October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We take this time to celebrate survivors, remember victims, and educate ourselves on this important issue.
By Kristy Miller, Clinical Social Worker
The numbers speak for themselves: On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to 10 million women and men, with over 20,000 calls a day being placed to domestic violence hotlines, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).
Despite these numbers and the prevalence of information and training related to domestic violence (also called ‘intimate partner violence,’ or IPV), very little is often known or discussed about violence in LGBTQ relationships.
Here are some myths and facts to highlight the importance of IPV in the LGBTQ community:
Myth: Domestic violence is mainly a ‘straight’ issue and does not occur frequently in LGBTQ relationships.
Fact: Although many people believe that only straight women can be victims of IPV, IPV actually occurs in LGBTQ relationships at similar or much higher rates than in the general population. The CDC reported the lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8% for lesbians, 61.1% for bisexual women (as opposed to 35% for heterosexual women), 26% for gay men and 37.3% for bisexual men (as opposed to 29% for heterosexual men). In 2018, the Human Rights Campaign reported that 54% of transgender people report having experienced some form of intimate partner violence.
Myth: Psychological violence, which includes threats, isolation, manipulation, stalking, harassment, insulting, humiliating, intimidating, and/or constant monitoring, is not as serious as physical or sexual violence.
Fact: Psychological violence can be an equally devastating form of abuse. However, threats to ‘out’ another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a means of control are unique to the LGBTQ community. Outing may be both a tool of abuse and a barrier to seeking help. LGBTQ individuals often hide outward expression of their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of stigma and discrimination; abusive partners may exploit this fear through the threat of forced outing. Even if abusers do not employ outing as an abuse tactic, victims’ reluctance to out themselves may stop them from turning to family, friends, the police, or other community resources for support.
Myth: Anyone who is seeking help to escape an abusive relationship can utilize the same community resources, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fact: Options for those identifying as LGBTQ are often severely limited. LGBTQ shelter services are rare to non-existent in many parts of the country, Texas included. Men may not be admitted to shelters regardless of their status as victims (since most shelters are ‘women only’), and transgender women—individuals assigned male at birth but identifying as female—may not be allowed access to women’s shelters. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of programs still view ‘domestic violence’ as a male-perpetrated, heterosexual experience. The lack of cultural competency and informed support can be re-traumatizing and lead the individual to return to their partner or stop seeking support.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and identifies as LGBTQ, please contact any of the following resources for assistance:
- Houston Area Women’s Center, services for both men and women. (713) 528-2121
- LGBT Switchboard Houston, Specifically for LGBTQ victims. Connects to appropriate and affirming resources. (713) 529-3211
- The Montrose Center, Anti-violence programs for LGBTQ people; refers to affirming shelters. (713) 529-0037
- LGBT National Help Center:
- Youth Hotline 1-800-246-PRIDE (7743)
- LGBT National Hotline 1-888-843-4564
- Sage LGBT Elder Hotline 1-888-234-7243