Domestic Violence in LGBTQIA+ Relationships

Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Keep in mind that the perpetrator may not immediately try to control their partner and it may be months or years before the abuse starts. In fact, many abusive relationships begin with an intense honeymoon period. Unfortunately, this seemingly perfect start to the relationship may cause others to not believe or discount the severity of the abuse down the line.

Abuse can consist of physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, or injure. Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any age, race, sexual orientation, class, immigration status, religion, or gender. For those who are LGBTQIA+ or in non-heterosexual relationships, domestic violence rates are higher than the domestic violence rates for the general population.

What does LGBTQIA+ stand for?

LGBTQIA+ refers to a community of individuals that identify outside of the societal norm. The traditional societal norm is a person that identifies with the sex they were born as (this is called being cisgender), experiences gender identity and expression in alignment with their birth sex, and identifies as heterosexual. LGBTQIA+ is an acronym that includes identities outside of the norm. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex, and asexual. The + includes other identities that are not adequately addressed in the other letters.

Domestic Violence Exists in the LGBTQIA+ Community

A myth of domestic violence is that it is always perpetrated by a man in a male-female heterosexual relationship. However, the truth is that domestic violence can occur in any relationship. For those in the LGBTQIA+ community, domestic violence is an unfortunately common experience. Here are the facts according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • White LGBTQIA+ survivors and bisexual individuals were more likely to experience sexual violence than those who are not white.
  • Black and African American LGBTQIA+ individuals were more likely to experience physical violence than their peers.
  • 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, and or stalking by an intimate partner as compared to 35% of heterosexual women.
  • 26% of gay men and 37.3% of bisexual men have experienced rape, physical violence, and or stalking by an intimate partner compared to 29% of heterosexual men.
  • Transgender individuals are more likely to experience intimate partner violence in public.

Tools of Abuse

Abuse in LGBTQIA+ relationships has many parallels to abuse in heterosexual couples. These signs of abuse include:

  • Abuser is overly romantic at the start of the relationships
  • Jealousy
  • Controlling behavior (including digital media behavior such as going through a partner’s phone without permission)
  • Isolation
  • Lack of accountability
  • Abuser makes others responsible for their feelings
  • Use of force or physical violence
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Threats

In addition to these commonly seen tactics in abusive relationships, there are several unique tools used against those who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Some examples include:

  • Othering the victim. This is seen particularly in relationships where the abuser identifies as heterosexual and cisgender, but the victim/survivor does not. One example of a way an abuser may other their partner is by saying things like, “You don’t get it, I’m the normal one” or “I don’t want people to know I’m dating someone that is LGBTQIA because I’m not LGBTQIA.”
  • Outing (threatening to reveal or revealing the victim’s identity to those who don’t know).
  • Slut-shaming or judgment around sex. In a relationship where the victim identifies as LGBTQIA+ but the abuser does not, the abuser may slut-shame them under the judgment that LGBTQIA+ are more promiscuous. Verbal abuse using this tactic may sound like, “Just because you’ve had polyamorous relationships before doesn’t mean I want to sleep with everyone, too” or “You’ve been with so many people before, how will I know that you only want to be with me? I don’t trust you.”
  • Verbal abuse attacking a victim’s identity, e.g. “You don’t even look like a real woman” or “no one else will date a queer.”
  • Derogatory language such as the refusal of using proper pronouns to devalue the victim.
  • Physical or sexual abuse focused on a person’s gender, sexual identity, or preferences.

Why Aren’t More LGBTQIA+ Folx Seeking Help?

LGBTQIA+ individuals are significantly less likely to seek domestic violence support and shelter than their counterparts. This lack of help-seeking is due to the intersections of violence and discrimination that place barriers in the way of LGBTQIA+ victim/survivors.

These barriers include:

  • The fear that no one will believe them. With society predominately portraying abuse victims as only straight women, those who identify outside of this norm may fear not being taken seriously if they were to come forward with the abuse.
  • Homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia. The reality is that hatred and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals exists. This potential judgment may prevent victim/survivors from sharing their story.
  • Lack of resources. LGBTQIA+ resources are sparse in comparison to the resources available to heterosexual and gender-conforming individuals. Social work, support staff, and legal staff may lack the proper education around LGBTQIA+ issues and thus provide less than service. In addition, many domestic violence shelters are women-only, which makes it hard for male-identifying victims to flee to safe shelter. In addition, some shelters are not trans-friendly or immigrant-friendly.
  • Fear of being outed. Identity is a personal choice and when an individual chooses to share (or not share) their identity is up to them. For those who are not out due to personal reasons (loss of family, job security, and more) seeking support also comes with the risk of being outed or feel coerced into sharing their identity.
  • Abuse wears at self-esteem, independence, and often causes victim/survivors to feel crazy. Victim/survivors may think, “My partner is right, who else will date me? I’m not normal. Maybe I’m the one causing the problem, if I just acted more normal, my partner would stop being abusive.”

What can we Do?

There are many ways in which individuals can work to improve survivor services for LGBTQIA+ communities and advocate for ending domestic violence in non-heterosexual relationships. If you are not sure where to start, try the following:

  • Be a true ally. This means you stand up for LGBTQIA+ rights, use your platform to feature their voices, and step in when situations are unjust or discriminatory.
  • Do your homework. If you aren’t sure what the LGBTQIA+ community is, do your research. This doesn’t mean asking the next LGBTQIA+ person you see to educate you. This means doing research yourself. If you’ve done your homework and still have questions, then seek LGBTQIA+ specific guidance.
  • Provide resources. You never know who is listening to you or looking at your online presence. Social media is a great way to get resources into the hands of those that need them. From posting a list of LGBTQIA+ resources on Facebook to sharing a shelter’s page on LinkedIn, you could be quietly helping someone escape an abusive relationship.
  • Use your platform to feature LGBTQIA+ voices, not your own. If you are an ally, that is fantastic. However, this doesn’t mean the most valuable thing you can do is take to Facebook and share why you are such a good ally for supporting LGBTQIA-rights. Instead, consider using your platform to share the voices of LGBTQIA+ folx. You could retweet LGBTQIA+ folx, share articles, or post videos featuring the voices of LGBTQIA+ folx. Let LGBTQIA+ individuals speak for themselves and use your platform to amplify them.
  • If you are a service provider, attend LGBTQIA+ trainings—we promise, they are available to you!
  • Advocate for improved care. This advocacy could be legal advocacy, human rights advocacy, or personal advocacy. If there is a conversation about LGBTQIA+ services, speak up and advocate for improved services.
  • Donate. If you can, consider donating to LGBTQIA+-friendly resources and domestic violence shelters. Your donation will help improve the lives of victim/survivors.
  • If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, call the Women’s Advocates hotline at 651-227-8284. Trained advocates can provide you with resources, connect you to legal guidance, or help you safely flee an abusive relationship. No one deserves a life of violence.