Posted on June 27, 2019

DV and SA In the LGBTQ Community: Sexual Orientation

As we wrap up Pride Month at DCFOF we want to share this wonderful blog post from one of our own- Housing Navigator Victoria Schofield!

In honor of Pride Month, it is important to discuss the violence experienced by LGBTQ individuals, as well as the continued resilience of the community. This blog focuses on the intersection of sexual orientation and domestic/sexual violence. I will be writing a follow up post in the coming weeks that focuses on gender identity, the LGBTQ community, and the intersection of Domestic Violence (DV) and Sexual Assault (SA). 

The LGBTQ community is at a high risk of experiencing violence both within the home and within their personal relationships as they are on a systemic level. The intersection of other identities (race, class, education level, citizenship, gender, sex, etc.) can make people more vulnerable to violence.  Statistics show that DV in same-sex relationships is comparable to the violence that exists in heterosexual relationships. Women in same sex relationships, or who identify as lesbian or bisexual, are 3x more likely to experience SA in their lifetime. Bisexual women, according to CDC reports, have higher rates of stalking, physical assault, and rape than their LGBTQ counterparts. 26% of gay men and 37.5% of bisexual men have experienced violence at the hands of a partner. These statistics are incredibly powerful, but there is also a brash of underreporting in this community. This is in part because of common misconceptions and biases towards same sex couples, such as the idea that women cannot be perpetrators of sexual violence, or women are not the perpetrators of DV. When it comes to same sex relationships with men, there is a stigma around male SA victims, which compounded with discrimination against gay and bisexual men, can create hesitation to report.  Socially, violence against men is often minimized, which can deter men from reporting or seeking support. 

This population has unique barriers to accessing safety as well. Many abusers will threaten their partners with revealing their sexual orientation and relationship status (outing someone) to significant parties in their life, whether it is their family, their faith community, their landlords, or their employers. It is still legal in several states to deny someone housing or to terminate an employee based on their sexual orientation. In this way, they are not only removing their partner’s safety, comfort, and agency, but threatening their livelihoods. When attempting to seek help, folks from this community often fear discrimination and judgment from agency staff, from other clients, and from law enforcement. Many are afraid to call law enforcement out of fear of being believed, not being taken seriously, or fear of being held equally responsible for the incident.  Some states, such as Montana and North Carolina, will not grant protection orders for same sex couples. While Texas is not among the list of states to do this, our clients who flee from these states might be coming without that protection. 

These obstacles are compounded by systemic oppression faced on a societal level. Several states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Idaho, do not protect a person from termination of employment on assumed sexual orientation. There are no current legal protections in Texas for individuals facing discrimination from health insurance companies. There are states where it is legal to bar people services on the groups of their sexual orientation; some states are working on creating laws for this allowance. This creates a fear among the community when it comes to accessing services. It is also worth considering the cultural barriers within the community, such as a concern that revealing DV in a relationship will further feelings of animosity or de-legitimize same-sex relationships. Toxic masculinity has a part to play in same sex relationships with men as well as in women. Gender dynamics have a role to play in same sex relationships, too, such as the belief that in a same sex relationship with two women, one must be “the man” and must adhere to relationship roles and behaviors that are traditionally coded in the U.S, as masculine. Women who present in ways which are coded as “masculine” by social standards will often use their identity as a woman to de-legitimize the violence perpetuated in relationships. There is a resistance to identify males as victims of DV, which often results in male client’s being unable to identify themselves as such.  Members of the LGBTQ community face higher rates of mental health concerns, substance use, and engagement in sex work, which can lead to higher rates of violence perpetuated against them, homelessness, and suicide. Because there is less representation for this community, it is difficult for them to visualize healthy relationship dynamics. 

As service providers, it is vital that we consider how we are reaching out and serving this population. Changes on both a personal level, as well as an agency-wide level, can make a substantial impact on creating an environment of inclusion for LGBTQ clients. Below I have offered some suggestions for reflection. 

  • Consider the language you use to describe the dynamics of DV and SA. Use language that is inclusive of same sex couples and avoid language that reinforces heteronormative dynamics when speaking about the issue. (Such as he=perpetrator and she=victim, focuses primarily on married couples, etc.). Work to make space for family dynamics that are not nuclear or traditional. Many LGBTQ communities have families that are not blood related, and it is important to acknowledge the significance of these support systems. 
  • Look at the way your organization presents itself to the public; the name of your agency, the marketing you use, social media, etc. Ask if it conveys the message that everyone and anyone is safe there. Include LGBTQ specific statistics, research, imagery, and discussions in your training and outreach. If you have any LGBTQ-focused agencies in your service area, your region, or your state, partner with them! Allow people from these communities to lead trainings or be part of the work in other ways. 
  • Be mindful of how you create space within your agency for your LGBTQ employees and volunteers. What are your policies around discrimination, harassment, and leave? Do you use inclusive language when you talk to your coworkers whose personal lives you do not know? Be willing to change and be flexible to new information. 
  • Include LGBTQ issues in your outreach. When significant events in the LGBTQ community occur, such as DV/SA related news stories, acknowledge them. 
  • Consider how you speak to clients about their relationships. Use open-ended questions and ask them to describe the dynamics of the relationship. Clarify and mirror their language.  Acknowledge their identity and how it compounds the violence they have experienced. Ask if there are any issues that they are facing that aren’t included in your case management so far. Be mindful of the resources you are suggesting to a client. 

Victoria Schofield

DCFOF Housing Navigator

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