Domestic violence can affect any of us; there is no demographic that is immune to the plague that violence forces upon our communities. One of the lesser spoken of aspects of abusive relationships exists in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, one in which society generally has failed to recognize that abuse is not only occurring between men and women. This is an obvious influence to laws in several states who still do or at one time had domestic violence laws on the books that excluded those in same-sex relationships from getting protective orders against their abusive partners. (As of 2010, some of these states were Arizona, New York, and Virginia, but there are several others.) Despite the fact that those in the LGBT community experience domestic violence at a similar rate to heterosexual females, falling within the 25% to 33% range, and that the rate of reports between the communities is comparable, there continues to be a singularly wide-spread failure to protect and advocate for these victims. Resources are scant, and many do not know where to go to get the help they so deserve. What resources there are maybe be tainted and minimized by the fact that those working in domestic violence service organizations lack the training, understanding, and compassion to work with them.
It is no wonder that there would be, then, hesitation for victims in the LGBT community to come forward and report their abuse. With the lack of resources, fair and equitable treatment, and laws excluding them from seeking orders against the abusive party, on top of smaller support circles within their community, it is hardly an act that can be done without fear of stigma, retaliation, or reasonable guarantee for personal safety. Society has somehow allowed itself to nurture a mentality that has allowed abuse within the LGBT community to be minimized and excused, causing confusion as to what is considered abuse, detracting from the urgency of what is happening to them, and discouraging them from coming forward. It is of paramount importance to remember one thing: no one, no matter what they do or say, deserves to be abused. Nor should a smaller group of victims be excluded legally from the ability to act to protect themselves because of an illusion perpetuated out of control.
If you have found your way to this blog because you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered, and you think you are being abused and are searching for resources online, please know that you are not alone, and no one has a right to hurt you either in word or in act. I have recently put up several posts in this series “Another Side of Domestic Violence” that explain different aspects of abuse past the physical element that is unmistakable. They can be accessed by using the “Posts by Category” box located in the side bar to the right. Topics posted so far include verbal and emotional abuse, gaslighting, stalking and cyberstalking, financial abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, and drug abuse. (Click “Another Side of Domestic Violence” and the most recent in the series will display. Previous posts in the series can be accessed by clicking “older posts” at the bottom left hand side at the end of each post.) Anyone can be a victim of all forms abuse regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and socio-economic status, and the information I included in the posts explaining the many faces of domestic violence applies to us all.
In effort to help clear up some misconceptions about domestic violence in the LGBT community, I have included the below myths and realities from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual Abuse page located at The Willow Domestic Violence Center’s website. I did not include all of them, please be sure to visit the site by clicking the page link in the preceding sentence.
MYTHS & STEREOTYPES
MYTH: Battering/abuse does not occur in lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transgender relationships. Only men abuse women.
FACT: Domestic violence exists among all types of relationships. In the lesbian community, the extent and severity of the abuse is becoming increasingly evident. Despite fear and community denial, more and more queer folks are speaking out about battering and abuse in their relationships.
MYTH: Domestic violence only affects certain groups of LGBT people.
FACT: Violence and abuse are found in all parts of our community. No group – regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, ability, education, politics, religion, or lifestyle – is free from relationship abuse. Queer people who abuse their partners can be friendly, physically unintimidating, sociable, and charming. Queer people who are abused can be strong, capable, and dynamic.
MYTH: In same-sex relationships the problem is really just arguments or “mutual abuse,” not domestic violence.
FACT: The issue in partner abuse is power and control. The survivor’s needs are usually subordinated and s/he often changes hir behavior to accommodate or anticipate hir partner’s demands. This unequal power relationship distinguishes battering from fighting. In an abusive relationship, fighting back is self-defense, not “mutual battering.”
MYTH: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people can leave abusive or violent relationships easily.
FACT: Abusive relationships are rarely only violent or abusive. Love, caring, and remorse are often part of the pattern of abuse. This can leave a survivor feeling confused and ambivalent about what s/he is experiencing. Emotional or economic dependency, shame, or isolation can make leaving seem impossible. In addition, an LGBT person trying to leave an abusive relationship can experience added barriers because of homophobia and heterosexism in the judicial and legal system, social service organizations, domestic violence programs, and family.
MYTH : The batterer will always be butch, bigger or stronger. The survivor will always be femme, smaller or weaker.
FACT: This myth grew out of what people think victims look like and unfortunately focuses on the narrow stereotype that gay and lesbian domestic violence is physical and strength related. This is simply not true. Size, weight, butchness, femmeness, or any other physical attribute or role is not an indicator of whether or not a person will be a batterer or a survivor.
MYTH: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender domestic violence is sexual behavior – a version of S/M.
FACT: Partner abuse is not sexual behavior. In S/M relationships, there is an agreement about the limits and boundaries or the behavior, even when pain is involved. Partner abuse entails no such contract. Domestic violence is abuse, manipulation, and control that is unwanted by the survivor. Like survivors of other crimes, survivors of partner abuse do not enjoy the violence they experience.
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As I mentioned above, the tactics employed by abusers across all communities are much the same. However, as with male victims of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, there are dynamics that have profound impact on whether or not the victim is able to break from the cycle of abuse and rebuild their lives. For example, unique to victims in the LGBT community is the threat from the abusive partner to “out” the victim to family, friends, co-workers, and members of their religious congregations who may not know about their lifestyle. This is a significantly successful tactic, as the fear and resulting trauma caused by stigma can overpower the victim and persuade them, through duress, to keep silent about the abuse they are enduring in their relationship.
How else is abuse in the LGBT community different? LAMBDA lists several on their Domestic Violence in Gay Relationships page, and I have included a few here. For the full list, please visit the page by clicking the page name in the preceding sentence.
- Utilizing existing services (such as a shelter, attending support groups or calling a crisis line) either means lying or hiding the gender of the batterer to be perceived (and thus accepted) as a heterosexual. Or it can mean “coming out”, which is a major life decision. If lesbians, bi’s and gays come out to service providers who are not discreet with this information, it could lead to the victim losing their home, job, custody of children, etc. This may also precipitate local and/or statewide laws to affect some of these changes, depending on the area.
- The lesbian, bi and gay community is often not supportive of victims of battering because many want to maintain the myth that there are no problems (such as child abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, etc.) in lesbian, bi and gay relationships.
- Receiving support services to help one escape a battering relationship is more difficult when there are also oppressions faced. Battered lesbians and female bisexuals automatically encounter sexism and homophobia, and gay and bisexual men encounter homophobia. Lesbian or gay people of color who are battered also face racism. These forms of social oppressions make it more difficult for these groups to get the support needed (legal, financial, social, housing, medical, etc.) to escape and live freely from an abusive relationship.
- Lesbian, bi and gay survivors of battering may not know others who are lesbian, bi or gay, meaning that leaving the abuser could result in total isolation.
- The lesbian, bi and gay community within the area may be small, and in all likelihood everyone the survivor knows will soon know of their abuse. Sides will be drawn and support may be difficult to find. Anonymity is not an option, a characteristic many heterosexual survivors can draw upon in “starting a new life” for themselves within the same city.
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Further online resources can be found here:
Pandora’s Project – DV in Lesbian Relationships — This page includes reading links as well as gay-friendly counselors in the US, UK, and Canada as well as a few links to UK and NZ shelters. (The US link does not work.)