Central PA's LGBT News Source

The threat from within

A disturbing look at intimate partner violence

There are formidable threats to LGBTQ safety and civil rights from outside our community. Are there also formidable threats to our safety from within our own community?
There are formidable threats to LGBTQ safety and civil rights from outside our community. Are there also formidable threats to our safety from within our own community?

One outside threat is the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case now before the US Supreme court. Jack Phillips, the baker who refused to make a cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig in 2012, argues he should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ people as an expression of religious freedom. His argument is dangerous and ugly, and threatens to undermine many of the recently hard-earned victories against discrimination.
Villains outside our community are easy to express outrage toward.
It is more difficult to look inside our own communities and networks to identify how we may cause harm to each other. How do we turn away from that harm toward creating healing queer communities?
A recent, called “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2016,” allows us to jump into that conversation.
The report is an analysis of more than 2,000 reports of intimate partner violence collected by 14 member programs of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).
It seeks to describe the violence experienced by LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities in the fourteen geographic regions represented, from Los Angeles to Kansas City to Burlington. It should not be understood as a count of the totality of intimate partner violence taking place in LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities across the US.
That being said, even the raw counts of incident reports in each program should be understood as the tip of the iceberg for the regions served. Many survivors of intimate partner violence may not feel comfortable disclosing their traumatic experiences, even anonymously. As pointed out in the report:
NCAVP’s data may omit populations such as incarcerated people, people in rural communities, people who may not know about their local NCAVP member organization, people where the closest NCAVP member organization is too far away to reach, people who are not out as LGBTQ or as living with HIV, people who are not comfortable with reporting, and people who face other barriers to accessing services or reporting.
Note the important difference between intimate partner violence and sexual violence, which are distinct but may overlap. Intimate partner violence has to do with harm done to a person by a partner or ex-partner. It may be sexual, but it could also be physical, financial, emotional, or otherwise violent. Sexual violence, on the other hand, may include rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment–regardless of whether or not the perpetrator is or was an intimate partner.
It bears repeating that this report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) deals with intimate partner violence experienced in 2016 by people who are LGBTQ and/or HIV-affected. This is not a report of sexual violence (except for sexual violence where an intimate partner is the abuser), or hate crimes; NCAVP does work in those areas as well, just not in this report.
One key finding includes that there were fifteen reports of IPV related homicides of LGBTQ people in 2016. In eleven of these, the victims were younger than age 40, and in ten of the cases, the victims were killed by a current partner. (Four were killed by an ex-partner, and one was killed by police responding to an intimate partner violence incident.) LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of intimate partner violence most commonly reported cases of physical violence (19%), verbal harassment (18%), threats and intimidation (11%), isolation (9%), and online harassment (6%).
NCAVP also tracked the types of services sought by survivors:
The most common services that LGBTQ survivors sought were advocacy related, such as legal advocacy (25%), housing advocacy (17%), and mental health advocacy (14%). Other services that survivors sought were safety planning (59%) and emergency funds 12%. In 2016, 12% of survivors attempted to access emergency shelter. Additionally, only 33% of survivors reported seeking a protective order as a remedial service for IPV.
LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence may face the unfair dilemma of choosing between community and safety; for example, staying away from LGBTQ community spaces to avoid interacting with an abusive ex-partner. This isolation can delay healing, and put individuals at risk of factors associated with isolation like substance abuse and mental health concerns.
My observation from facilitating programs in the local LGBTQ community is that there is a real need for talking about healthy relationships at all ages, especially with young people. Due to social disconnection, LGBTQ youth experience a number of risk factors associated with dating violence, ranging from substance abuse to mental health concerns, as well as social rejection, which is often directly associated with disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBTQ youth in dating relationships face similar challenges as their non-LGBTQ peers, but also face some unique challenges. These may include partners using the threat of “outing” to maintain control; challenges in accessing help because of internalized shame, fear of harassment, or lack of legal protections; and lack of access to models of healthy relationships.
Young LGBTQ people encounter a number of barriers in accessing safe spaces to have these conversations. While LGBTQ youth experiences remain under-researched, there are some valuable resources that shed light on school climate for LGBTQ students in middle and high schools and colleges. This research demonstrates, among other findings, that LGBTQ students experience bullying and harassment at alarming rates, especially compared to their non-LGBTQ peers.
How can we have conversations about healthy relationships? LGBTQ people and characters are more prevalent in mass media than ever before, which presents both opportunities and challenges. While LGBTQ youth may be more able to see people like them in news and entertainment, diversity within this representation is not always a given. We should encourage critical thinking around what kinds of LGBTQ identities and experiences are demonstrated in media, and what’s missing.
When we do get around to having these rare opportunities to model healthy dating relationships, the models are typically limited to gender-normative gay or lesbian couples. What does it mean for bisexual people to be in a healthy dating relationship? What about transgender people? The invisibility of LGBTQ models for healthy relationships is pervasive enough that we need to be committed to modeling multiple LGBTQ experiences in meeting this need.
LGBTQ youth often do not grow up in households headed by LGBTQ parents, so the skills associated with navigating the world in the face of challenges like discrimination, harassment, and cultural invisibility associated with these identities are often not observed over the course of childhood. A community is an opportunity to meet this need! We should create and participate in intergenerational LGBTQ spaces to talk, envision, and enact the kind of community that we want and need.
These are just a few ideas for creating the kind of community that fosters healthy relationships instead of violent ones. We need to keep asking questions like:
What would it look like if we didn’t have these barriers?
How can we foster accountability?
How can we share power and dismantle hierarchy?
We don’t have to wait for someone else to change the system and send us the memo. Instead we can be what we need for each other - in other words, a community.