Color & Control:

Divided Dignity

2SLGBTQIA+disabled people and employment

By Jade Pichette

As someone who identifies as disabled, autistic, trans, and queer, I recognize how lucky I am to work in a place where I don’t need to cover who I am, and that I can access the supports I need, but I know that my story is not the norm.

For fellow disabled two-spirit, queer, and trans people in Canada that is not their reality, nor has it always been mine. I am indeed fortunate to work at Pride at Work Canada where I’m the manager of programs that help to create Canadian workplaces that are inclusive of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

In my role I see how as disabled, queer and trans folks we often have to show one piece of ourselves and cover others to survive. For instance, within communities and spaces set up for disabled folks, we often see both an erasure of our queerness and our sexuality. And, while in queer and trans spaces we often find barrier after barrier—sometimes literally—from inaccessible venues, loud noises and crowds, a lack of interpretation and more.

Often in queer and trans communities, disability can become an afterthought. These barriers only continue and increase when we try to find affirming and accessible employment.

Queerness, disability and employment
We know that two-spirit, queer, and trans people across Canada face barriers to employment, and that this is also true for disabled people. According to the research of the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (2021) there is a gender and sexual orientation wage hierarchy in Canada. In comparison to the compensation of heterosexual men in the same positions, gay men make just 90.8 per cent for the same work, lesbians make 79.9 per cent, bisexual men make but 56.8 per cent and bisexual women make a tragic 45.2 per cent.

According to Statistics Canada (2017) 28 per cent of people with more severe disabilities were likely to be living in poverty in comparison to 14 per cent of those with milder disabilities and only 10 per cent without disabilities. As well, Trans Pulse Canada (2020) research showed that trans people are five times more likely to be below the low-income cut-off. Add other intersections like race, indigeneity, and gender and you’ve got more gaps. We also fall far outside of most employers hiring initiatives in one category or another (they may seek 2SLGBTQIA+ people or disabled people, but not at the same time).

Two-spirit, queer, and trans people are more likely to sit at this intersection however, than most identity groups. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association members of our community are at significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorder, suicidality, self-harm, and substance use and are at twice the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Looking again at the Trans Pulse Canada (2020) survey of trans and non-binary people in this land: 14 per cent identify as autistic, 0.5 per cent as blind, two per cent as crip, one per cent as deaf, 19 per cent as disabled or living with a disability, 21 per cent as having chronic pain, 30 per cent as neurodivergent, 43 per cent as a psychiatric survivor, mad, or a person with a mental illness, and 7 per cent with another disability. So, to truly include 2SLGBTQIA+ people, employers must acknowledge and take action to become both inclusive and accessible.

What employers need to do
When hiring two-spirit, queer and trans people with disabilities there is often little consideration given to person-centred accommodations. For instance, when hiring a sign language interpreter, it’s important to know that the interpreter has experience in queer and trans signs. If you are arranging for captioning, is the captioner familiar with the community’s terminology, and do they know what pronouns to use for the different speakers? When doing image descriptions, are 2SLGBTQIA+ signifiers like a rainbow flag being described? While small pieces, they all have a big impact on whether a two-spirit, queer, or trans employee will feel welcome.

Workplaces need to think holistically in terms of their spaces, their programs, and their local and national cultures. That could include reviewing their employee assistance plan with the provider to determine what supports there are that are for 2SLGBTQIA+ people with a disability as well as people of all genders and all forms of family. For instance: Human resources and management needs to think of the applications of public spaces as well. If the accessible washrooms and spaces aren’t gender neutral could that possibly reduce access for some people with disabilities?

Of course, policies and practices can only go so far. Employers need to focus on every stage of an employee’s journey from before they even apply for work to when they retire or move on from the organization. At its core, the culture needs to be addressed as one of genuine belonging’ for all employees and, in particular, those at the intersections. 

Jade Pichette, MSW (they/them) is an inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility and belonging professional working as the manager of programs at Pride at Work Canada/Fierté au travail Canada.

Notes: I utilize identity-first language in this piece as it is the preference for myself. In all things it is important to be person-centred which means utilizing identity-first or person-first language based on individual choice.

*2SLGBTQIA+: two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual and more.

Three things you can do?

We all have a part to play in bringing down barriers. Think about your own workplaces, community organizations, or communities as a whole and how you can advocate for more inclusive structures.
1) Can you suggest more inclusive hiring practices, communications procedures, events, or supplier diversity?
2) Consider what two-spirit, queer and trans inclusive practices you can integrate into your disability groups such as pronouns, queer-inclusive signage, and featuring community members. Think about what accessible practices can be introduced into two-spirit, queer, and trans groups.
3) Consider ways to be a support person or mentor for a colleague or a community member. Think about how you can use your connections, networks, or position to mentor a 2SLGBTQIA+ disabled employee or job seeker. We all have a part to play in making an accessible, equitable and just world for two-spirit, queer and trans disabled people.

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