that's all that we need in terms of respect. It’s the people who aren't trying that are the problem, not the people who mess up when they are trying. But never stop learning and understand that this is not something that you can know everything about.”