October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and LGBTQ+ History Month

by SANDY BROWN, Treasurer, PFLAG Door County

LGBTQ+ partner abuse is similar to abuse in non-LGBTQ+ relationships, with the incidence rate being approximately the same: 25-30% of relationships are abusive. This abuse can be physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial or psychological, and it can be deadly. Its purpose is to maintain control and power over a partner, and the abused person may feel isolated, afraid and convinced of being at fault. Abused people risk the loss of community or children if they tell someone about the abuse, and the end of any relationship involves grief and loss.

How is LGBTQ+ partner abuse different from abuse in non-LGBTQ+ relationships? Living in a homophobic, transphobic, sexist and heterosexist society creates a different context for the abuse, including gender dynamics in the relationship. Racism creates a distinctive context of LGBTQ+ people of color who experience abuse in relationships, and an entirely different context in transgender people of color. LGBTQ+ people who have been abused, including men, may have more difficulty finding useful support than heterosexual women.

The myth prevails that LGBTQ+ relationship abuse is “mutual,” yet few assume that abuse in non-LGBTQ+ relationships is mutual. Using existing services, such as police-reporting or partner-abuse programs, is similar to coming out, and it’s a major life decision. 

Within the LGBTQ+ community, support may not exist. To talk about LGBTQ+ abuse reinforces the homophobic myth that LGBTQ+ people are “sick” or that LGBTQ+ relationships are unhealthy. LGBTQ+ survivors may know few other LGBTQ+ people, and leaving an abuser could mean increased isolation. LGBTQ+ people who do know many other LGBTQ+ people may risk losing friends if they disclose the abuse because some LGBTQ+ friends may believe an abuser and not a survivor. This could also lead to increased isolation.

Transgender men and transgender women may have problems finding partners of their desired sexual orientation, and their partners must also be accepting of their gender, making the pool of potential partners smaller. The LGBTQ+ community may feel small, so news of the abuse can become public knowledge. This may be true for trans people who are sensationalized by the press. 

The abusive partner can use blackmail to hold a survivor in the relationship because being outed at work or to parents and families can be more threatening than the abuse. In trans relationships, the threat of obstruction of transitions may be used.

There is little clear language to talk about rape in LGBTQ+ relationships, and because people don’t have language to discuss it, studies sometimes indicate that rape or sexual abuse is less likely to occur in the context of partner abuse for LGBTQ+ people. In reality, rates of sexual assault in LGBTQ+ relationships are similar to rates of sexual assault in non-LGBTQ+ relationships.

Adapted from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women’s Confronting Lesbian Battering Manual by Susan C. Turell and Molly M. Herrmann. This column is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.