Contributed by former W.O.M.A.N., Inc. volunteer, Jessica Hoh
Talking about intimate partner violence remains a dirty secret in any community, however within LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) communities discussing this issue is often shrouded with additional layers of shame and stigma. Research suggests that LGBTQ individuals experience higher amounts of violence in general, poverty, incarceration, poverty, suicide, and, unfortunately intimate partner violence as well. These rates are even higher amongst LGBTQ people of color.
By now it’s commonly understood why LGBTQ communities experience higher rates of oppression: homophobia and transphobia incur bullying, bashing, higher rates of unemployment, etc. With these oppressions, it’s understandable that many LGBTQ individuals seek refuge and safety within queer spaces. Often LGBTQ individuals rely heavily on queer community, especially when their family of origins fail to provide them support and/or safety. These networks can become very powerful, beautiful and healing spaces.
However, we know intimate partner abuse does occur within LGBTQ relationships with
rates similar, (and certain studies report higher rates), to heterosexual couples. When abuse does occur many survivors are at a loss for what to do, for many reasons. Some of those reasons include:
- Misunderstanding gender dynamics of abuse: Cultural norms often generalize abuse as occurring solely from male-identified persons towards women. When abuse dynamics look different than that narrative, recognizing occurring abuse can be confusing and challenging. Especially so if a more feminine identified individual is the abuser.
- Fear of portraying LGBTQ individuals negatively: LGBTQ individuals are often pathologized and “othered.” LGBTQ folks may fear additional negative labels applied to their identities.
- Distrust of social service agencies: Many LGBTQ survivors are wary when seeking outside assistance due to homophobia and transphobia. Survivors may fear inappropriate questions, disbelief that abuse occurred, and failure for agencies to take abuse seriously. Additionally, as of present, there are no shelters for male-identified survivors. So if someone in a gay relationship experiences violence, they may experience a harder time finding shelter. For transgender survivors, finding shelter of any kind may incur even more difficulties.
- Fear of alienation from LGBTQ community: Survivors may fear coming forward with abuse because they believe their community will side with the abuser. While this fear occurs in all communities, many LGBTQ individuals have little or no familial support so LGBTQ friends/family may be all the social support they have.
Despite these additional experiences many LGBTQ survivors may experience, there are various ways survivor advocates can be sensitive to these issues:
- Don’t assume gender: When answering crisis-line calls or working with clients, we often automatically generate gender identities for folks based on appearances and/or vocal tones. Simply asking instead of assuming can eliminate mis-gendering (using incorrect pronouns/names) survivors.
- Use gender-neutral language: Replace phrases including “ladies” and “guys” with “folks,” “friends,” “person/people,” etc.
- Take extra steps for transgender survivors: Transgender individuals have the highest rates of suicide, bashing, poverty, homelessness and incarceration. They additionally often experience more challenges when seeking emergency shelter. Remember that on top of experience partner abuse, they may also be dealing with a lot of additional oppressions.
- Keep in mind LGBTQ survivors experience additional hurdles: Remember LGBTQ individuals may not be out to their friends, family and/or employers, they may rely solely on LGBTQ community for support and they may hold shame over being LGBTQ. Being knowledgeable and sensitive to these additional layers will help assist members of these communities better.
Ending domestic violence takes support from the entire community. W.O.M.A.N., Inc. continually strives to be inclusive and supportive to survivors from all walks of life, age groups, race and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations. I’m proud to be affiliated with such a strong group of individuals working to end domestic violence in all forms. Keep up the fantastic, amazing work!
1) Renzetti, Claire. Violence in Gay and Lesbian Domestic Partnerships. Chicago: Routledge Press, 1996.
2) MacKenzie, G. O. Transgender Nation. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press., 1994.