Intersectionality and Discrimination

Torin and Levi, 2018 Scholars

If you look up people with disabilities, chances are you’ll find a picture of a straight white person who completely fits gender norms. Modern society often pushes the belief that one person can only belong to one minority group. Unlike these pictures would have you believe, the disabled community is extremely diverse.

Like any minority, we aren’t made up of one specific type of people, and our issues can go far beyond a lack of access and/or ableism. Because our community is so diverse, lots of us have to deal with intersecting oppressions.

Many people in the disabled community are also LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, plus) and/or people of color. Often, they can find their voices minimized and unheard, or that people only focus on their disability, rather than other aspects of their identity. For LGBT+ people, this can reinforce the narrow view of what constitutes as “normal” gender identity, and often leaves them outside of the conversations about them and without representation either an LGBT+ person or a person with a disability.

For disabled people of color, especially those who are LGBT+, they find they often face discrimination for all sides of their identity and become marginalized because they aren’t prototypical for any specific identity. For example, even though three black LGBT+ women started the Black Lives Matter movement, most media coverage focuses on black men (The Conversation, 2016).

Societal expectations and stereotypes can also influence encounters with our judicial system, represented through police encounters and the prison system. For example, as seen in the statistics, police encounters are more likely to be deadly for both people of color and people with disabilities compared to people with majority identities (Mapping police violence, 2018; Hause & Melber, 2016).

For someone with both of these identities, it raises the likelihood even higher. Many mental disabilities can cause a person to think differently, misunderstand, communicate ineffectively, or not be able to control their thoughts or statements. Paired with assumptions and stereotypes based on race, disabled people of color have higher rates of being shot, imprisoned, and injured by police due to a lack of understanding (Davis, 2009; Mapping police violence, 2018; Oberholtzer, 2017; O’Hara, 2016).

Furthermore, people with disabilities, as well as those of other identities, can often be sentenced to jail or prison at higher rates, due to a lack of ability to understand the legal process, money to hire a better lawyer, and stereotypes within the system and then have higher likelihood of mistreatment in prison (Davis, 2009; Oberholtzer, 2017). As Oberholtzer states, “Less than half of jails are equipped to offer mental health treatment. Just 21% have programs to support mentally ill people upon release.” Those who identify as LGBT+ also report higher rates of abuse (Amnesty International, 2001).

The way LGBT+ disabled people of color are treated is extremely telling of how the police and prison systems are set up to only understand the “norm,” especially here in America. Racism, ableism, and sexism are prevalent in society, and our judicial system.

This is why we need to combat discrimination across all minorities, particularly where intersections lie. Society is often less safe and welcoming for a person with a disability, a person of color, and those who are LGBT+.


Amnesty International. (2001). Crimes of hate, conspiracy of silence: torture and ill-treatment based on sexual identity. Oxford: The Alden Press.

Davis, L. A. (2009). People with intellectual disability in the criminal justice system: Victims and suspects. The Arc. Retrieved from

Hause, M. & Melber, A. (2016). Half of people killed by police have a disability: Report. NBC News. Retrieved from

Mapping police violence. (2018). Retrieved from

O’Hara, M. (2016). Up to half of people killed by US police are disabled. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Oberholtzer, E. (2017). Police, courts, jails, and prisons all fail disabled people. Prison Policy Initiative. Retrieved from

The Conversation (2016). Intersectionality: How gender interacts with other social identities to shape bias. Retrieved from