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These are the responses we received to the debate on
whether gay men with learning difficulties should be allowed to
have sex and offered support:

To read Community Care’s recent article on the subject

click here

I was glad to see the ‘glasses of
heterosexuality’ come off as quoted by Paul Cambridge, and a bit of
reality expressed, as sexuality is not a choice. Therefore it is
vital and valid that either gay men, lesbian, transsexual and
transgender with learning difficulties should have the opportunity
and support to be able to express their sexuality and have sex.

However if we ask carers and families to support this, then we
may increase the risk of homophobia, discrimination and oppression,
and if we asked social services to fund a specialised service, the
usual homophobic press will have a field day i.e.

Social services fund gay men to have sex with men with learning

Can you imagine the outcry. Whilst this article was a pleasant
change I am afraid that the heterosexual glasses will be put back
on without any adjustments.

Trevor Adams

I agree that men with learning difficulties
who would like to have a relationship with another man should be
supported to do this and be enabled to take safe sex precautions
and protected as far as possible from abuse.

I was interested in reading the accompanying article which, I
thought was going to be about gay people in general. Indeed there
was a nod and a wink in the direction of women. However, I see that
within a group which is doubly discriminated against, ie gay men
with learning difficulties, there is another group which is even
more discriminated against because they were immediately airbrushed
out of sight – lesbian women with learning disablilities. I cannot
believe that their needs are not equally as pressing as those of
gay men. They cannot be subsumed under the heading “gay people” –
not really.

Are you proposing to run a similar article on the needs of
lesbians with learning difficulties?

Diana Proudfoot

I’m employed by a metropolitan borough council
as a senior care officer in a residential home for adults with a
learning disability. I am a gay male worker and I strongly agree
that no matter what creed, race, or sex they are, all individuals
should have the right to express there sexuality even if it may be
with the same sex “so long as both parties consent to this”. I
would however be interested to explore what services and support is
available in assisting and supporting consenting adults to develop
a meaningful relationship.


Of course gay men with learning disabilities
should be ‘allowed’ to have sex! To state otherwise is surely a
denial of their human rights. I am appalled (though hardly
surprised) that heterosexual care staff and managers should assume
the right to dictate how men express their sexuality. Support and
understanding is what is needed if gay men with learning
disabilities are to be able to make informed choices about sexual
relationships whilst minimising the potential for putting
themselves at risk.

Adrian Frayne

Your article on people with learning
difficulties having sex was thought provoking, if a little
condescending. To even ask for comments on “do you think gay men
with learning difficulties should be allowed to have sex and
offered support?” is insulting in the extreme. Since when did we
have the right to refuse anyone sexual contact. As for choice of
partner, surely everyone’s right in law should be equal. My
starting point is all people are entitled to a sexual relationship
and without appropriate support, guidance and help you simply drive
underground natural desires. When there’s an AIDS epidemic amongst
guys with learning difficulties will it be their own fault, or the
fault of those who refused them help and support?

Paul, Stoke on Trent

Interesting article which provoked memories
for myself as an HIV prevention outreach worker working in Stoke on
Trent 91-92. We found a significant group of men with learning
disabilities using the cruising areas, toilets and parks. in order
to reach them with info we devised cartoon based info sheets rather
than the wordy glossy leaflets produced by THT etc. The materials
around at the time used pretty boy images with trendy venues as the
background. This also related to videos around at the time. We
devised cartoon images with local connections ie potbanks/canal
towpaths etc as the background linking it to the local experience,
we also used diverse male images ie thin fatter bald specs etc.
this gained good responses from the men and gained recognition as a
model of good practice at the time. Sad to read from your article
little has moved on.

Paul Bartle

I find it interesting that your article
concentrated almost exclusively on the difficulties gay men with
learning difficulties can face. It appears that lesbian women with
learning difficulties are still utterly invisible, even in your

As for your question ‘Do you think gay men with learning
difficulties should be allowed to have sex and offered support?’
What on earth does that mean? Gay, lesbian or straight, learning
difficulties or not, ALL adults are perceived as adults in law and
NO-ONE else has the right to make decisions about their
(consensual) sexual life or orientation.

