Myths Mask Prevalence of LGBT Domestic Violence

Myths Mask Prevalence of LGBT Domestic Violence

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After defending himself from an act of violence by his partner in front of a club in San Francisco, Alejandro (whose real name is being withheld for security reasons) did not know why he deserved the abuse by his loved one.

“I returned the physical abuse,” Alejandro recalls. “I ran as fast as I could to get away from him. I was sitting on the steps of Union Station asking myself, ‘What did I do wrong and why is he getting violent?’” Alejandro, 26, spent almost two years in this abusive relationship.

Domestic violence, a familiar and intimate topic in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community has the same characteristics as violence between heterosexual people. It manifests in sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse, according to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (LAGLC). Domestic violence occurs between gay couples with the same frequency as between heterosexual couples. Despite the fact that domestic violence cases between both sexual orientations have much in common, there are also some differences.

Gay people in violent relationships who have not revealed their sexual orientation confront the threats of abusers who threaten them with making their orientation public in front of their family, friends, and employers, explained Giselle García, resource and support coordinator of the organization Romper el Ciclo (Break the Cycle).

“If the family of one of these people (in an abusive relationship) does not know that they are gay, the simple threat, ‘I am going to tell everyone that you’re gay,’ is a tremendous threat for a young person…who is beginning to recognize who he or she is,” added García.

Being blackmailed over the threat of being discovered motivates victims to stay in the abusive relationship. This situation turns into a unique and complex experience for the victims, especially for those who stay “in the closet.”

Thomas Piernik, director of student development and international programs, has seen the evolution of gay student presence at California State University, Northridge and has extensively studied the gay social movement in the context of higher education. Piernik explains that to be gay or lesbian adds another level of complexity to domestic violence.

“I can easily see how a gay or lesbian young person can find logic in their fears and vulnerability to stay in an abusive relationship,” explains Piernik. “It’s a very complex psychological picture to paint of a person that chooses to hide their identity.”

Some of the myths that the organization has identified are that women aren’t violent, that men aren’t commonly victims, that LGBT domestic violence is mutual, and that there aren’t significant differences between domestic violence across sexual orientations. LAGLC suspects that the myth that the violence is mutual is due to the perceived equality of two people of the same sex.

At the beginning Alejandro didn’t defend himself from his partner’s blows, but eventually he began to return the abuse.

“I realized that the relationship wasn’t healthy more than three times,” says Alejandro. “I knew that it was a problem, but my love for him blinded me to everything that was happening around me.”

Alejandro had hoped that his partner’s abuse would stop. It was not until the abuse became a memory that he saw the reality of the abuse that he suffered. Alejandro never looked for help or reported any of the violent incidents.

In 2008, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported that there were 3,419 cases of domestic violence in the United States between couples in the LGBT community. This doesn’t mean the cases were reported to the police. On the contrary, of the cases that were reported to the authorities, more than 2 percent reported misconduct by the officers, an increase by almost 100 percent compared to 2007.

In one police misconduct case, a woman who was abused by her partner was detained instead of her abuser who was physically smaller than her.

As with police authorities, domestic violence organizations are not always sensible or receptive to the needs of members of the LGBT community. Some victims that looked for help could feel the need to lie about their sexual orientation in order to obtain the same type of help that a heterosexual person would receive. Even LAGLC said that domestic violence service providers that normally treat heterosexual survivors often have more difficulty differentiating between the perpetrator and the survivor among LGBT couples.

This is why NCAVP stresses that the number of domestic violence incidents in the LGBT community is much bigger than the number that is reported, not only to the police but also to the domestic violence organizations.

This year Alejandro celebrates four years of being free from his violent relationship, but starting again with another partner hasn’t been easy.

“I had to tell my new partner about my past and I was scared of his reaction,” he says. “However, I needed to understand that he was not my ex. I had to understand that he was a different human being with thoughts and emotions that have nothing to do with my ex.”