Friday, April 1, 2011

The Face of Domestic Violence in LGBTQ Communities

Intimate partner violence is a silent issue in the LGBTIQ community. Let's talk about it in honor of LGBTIQ Health Awareness Week.

This was originally published by the good people of Buckeye Regional Violence and reposted here at

by Gary Heath, BRAVO’s Domestic Violence Program Coordinator

For most of us, images of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, and Gwen Araujo, come to mind when we think about violence and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities. We often think of hate and bias crimes that are perpetrated upon us from outside our communities. There is however, another type of violence that goes unrecognized and undisclosed. This violence commonly referred to as domestic violence or intimate partner violence occurs every hour of every day within LGBTQ communities.Many are surprised to learn that domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships occurs at the same rate as in heterosexual couples — 25% to 33%. Thus you can imagine the scope of the problem in a community, such as Columbus, with large LGBTQ communities.

Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO) and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), of which BRAVO is a founding member, have recognized that our mission must include ending all forms of violence, both within and against LGBTQ communities. As a consequence, when it comes to domestic violence, our goal has been to educate both LGBTQ communities and “mainstream” communities as to the scope of the problem and the consequences of LGBTQ intimate partner violence. To begin, we have to understand what intimate partner violence looks like in LGBTQ communities. How does it differ from heterosexual battery and in what way is it similar?

We have all been acculturated to view domestic violence in the framework of a heterosexual male battering a heterosexual female. While this certainly depicts the vast majority of domestic violence (for reasons that clearly stem from the longstanding subjugation of women in male-dominated societies), it does nothing to explain the experience of same-sex abuse and makes it difficult for an LGBTQ individual to see oneself as the victim of abuse. As a result domestic violence programs have had to rethink these paradigms and get away from a gender based model that only looks at domestic violence in the context of a straight man abusing a straight woman.

For a start, a definition of domestic violence which makes no mention of gender may be very helpful. “Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors utilized by one partner (the abuser or batterer) to exert and maintain control over another person (the survivor or victim) where there exists an intimate, loving, and dependent relationship.”

Another good definition is, “One individual systematically abusing another to gain power and control in a domestic or intimate relationship.” It is important to point out that one need not be physically harmed in order to experience domestic violence. It can present as a sustained and systematic pattern of abuse where one partner demeans, criticizes, insults, ridicules, and intimidates the other partner. It may take the form of one partner manipulating, coercing, and isolating the other. This abuse can of course escalate into physical violence including sexual abuse and murder.

LGBTQ people’s experience of domestic violence is compounded by social and internalized homophobia, where coming out or being “outed” by an abuser can further isolate a survivor from existing support networks and services, including family and friends, shelters, healthcare providers, and crisis agencies. The problem with homophobia and transphobia is that it is so pervasive and permeates our society at all levels. Such a barrier makes it extremely difficult for LGBTQ people to find programs and services that are appropriate and don’t re-victimize them. One of the components of BRAVO and NCAVP’s service delivery is to provide information and technical assistance to domestic violence programs, shelters, law enforcement, the courts, and other service providers. It plays an important part in dispelling myths people have surrounding LGBTQ people and LGBTQ intimate partner violence.

Other barriers to service include poor or inconsistent law enforcement responses, lack of non-criminal justice based safety options, limited access to civil court orders of protection, victims’ fears of being “outed” as LGBTQ and as a DV survivor, and victims’ hopelessness and/or fear of reprisals.

Another problem in service delivery for LGBTQ persons is that most domestic violence shelters predominately serve heterosexual women and as a result may not be particularly welcoming or appropriate when providing services to lesbians. Nationally and locally most shelters will not take in men, although some are beginning to provide private rooms or safe space off site. Nationally there is only one domestic violence shelter set up exclusively for men and some innovative programs across the nation provide a network of “safe homes.” Gay and bisexual men have few options and of great concern is finding caring and appropriate shelter options for those of trans experience.

For those programs that do provide domestic violence services to LGBTQ individuals it is extremely important that some type of screening tool be used during the intake process. Because we view domestic violence in terms that are gender neutral we have to do everything we can to assure we are working with the survivor and not the abusive partner. It is not uncommon for the abusive partner to contact a domestic violence program in order to access services or to try and find out if their partner has contacted the provider.

There are many issues facing LGBTQ communities and certainly domestic violence is one that is not commonly talked about in our communities. Obviously we want society to see our community in the most positive light. Some feel that talking about this issue is “airing our dirty laundry.” It is important to remember, however that intimate partner violence occurs at the same rate in LGBTQ communities as in the general population. It is important that we all confront the issue head on.

If you feel you are in an abusive relationship or would like more information about LGBTQ domestic violence feel free to contact BRAVO or NCAVP.

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