Andy Grandmottet-Shaw

Placement Monitoring Officer

Social and Community Services

I do think that gay men with learning
difficulties should be allowed to have sex and given support. I
also think that lesbians and bisexual men and women with learning
difficulties should be given support too.

I am a lesbian who is a support worker with adults who have
learning difficulties. I have worked both residentially and
vocationally. I agree that there is a culture of silence and
uncomfortableness with sex generally in many residential homes. In
the past, I have not felt comfortable with coming out to clients
because I did not feel supported by management or policy in
discussing sexual issues. I have personally felt that by discussing
my sexuality openly, I might be seen as imposing my sexuality. As a
result, I have missed opportunities to provide support and
information to clients who need it.

I think that we need to support open discussions about sexuality
with people who have learning difficulties, perhaps with peer
support groups with gay/lesbian facilitators. We need to provide
training and support around these issues with support workers. I
also think that women are in equally great need of support,
regardless of their perceived risk of abuse or HIV infection.
People who have learning difficulties have a right to identify as
gay or lesbian (which means being given all the information about
what that means so they can choose how they identify themselves.)
and find (or demand/expect) support in each other and the gay and
lesbian communities. Although health is an issue, it is also about
self esteem, self respect and basic human

Daisie Auty

I write as a volunteer advocate who supports a
group of lesbian, gay and bisexual people who have learning

Members of the group have experienced many of the issues
identified within the article and thus, are heartened to see these
being addressed within a national publication. However, they would
like to express the following concerns:

* Why did the article focus exclusively on men? Women with
learning difficulties who have a preference for same-sex
relationships have even fewer outlets than men through which to
express their sexuality. Members of the group feel that this needs
to be acknowledged.

* Whilst members of the group are unsure if the author has
learning difficulties herself, they feel that it would have been
more appropriate had the article been written jointly with a gay
man who has learning difficulties, thus giving a much discriminated
group of people a voice and the opportunity to create an awareness
of what it is actually like to live as a gay man with learning
difficulties in our society.

* Finally, the group feel that it is important that those who
support people who have learning difficulties are made aware that
groups such as this exist, i.e. a group run by people who have
learning difficulties for people who have learning

Iain Carson

Faculty of Education

University of Manchester

With reference to your article ‘Learning to
Love Safely’ (Community Care 28 March-3 April), gay men
with learning difficulties should certainly be allowed to have sex
and be offered suitable support to ensure that they are able to do
so safely and without fear of discrimination from carers. It is
unfortunate that there are few sources of information, which offer
safer sex guidance to gay men with learning difficulties. Terrence
Higgins Trust is currently working in partnership with REGARD (the
national organisation for gay, lesbian and bisexual disabled
people) and the Norah Fry Research Centre at the University of
Bristol to find out more about the experiences of men and women
with learning difficulties who want to develop gay or lesbian
relationships. We will also be exploring the barriers or prejudice
they encounter and highlight ways in which their carers have been
able to assist in helping them to overcome these. From this
research, we hope to be able to produce resources that will enable
people with learning difficulties to develop their sexual
identities and engage in relationships

Dr Jamie Kinniburgh

Policy, Campaigns and Research

Terrence Higgins Trust Corporate Office

I should be amazed that the question of
whether gay men with learning difficulties should be offered
support has even been posed, but sadly I am not. Men with learning
difficulties who identify as gay or bisexual, or who express an
interest in sexual relations with other men should be offered
support. With good information in a format that is accessible these
men will be better able to assess the risks associated with
particular sex acts, public sex environments and sexual partners.
As to whether these men should be allowed to have sex, perhaps we
should be redrawing the limits to our (perceived) authority. There
is still a long way to go.”

RA Hawkins

Of course gay men with learning difficulties
should be able to exercise the same rights to relationships,
comfort and intimacy as every other person in this society. They
should be offered support and advice as

Nikki Bradley

In Coventry we at Terrence Higgins Trust and
staff at Grapevine Drop In Centre attempted to set up a support
group for men with learning difficulties who were or might be gay
attending local day centres. As the local gay men’s project
Grapevine approached us because they knew that some of the men
using their service were cottaging in local toilets.

