While a lot of television shows and movies focus on intimate partner violence (IPV) (also known as domestic violence) between heterosexual couples (specifically men abusing women), IPV can happen to anyone, of any sexual orientation, of any age. This includes people who are in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) relationships.
Abuse in any relationship, straight or otherwise, is about one partner using power and control over the other. However, there are tactics specific to LGBT relationships that abusers use to gain this power and control.
- Threatening to “out”/use isolation: Threatening to “out” a person, or expose a person’s sexual orientation, can be a powerful tool of control. Being outed can result in a loss of family support, and in losing friends. Additionally, when a person first comes out on their own as LGBT, they can be very vulnerable to abuse because they may lose touch with support networks (friends, family, or the community). This can cause a person to feel as though their relationship is the most important resource in their life, which gives the abuser a great deal of control over the other person. For example, if an LGBT person is kicked out of their parents’ house after coming out, they may have to choose between living with their abuser or being homeless. On a less extreme level, an abuser may say things like, “If you came out or if you told anyone we were together, they would hate you. I’m the only one who really loves you,” or “I don’t understand how you can be friends with that person when you know if they found out we were together, they would hate you. You need to stop spending time with them because I’m the only one who loves you.”
- Using LGBT-friendly spaces and friends: Because LGBT-friendly spaces can be few in number and have small numbers of participants, the abuser may use these close-knit communities of supportive friends, family, and affirming community spaces to track the activities of their partner. The abuser can also cut off their partner from this support and these resources. For example, if a victim has a close-knit group of friends in a club at school with an LGBT-supportive adviser, the abuser may spread rumors about the victim or use other tactics to cut off their partner from this resource.
- Using institutions and societal bias to gain control: Law enforcement, the medical community, schools, and other institutions that are normally resources for straight survivors have a history of discrimination and physical abuse against LGBT persons. These barriers present within organizations and society are used by abusers to increase control over their partner’s life and actions. For example, if an LGBT person goes to a school nurse to be treated for physical problems related toward the abuse, the victim may perceive they will be judged, condemned or lectured for being LGBT instead of being able to use the nurse as a resource for getting help. Abusers can leverage this bias to gain control over their partners.
Here are some myths and facts about LGBT Intimate Partner Violence.
Myth: Men can’t be victims of IPV and women are never abusers, so in LGBT relationships, violence and abuse don’t exist.
Fact: IPV is about power and control, not about sexual orientation or gender. Women can be abusers in a relationship (straight or otherwise) and men can be survivors of abuse (whether they’re straight or on the LGBT spectrum). LGBT relationships are just like straight relationships in that they can be anywhere on a scale from healthy and respectful to abusive.
Myth: It is always the “butch” or more masculine partner who is the abuser, and the more feminine or “weaker” partner is always the victim.
Fact: We all carry around stereotypes about what abusers look like and act like– we think they’re physically powerful, big, and have masculine characteristics. These stereotypes, however, don’t reflect the reality of IPV, which is that anyone, regardless of their masculine or feminine characteristics, can exercise power and control over a partner– whether that power and control becomes physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse.
Myth: If a gay man is physically abusing his male partner, that’s not abuse– that’s just a fight. A man should be able to protect himself.
Fact: Our culture teaches us that it’s okay for men to be aggressive and violent– especially with other men. However, the truth is that there is nothing normal or acceptable about physical violence between partners, no matter the gender of either of the partners. No person– LGBT, straight, male, or female– deserves to feel unsafe and threatened in their relationship. This myth also implies that it is the victim’s fault for not stopping the violence, when the truth is that IPV is never the victim’s fault; the abuser made the choice to use violence, and that choice is out of the victim’s hands.
Myth: Intimate partner violence only happens to LGBT people who are poor or who are people of color.
Fact: Domestic violence can happen to anyone, of any age, of any sexual orientation from any walk of life. IPV can happen to a rich, young white gay couple living in Rome just as easily as it can happen to a mixed race lesbian couple living in Chattanooga, and just as easily as it can happen to a straight white couple living in Atlanta. There is no group that is exempt from experiencing IPV.
Myth: There is no help for LGBT couples in abusive relationships, because gay marriage is illegal in Georgia.
Fact: There is help for LGBT couples who are dealing with abuse, even in Georgia! Federal law, which applies everywhere in the US, protects LGBT folks against abuse, bullying and other violations. Hospitality House in Rome, Georgia, has resources for anyone in an abusive relationship, including emergency shelter, legal advocacy, and individual counseling. Other state and national resources include United 4 Safety (based in Atlanta, Georgia), the GLBT National Help Center, the Northwest Network, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, and the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project.
No one deserves a relationship founded on anything less than love and respect, including LGBT individuals. Be aware of the red flags and warnings signs for abuse in relationships, and remember that abuse is never, ever the victim’s fault.