By Brian Pacheco
June 19, 2018
When people in a same-sex relationship fight, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “It’s just two guys fighting. Let them figure it out.” Or “Her girlfriend hit her. Sometimes girls fight like that.” But abuse is different than a fight. Domestic violence is one person trying to exert power and control over another. It’s dangerous, and it often escalates over time.
Domestic Violence in the LGBTQ Community Exists at the Same Rate as Straight Relationships and Deserves our Attention
So often, we hear loved ones of domestic violence victims say things like “I had no clue this was happening. I wish I had known so I could have helped. I wish I had paid closer attention.” Domestic violence thrives in silence. According to a study by domestic violence advocacy organization NoMore.org, 60% of Americans say they know a victim of domestic violence, while two out of three Americans have never talked about the issue with their friends. But the statistics are loud and clear: according the Center for Disease Control, one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence during their lifetime. And two in five lesbians and one in four gay men will be a victim in their lifetime.
What perhaps is even more tragic than the silence and stigma that surrounds domestic violence in the LGBTQ community is the severe lack of supports for those courageous enough to seek help. The current service models simply do not address the unique needs of LGBT people adequately. Although federal law now requires domestic violence shelter providers to accommodate LGBT survivors, access remains limited for many reasons.
One of those reasons, as my colleague Liz Roberts, deputy CEO of Safe Horizon tells me, is that “much of the government funding to address domestic violence is geared toward families. That means we have fewer resources for childless survivors. About 40% of victims who call New York City’s 24-hour domestic violence hotline seeking shelter are singles — but they’re the most difficult to place, because most of the beds go to survivors with children.”
But Many LGBTQ Folks Don’t Have Children – so What Happens?
LGBTQ domestic violence survivors who need immediate shelter may first try and stay with friends. The issue here is that the LGBTQ population is small and our circles tend to be interconnected. And in abusive relationships, abusers will often isolate victims from friends and family.
This was true for Terrance*, a gay Safe Horizon client who sought refuge with mutual friends. Although they wanted to help, eventually they asked Terrance to leave because they were also friends with Terrance’s abusive ex and didn’t want to pick sides.
Terrance found himself with no choice but to enter a homeless shelter where he witnessed violence and, as a result, felt unsafe and very depressed. “I was seeking out someone to talk to,” he said. “I needed counseling. I was trying to inform [the shelter], ‘Look, here’s my order of protection. I’m a domestic violence victim. I need something a little more where I can be alone.’ It’s bigger than just me being homeless. I need someone to talk to. I was crying inside … in a really rocky space financially, no money, no friends, no one to talk to, and afraid. I didn’t know where this guy is going to find me. I don’t wish it upon anyone.”
Terrance was eventually placed in a domestic violence shelter at Safe Horizon, where, he says, he got his confidence back and was able to access the supportive services he needed. At Safe Horizon, we partner with the New York City Anti-Violence Project to make our domestic violence shelters accessible to LGBTQ survivors.
Domestic Violence is Real, and it is Most Certainly an Urgent LGBTQ Issue
You may be asking, ‘What can I do if I find out a friend is an abusive relationship?’ First off, believe them. Don’t minimize their claims. Take what they are saying seriously. Most important, understand that domestic violence is complicated. Don’t force them to call the police or put pressure on them to leave the relationship. That may not be the choice they want or are ready to make. Instead, let them know they have your support and recommend they speak to an expert who can help them better understand the options available to them.
Also, donate to organizations like Safe Horizon that are on the ground supporting victims of domestic violence.
And if you believe you’re in an abusive relationship, it’s OK to reach out for help or do what feels safest for you. You absolutely deserve support regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity.
As a man who identifies as gay, I know how debilitating living in silence can be. No one should have to suffer in silence because of abuse.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence in need of help, call Safe Horizon’s anonymous domestic violence hotline at (800) 621-HOPE (4673).
* Client names and identifying information have been changed to protect their privacy. Images used are representations of Safe Horizon’s clients.