Domestic Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Relationships

Domestic violence is a serious issue in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) relationships. Domestic violence occurs in same-gender relationships at the same rate as heterosexual relationships (about 1 in 4).

As in heterosexual couples, the problem is extremely underreported. Because LGBT individuals face a society oppressive and hostile towards them, LGBT individuals are often afraid of revealing their sexual orientation or the nature of their relationship.

Abuse in LGBT relationships happens for the same reasons as in heterosexual relationships, to maintain control and power over ones partner.

Although LGBT relationships do not look like heterosexual relationships, the abusive behaviors used by a LGBT batterer are similar.

The weapons used by a gay or lesbian abuser/batterer include all of the weapons a heterosexual batterer uses, and more …

**Batterer may use homophobic myths in society, for example …

    “the abuse is because you are lesbian/gay”
    ”this behavior is normal in a lesbian relationship…
          you are just going to have to toughen up”
    ”no one will help you or believe you because you are lesbian (or gay)”
    ”you really are worthless and flawed because you are lesbian (or gay)”
    ”the relationship is not real/doesnt mean anything”
    ”if you leave there is no one else for you”

**Batterer may not allow their partner to go to the few places safe and comfortable to be “out”

**Batterer may exploit the myth in our society is that abuse in same-gender relationships is always “mutual” abuse.

Fact: There is almost always a “primary aggressor/controller”. Abuse is rarely “mutual”.

**Batterer may threatening to “out” their partner to friends, boss, parents, children, ex- wife or ex-husband.

Fact: The threat of being “outed” is a very serious threat. It is as serious as a death threat. For someone who is closeted the threat of being outed is a threat of losing all security in her/his life. She/he could lose her/his job, children, apartment, house, family and friends.

Utilizing existing services (such as a shelter, attending support groups or calling a crisis line) either means lying or hiding the gender of the batterer or having to “come out”, a major life decision.

Additional training, sensitivity, and expertise is needed to adequately recognize and address the specific needs of LGBT domestic violence victims.

Staff at Next Door and at MAITRI are specially trained to be sensitive and knowledgeable about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender domestic violence issues.

Fact: There are over 300 laws in the State of California and more than 1,049 Federal laws that are triggered by legal marriage.

Many of these laws affect inheritance, property ownership, etc. Batterers often use the lack of rights to control their partner by controlling partners finances, property etc.

Fact: There are over 1 million people living in Santa Clara County.

Approximately 10% are gay or lesbian (100 thousand people) – 1 in 4 – are dealing with domestic violence issues, which means that at least 20,000 gays or lesbians in Santa Clara County may need domestic violence services.

Fact: There are no domestic violence shelters specifically for lesbians or gay men. Lesbians are often welcome in shelters for heterosexual women, however it is important that staff in those shelters obtain training to help meet the specific needs of lesbians who have been abused. Staff own lack of knowledge about LGB issues or their homophobia can re-victimize the victim.

Fact: Receiving support services to help one escape a battering relationship is more difficult when there are also oppressions faced.

Battered lesbians and female bisexuals encounter sexism, homophobia and heterosexism. Gay and bisexual men encounter homophobia and heterosexism.

Lesbian or gay people of color who are battered also face racism. These forms of social oppressions make it more difficult for these individuals to get the support needed (legal, financial, social, housing, therapeutic, medical, etc.) or to escape the abusive relationship.

Fact: LGBT victims/survivors of abuse may not know others who are LGBT, meaning that leaving the relationship could result in total isolation.

Fact: LGBT batterers can manipulate partners connection with others by claiming that a friend or familys concern about the relationship is really motivated by the friend or familys homophobia.

Fact: The support system for the abuser is most likely the same support system of the abused individual.

Fact: Children may be a significant factor to consider when working with lesbians /gay men who are domestic violence victims.

If the biological mother/father is being abused there is the fear of losing her/his children to the ex-husband/ex-wife or family because they are lesbian or gay.

If the non-biological parent is being abused there is fear of losing the children because she/he has no legal parental rights (unless a second-party adoption is done) Batterers often postpone or deny the second party adoption as a way to control partner.

Fact: In hospitals or counseling waiting rooms often the woman sitting with the female victim may NOT just a support person she may be the batterer.

Fact: Regardless of how healthy the relationship or how long a woman or man has been out, LGBT individuals are still often kept marginalized at work, with family, at community functions, in churches or organizations by being allowed to participate (by the group) as long as they keep silent about their relationships, their lives with their partners and their involvement with all things perceived as lesbian/gay.

Fact: You can not tell who is a batterer by sight. Size and strength and who is more butch has nothing to do with who is the batterer in a lesbian/gay relationship.

Fact: In lesbian and gay relationships few if any follow male/female roles, in other words, one partner is not more masculine & one more feminine.

Many lesbians/gay men move to California from other parts of the country.

They do not necessarily know what the laws are or what their legal rights

Fact: Domestic violence in LGBT relationships is a crime. LGBT individuals in California can legally get a restraining order to keep the batterer away.

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by Amy Caffrey, LMFT, Training Materials for Next Door, Solutions to Domestic Violence 10/01