Together we ran a roadshow at day centres across Coventry
informing people about our idea for a support group and to find out
what people thought. We realised that like the rest of the world
these day centres were very heterosexualised and non-sexual
environments. Nowhere were there any images that let people know
that some men are attracted sexually to other men. There was
nothing to balance the immense numbers of heterosexual affirmative
messages that we see every day. With Grapevine’s help we mocked up
a small poster with an illustration of two men with their arms
around each other and a love heart in between them, and the words
‘Some men fancy other men’. A Grapevine member who has learning
difficulties saw a fax of it and then came out to the Grapevine
manager. If he hadn’t seen that drawing, something that told him
that the manager might be okay about homosexuality, he would
probably never have told anyone there.

When we spoke at the roadshow to other local day centre staff
about the possibility of a support group for men they were nervous
about discussing homosexuality and would quote Section 28, they
were sure that there were ‘no gays’ at their centres and quite sure
they would have real difficulties with carers and parents. Some
were honest and said they had a problem with gay people. Their
honesty was very welcome and they were not ‘shot down’. Honesty is
the first step to exploring further where these prejudices come
from and how they are continually fed.

These are real difficulties and work needs to begin with staff
to enable them to explore their fears, both personal and
professional if they are to be able to offer an equal service to
all users. We have plans to begin work with managers of centres as
a first step.

Men are having sex in toilets with other men and men have
reported their activities to us. If men are hiding their sexual
lives from staff they may well be putting themselves at risk of
HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections.

Although our first attempt was not a success, there was one good
outcome from the publicity. Some men with mild learning
difficulties are regular visitors to our Saturday afternoon gay
men’s group where they have made friends and can learn form their
gay peers. They are given the same guidelines as all men who come-
that it is a social group and not somewhere to ‘pick up’ sexual
partners. Generally peer support, friendship and acceptance is what
men want.

Staff need to look at their own prejudices and work on them. No
member of staff can say ‘there are no gays at our centre’, because
they don’t know.

Their own silence about the existence of gay people is in turn
silencing men and women who have same sex sexual desires.

No-one wants to be rejected so we need to begin actively
creating positive images that tell everyone that it’s okay to be
gay and there are people who will talk to you about it, support you
and accept you. As a young gay teenager I know that if my doctor’s
surgery had put a postcard on the wall with two men just looking at
each other affectionately I would have seen it amongst all the
hundreds of other pictures. I was searching everywhere for
affirmation from someone, just as that man was when he saw a simple
drawing of two men with their arms around each other.

We would be interested to hear of other people’s experiences and
suggestions for ways forward. We know there is good work being done
in Bristol and are interested in other

John Toman, Terrence Higgins Trust, Coventry

Clare Wightman, Coventry Grapevine

I was very pleased to read the article
‘Learning to love safely’. There are frequently barriers to same
sex relationships and love for a whole host of reasons, some of
which are highlighted in the article. Not least of these are
ignorance, prejudice (both personal and cultural) and the tendency
to overlook individual need and see just a category e.g. learning
disability, mental illness and other disabilities.

As to the question posed ‘should gay men with learning
disability be allowed to have sex and offered support’ the answer
has to be a ‘yes’ but a qualified ‘yes’. The article, which I
thought was very good, balances well the need to combine learning
about both sex and relationships. The question itself, on the other
hand, suggests that all that is needed is to ‘support’ gay men with
learning difficulties in having safe sex. It is important to define
the support aspect more clearly. I think there must be a variety of
approaches here. At one level this may be information. As the
article says some people will cottage in public toilets no matter
what and the risks involved need discussion. At another level
discussion about same sex loving relationships – with or without
sex – must be part of what constitutes support. Combining learning
about sex and relationships might diminish the need to find sex in
public places in the longer run for some. For others such learning
may allow an opportunity to begin a sexual/emotional life for the
first time.

None of this can happen without cultural change, too. It is not
just learning for the user/carer/ the agency. As the article says,
the gay community itself needs to look to its laurels, and make
some changes in terms of acceptance as well as the wider
heterosexual community.

Peter R. Fowler

Senior Lecturer Applied Community Studies

University of Wales Institute, Cardiff





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