Workers at the intersection of disability and an LGBTQIA+ identity may face unique barriers to better work. Learn some of the obstacles and how leaders can help remove them. 

Key Takeaways 

  • Indeed’s Senior Marketing Accessibility Program Manager sat down with two employees who identify as disabled members of the LGBTQIA+ community to learn about work-related experiences and challenges.
  • In addition to facing discrimination and barriers to employment, workers with intersectional marginalized backgrounds carry the additional burden of daily advocating for themselves. 
  • To promote a more inclusive workplace, employers should educate themselves, create opportunities for community and connection and give people space and resources to thrive.

*Editor’s note: this piece uses predominantly person-first language as well as disability-first language where the speaker self-identifies or is quoted.

The back-to-back succession of Pride Month in June and Disability Pride Month in July offers a unique opportunity to bring awareness to the experiences of LGBTQIA+ workers who have disabilities.

As the Senior Marketing Accessibility Program Manager at Indeed, a woman and a member of the disability community, I’m all too familiar with barriers both in and out of the workplace. But I wanted to know what it’s like for workers who exist at an intersection unlike my own — in this case, the disability and LGBTQIA+ communities. What are the daily challenges they face, and how can employers better support them so they can thrive at work? 

These intersectional identities may create astronomical barriers to workforce participation and wellbeing. According to the Center for American Progress, 46% of LGBTQI+ (the acronym used in the study) adults with disabilities reported an annual household income of less than $30,000, compared to 29% of LGBTQI+ adults without disabilities. 

In addition, nationally representative 2020 CAP survey data found that 45% of LGBTQI+ adults with “some form of a disability” experienced discrimination the year prior. For LGBTQI+ adults of color with disabilities, it rose to 54%, compared to 33% of LGBTQI+ adults of any race or ethnicity without a disability. The more intersections, the more barriers. 

Employers and HR leaders should work to create a world where all talent can thrive. In the spirit of the disability-justice call to action “nothing about us without us,”  I spoke with two Indeed employees who live these realities every day:

  • Abby Holtfort - Workplace Operations Manager of Indeed Tower (Indeed's global headquarters) and the Americas Co-Chair of iPride & Gender Identity, Indeed’s LGBTQIA+ Inclusion Business Resource Group (IBRG)
  • Lake Scarzfava - Technical Lead, BOSS Support (Indeed’s Business Operations and Support Solutions team) and former Co-Chair of Access Indeed, an IBRG that focuses on promoting inclusion and reducing bias in the workplace, particularly for people with disabilities

Both Abby and Lake use they/them pronouns and share a common disability, which they discovered quite by accident. Here’s an excerpt from our enlightening conversation, edited for clarity.

Abby, I hear you discovered your disability at work. Can you share this story to kick things off? 

Abby: I learned about one of my disabilities through a friendship with Lake, whom I met through iPride and Gender Identity [an Indeed Inclusion Business Resource Group, or IBRG]. Lake's service dog, Teddy, took a particular interest in me. I thought he was just being friendly, but Lake told me it wasn’t normal — that he was essentially saying, “You smell familiar.” 

This led to the discovery that I was experiencing symptoms Teddy was trained to alert for, and I ended up going to the doctor. I wouldn't have figured this out if it weren’t for our connection through the IBRG and our comfort in discussing those things in the workplace because of the inclusive atmosphere at Indeed. 

How has living at the intersection of disability and an LGBTQIA+ identity impacted both of your experiences in the workplace?

It’s OK to take up space, I'm not asking for too much and I have strengths others don’t bring to the table.

Lake Scarzfava, Technical Lead, BOSS Support, at Indeed

Lake: It has empowered me in the rest of my work. I used to have an invisible disability — then, after getting Teddy, my disabilities became visible. That visibility, taking up space, has also really empowered me in my queerness and as a gender-nonconforming person. Bringing him and my whole self to the workplace and doing things like asking for the correct pronouns [to be used] has helped me realize that it’s OK to take up space, I'm not asking for too much and I have strengths others don’t bring to the table.

The more I show up and ask for things that make me more visible or take a little bit more space, it kicks the door open for me to become more assertive in other ways. And hopefully, it shows others that taking up space is OK.

Abby: The thing about being someone who uses they/them pronouns and also has a visible disability is that you have to explain yourself. A lot. 

I sit both as a genderqueer person and also as a disabled person on this intersection, but I also am not often identified as genderqueer (which is both a frustrating problem and a privilege). As the face of the Indeed Tower office, my role is highly visible and I interact with many people. So the first day I came to work and started using my cane was scary because I knew I was going to be identified as someone with a disability, and I didn't know how that would show up. 

But as I have started to become more comfortable asserting myself, showing up as myself and not taking no for an answer with my identity, I’m more comfortable being myself in my body and my identity, as well as leading people into an inclusive workplace culture at Indeed — and for all job seekers, externally, through our work — that’s more accepting [and doesn’t require you to constantly] explain yourself. 

What are some examples of barriers to better work that you commonly face? 

Abby: Even at Indeed, where we have the privilege of incredible health care and a supportive benefits department, it’s still difficult to get accommodations. 

You have to give proof [of your disability], have doctors’ notes and then wait for months for an answer. If it's a third-party contracted company, you're waiting for someone to affirm that what you need is doable. Others may also be going through the process of securing gender-affirming surgery or family-planning services. All those things compound and it becomes a mess that’s difficult to get through while also doing your job.

At some point, constantly having to advocate for yourself becomes exhausting.

Lake: Beyond the cognitive load of needing to advocate for yourself, navigating what work looks like for you if you’re a disabled person and if you're a queer person can be a job in itself. 

The small things add up every day, such as needing to adjust my schedule and tell my boss I have a doctor's appointment or balancing the need to attend global meetings against simply being tired. As a disabled person, a huge part of my existence is managing my stress levels and my fatigue levels. So how do I balance the demands of my job and being excellent at it while also advocating for myself and my boundaries? Even accommodations that are already available still require me to show up and say, “And I need this…” every time I'm in a room. 

What advice would you give to employers and talent leaders for promoting disability and LGBTQIA+ inclusion and belonging in the workplace?

Abby: The burden of explanation and education should not be on the holder of the identity — it should be on employers so that they can include team members without the burden of education and proof being on the queer, disabled person. 

We shouldn't have to always show up with a chisel to carve out our own space.

Lake: There’s a balance between allowing folks the space to speak for themselves and also allowing folks the space not to. 

I’m passionate about advocating as a queer person, disabled person and service-dog handler. And I really enjoy educating folks when that space is something that I've chosen. For example, I’m happy to explain and answer questions if we're at lunch together (and I feel comfortable). But also, I might show up to the office with my service dog having never met you, and I might not want to spend 10 minutes of a meeting explaining him. 

Accessibility and inclusion in the workplace is a constant practice, not only for the months called Pride Months.

Abby Holtfort, Workplace Operations Manager of Indeed Tower

Abby: Also, accessibility and inclusion in the workplace is a constant practice, not only for the months called Pride Months.

Lake: Those who exist at intersections of identities, specifically from my point of view of being disabled and queer, have valuable skills and experiences that we bring to the table, even if that means we may need accommodations to get there.

I encourage folks to become curious about our communities and how we navigate things that most people never have to deal with to bring our skills and the richness of diversity to the table. 

I’d like to see more employers saying, “Hey, you don't have to put energy into making a space at the table. I've already done that. Put your energy into doing excellent work because you have the ability to do excellent work.”