Some 40 people came together on Wednesday in the back of the Rush Center to discuss intimate partner violence, a complicated issue that impacts – and endangers – nearly one in four LGBTQ people.
The collection of LGBTQ activists, state agencies and domestic violence advocates discussed how homophobia, the fear of being outed and complicated child custody situations adds challenges for LGBTQ people in abusive relationships. Intimate partner violence – used interchangeably with domestic violence – describes a partner who is systematically trying to control the thoughts, beliefs or actions of their partner, often by engaging in violence, abusive, controlling and coercive actions.
The rate of intimate partner violence for LGBTQ victims – about one in four queer people will experience it in their lifetime – is similar to the domestic violence rate for non-LGBTQ people. But among LGBTQ victims, intimate partner violence tends to impact bisexual and trans people more than others.
“[IPV] happens at the same rate in the LGBTQ community as it does in the heterosexual community, and across all social, ethnic, racial, and economic lines,” said Laura Barton, programs and partnerships manager for the Atlanta Pride Committee, a sponsor and host of Wednesday's event.
A first of its kind CDC study in 2010 on intimate partner violence among LGBTQ people revealed that bisexual people experience higher levels of domestic violence than either their gay or straight counterparts. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs similarly found that both bisexual people and transgender people faced an increased risk – nearly double that of non-bisexual or cisgender people respectively – for intimate partner violence. Notably, cisgender men make up a disproportionate majority of LGBTQ intimate partner violence homicides – including Cory Jamal Robinson, a 22-gay Atlanta who was murdered by his boyfriend just days after telling his family that he was concerned that his relationship was in turmoil and his boyfriend was turning more aggressive.
'A lot of barriers unique to LGBTQ survivors'
Queer people must also contend with added barriers to accessing services or getting help if they are undocumented, low income, face cultural or language barriers, or are navigating additional sources of stigma, like being HIV positive. This was highlighted on Wednesday during a role-playing activity (second photo) in which participants read scripts demonstrating the difficulty many LGBTQ people experience trying to accessing services and support.
“Hi my name is Chris, I am a transgender woman living with HIV and I desperately need your help. My partner of about five years broke my arm last night, I am afraid he’ll hurt me worse and maybe our daughter if we stay. She is not my biological daughter but I fear for her safety. I don’t have any family to call on and all of our friends are his. He controls all the money, but we’ve got to get out of there, please help us.”
The fictional Chris “called” audience members playing domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters, where she was turned away due to transphobic policies. The police and child protective services had a hard time navigating the situation she was in, and lacked the tools and training to assess what was happening, while the LGBTQ community center was worried it would make the community look bad.
Jennifer Thomas – executive director of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, a state agency that also sponsored the discussion on Wednesday – told Project Q Atlanta that the push for marriage equality came with a strong desire to highlight the positive aspect of LGBTQ relationships, leaving little room to address intimate partner violence.
“There wasn’t a strong desire to talk about the negatives or the violence happening within those relationships,” Thomas said.
On the flip side, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia create environments of fear and violence that aid perpetrators in isolating their victims.
“When we are living in a community where we are experiencing homophobia or we are experiencing transphobia, we’re living in a community where heterosexism is thriving,” Thomas told the crowd. “That actually benefits the perpetrator in a same-sex relationship, because it’s helping to isolate and make the world of that victim smaller.”
Legally, any shelter that receives federal funding must treat all survivors the same -- regardless of the gender identity or sexual orientation of the victim. That issue surfaced earlier this year during the fight over anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation at the Georgia Capitol. Domestic violence advocates testified against legislation that critics said could allow shelters to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Alexis Champion, training manager at the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told the group that although LGBTQ people are supposed to have equal access to support and services, it doesn’t always work out that way. The coalition also sponsored the event.
“There are a lot of barriers that are unique to LGBTQ survivors, and the reality is that they don’t always have access to equal services and support to get help, to get safe,” Champion said.
'They take both parties to jail'
Additionally, intimate partner violence can be harder to identify in queer relationships due to expectations that the masculine member of the relationship is the perpetrator and the victim is the more feminine person. Those misplaced expectations sometimes result in a higher rate of dual arrests for LGBTQ people in domestic violence cases.
“We do see a higher rate of dual arrests ... from officers responding to homes where there is a same sex couple,” Thomas said. “Both parties have visible injuries, and the officer is not able to determine, based on those injuries, who is the primary aggressor.”
The end result is, “they take both parties to jail," Thomas added.
Leo Martinez (third photo), president of Latino LinQ and an Atlanta Pride parade grand marshal, said that navigating immigration status and being queer can also complicate an instance of domestic violence. Perpetrators may hold their partner’s documentation or immigration paperwork as a way to exert control over them, he explained, and victims fleeing violence will find little support from Georgia’s courts if they are seeking asylum.
“The rate of approval for asylum seekers in some immigration courts in Georgia are two percent, while in other states it may be up to 50, 55 percent. So we’re talking about really biased judges that do not approve, they are just not giving the people their day in court,” Martinez said.
LGBTQ victims of intimate partner violence are also haunted by threats of being outed to family or work – which can have devastating consequence for victims.
“Maybe you are not out to your family or your job, and in doing so would cause you to lose the support of your family or cause you to lose your job. So there’s the fear of being outed by your partner,” Thomas told the group.
Custody over children can also provide complications, particularly if partners are unmarried or the victim is not a biological or legal parent. Thomas warned.
“You could really be SOL when it comes to getting any type of visitation or any sort of contact with that child," Thomas said.
[top image via | second photo by Regina Willis]