Domestic violence in same-sex relationships
By Dale Brown
April 27, 2012
Researchers and statisticians, clinicians and authors continue to study the issue of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) violence in intimate relationships. Is it the same as heterosexual intimate partner violence? Is it different? If so, in what ways? Well, the jury has been out, so to speak, for several years and the information supports the fact that of course, intimate partner violence occurs in same-sex relationships.
Generally speaking, it has been difficult historically for some individuals, families, and other groups and systems to address the simple fact that LGBT people have far fewer legal rights but more than their share of society’s oppression. To prove this point, we have to only reflect on the stereotypes, prejudices, discriminations, bullying, expulsions and alienation and shame that society has imposed on those identifying as LGBT to further understand the resistance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals to identify as victims and to further reach out in the hopes of informed and supportive help.
A professional story from my work in a neighboring state in the late ’70s involved the lack of support and civil protections through restraining orders for same-sex partners. The first tier of protective orders at that time was for married couples. This of course, implied heterosexual married couples, because gay marriage was not legal. This left out quite a large proportion of people needing protection from the crime of domestic violence. The next tier of protection included couples in an intimate relationship with each other.
What this would mean is that the victim of violence in a gay relationship would have to acknowledge in an open courtroom that he or she was in a sexual relationship with the perpetrator and often times, “out” themselves in the process to simply be afforded protection from abuse. Eventually, through education, lobbying and political legislative initiatives, orders of protection were able to be granted to all victims who met the elements required for an order of protection.
It is helpful to keep in mind that because our culture is based in heterosexist beliefs and attitudes, the LGBT community often lacks the opportunity to receive appropriate services, sit in groups specifically designed to address their needs, or even engage in visible conversations in a community social based organization or religious institution designed to be open and affirming.
Many LGBT people themselves have what is called internalized homophobia — the sense of shame and self-hatred and feeling “less than” due to observations and experiences within society. Some professionals do not have adequate training, experience or comfort levels to advocate for the LGBT victim of violence. The history of social oppression adds to the difficulty of asking for help.
The idea of “one size fits all” does not apply to the issue of domestic violence.
Following are some helpful considerations regarding myths and realities of LGBT domestic violence:
— Members of the LGBT “community” are often interconnected in various ways, which makes it more difficult to have the support of common friendships and affiliations and limited social spaces.
— Because of our stereotypes (think of the labels — butch, femme, queen, dyke, macho) we often make the assumption of who in the partnership is the perpetrator and who is the victim. Remember, neither size nor appearance or “ are indicator of either the primary aggressor or the victim
— Don’t assume that because it is a same-sex domestic violence relationship that the violence must
— In 40 states, gay couples have no legal process or recourse in dividing assets if they separate.
— In many states where gay marriage is not legal, the issue of children and the lack of parental rights, pensions and other legal issues become irrelevant for the courts.
— We socialize our boys and men to be able to defend themselves. Domestic violence is not about “two guys fighting or duking it out.” There is no “equal” power in these situations, regardless of the fact that they are both men.
— The myth of the victim “liking it” dilutes the seriousness of domestic violence in the LGBT population. Sexual abuse and S&M are not the same behavior.
— Another faulty belief: “If they aren’t married, it might be easier to leave the relationship.” Attachment issues, love, community, families and relationships hold true for all partners and, in fact, some families and friends may be less likely to understand that commitment and bond.
— Shelters and support groups, especially in more rural areas or in a clinic setting, do not have specific programs designed for the LGBT victim of domestic violence.
— Sexual identity can often be used by family and friends to “blame” the victim for the abuse.
There are numerous resources available for victims of LGBT abuse:
— SSTAR Women’s Center (508-675-0087) and The New Bedford Women’s Center (508-996-6636) have trained and qualified staff to assist with LGBT partner violence.
— The Network/LaRed (617-742-4911) Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (GMDVP) (1-800-832-1901).
Violence Recovery Project at Fenway Health Center (1-800-834-3242).
— The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth Support Project and OutHealth! (1-800-530-2770 ).