Sometimes, it can be incredibly difficult for LGBTQ people to recognize certain forms of domestic violence, since we see so few examples of what healthy relationships that include us look like. We get our ideas of what our relationships should look like from TV, movies, books, magazines, and the media in general. All of these things typically fail to include queer and trans people. If they do include queer and trans people, they’re portrayed in stereotypical and negative ways, and they’re almost always white, thin, and able-bodied. Not being able to see ourselves in healthy, happy, fulfilling relationships can make it difficult to recognize when we’re in relationships or situations that are toxic, abusive, or dangerous.
LGBTQ people face gender-based violence at rates that are the same as or maybe even greater than non-LGBTQ people. Studies have found that bisexual women face higher instances of sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence than people belonging to any other sexual orientation (Walter, et al). Trans people are also at a particularly high risk for experiencing gender-based violence because challenging gender norms exposes them to stigma, harassment, and violence (Giles). In 2017 alone, there have been 21 reported murders of trans people. 17 of those murdered were also women of color. The gender-based violence that queer and trans people face can be further exacerbated by their race, religion, class, ability, and immigration status, among other things. Like bisexual women, black, Native American, and multiracial women experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence of any other race.
Queer and trans people who are victims of gender-based violence often face unique challenges with reporting the incidences of violence and with getting help (NCDSV). A huge gap exists between the number of people in minority groups who have experienced gender-based violence and the number of these people who have actually sought out services for it (Modi, et al). Queer and trans people face obstacles with reporting and seeking help that cishet people don’t have to worry about. Some might be afraid to report the violence they’ve faced because they’re unwilling to out themselves during the reporting process or because they fear being outed in the aftermath of reporting to those outside of the process. Some people might be unwilling to disclose these parts of their identity because they fear their report may be taken less seriously or they may face discrimination in the reporting process because of their identity. Abusive partners can also use the threat of outing their partner as a way to silence them and keep them from leaving the relationship and seeking help.
The same fears of being outed and facing discrimination exist when getting help or receiving services. In the past, it’s been difficult for LGBTQ victims of domestic violence to receive services, in part because there were no protections for victims in same-sex relationships in the Violence against Women Act (Modi, et al). Services receiving funding to help survivors of domestic violence were able to refuse services to queer and trans victims. However, when the VAWA was reauthorized in 2013, it explicitly included LGBTQ victims in two grant programs and added a nondiscrimination clause that prohibited LGBTQ individuals from being turned away from shelters or other VAWA funded programs on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information on if and how these provisions have increased accessibility to services over the past 4 years.
It’s important that people involved in reporting and care processes—such as hotline operators, shelter workers, doctors, therapists, law enforcement officers, and Title IX investigators—are culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of LGBTQ victims. It’s difficult enough taking those first steps to reach out and get help. The experts and professionals who are supposed to be helping victims and survivors should not misgender them, make inappropriate assumptions about their situations, or put those people in a position where they have to educate the experts. When these things do happen, it can be a huge deterrent that discourages victims and survivors and leads them to give up on seeking help.
As long as there is any kind of oppression in our society, there will be barriers blocking access to care. However, care providers shouldn’t be adding to those already-existing barriers.
Gilles, Kate. “Gender-Based Violence Against the Transgender Community Is Underreported.” Population Reference Bureau. Population Reference Bureau, Dec. 2011. Web.
Modi, Monica N., Sheallah Palmer, and Alicia Armstrong. “The Role of Violence Against Women Act in Addressing Intimate Partner Violence: A Public Health Issue.” Journal of Women’s Health. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 01 Mar. 2014. Web.
National Coalition against Domestic Violence. “Issue Update: LGBTQ Provisions of S. 1925 Myths v. Facts.” NCDSV. N.p., 19 Apr. 2012. Web.
Walters, M. L., J. Chen, and M.J. Breiding. “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” CDC Division of Violence Prevention. Centers for Disease Control, 2013. Web.
Sara Raines is a sophomore majoring in Human Relations and double minoring in Spanish and Women’s & Gender Studies. She works at the OU Gender + Equality Center and volunteers frequently with Northcare and Dream Act Oklahoma. Sara is passionate about sex education, LGBTQ+ issues, and reproductive justice. She plans to attend law school so that she can write policy in these areas.