Another guest blog by our DV AmeriCorps Member, Evan Abramsky. Thanks, Evan!
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court handed down one of its most significant decisions in history. In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled that no state could legally deny the right to marry for same-sex couples based on their sexual orientation. This represents a major step forward for advocates of LGBT rights, and it should be celebrated. However, the LGBT community still has a great deal more work to do before victory can be declared. One area in which significant work remains is in how domestic violence prevention and response agencies handle violence in same-sex relationships.
Over the last 30 years, advocates have been successful at bringing the hidden epidemic of domestic violence out into the open. Through effective advertising campaigns, public policy work, and the expansion of available supports for victims, domestic and sexual violence are no longer taboo topics that are expected to remain in the home. While these efforts have raised significant awareness for female victims of domestic violence at the hands of violent males, many in the LGBT community argue that more work must be done to create visibility for domestic violence victims in same-sex relationships.
According to the National Violence Against Women survey, the prevalence of domestic violence amongst males in same-sex relationships was approximately five times higher than that of males opposite-sex relationships (35.4% as opposed to 7.1%, respectively). For women in same-sex relationships, the rate of domestic violence was slightly higher than that of women in opposite-sex relationships (21.5% versus 20.4%, respectively). A study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health determined that 34.6% of members of the transgender community were victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes. These are significant disparities that will require a lot of hard work to resolve.
The LGBT community faces a unique set of issues when it comes to domestic violence. Many LGBT victims fear being outed if they seek help. Others fear that by reporting the violence, they will generate negative sentiments toward same-sex relationships and the greater LGBT community. Still others are unsure how responders may handle a domestic violence report if they were to call emergency services. The combination of these issues has forced domestic violence within same-sex relationships to remain a taboo subject within the LGBT community, while similar violence within opposite-sex couples has garnered national attention.
Thankfully, work can and is being done on local and national levels to create a less heteronormative standard of domestic violence. Training for responders to domestic violence is slowly expanding to be more sensitive to same-sex couples. Local supports and shelters are beginning to evaluate their policies so as to allow for greater anonymity for gay victims who do not wish to be inadvertently outed when seeking assistance.
As the LGBT community continues to gain wider acceptance around the country, so too must the notion that anyone can become a victim of domestic violence. While the legalization of same-sex marriage represents a major milestone for the LGBT community, we must not lose sight of the greater goal: the equal protection of all Americans, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Workers in the domestic violence field can be key allies for LGBT victims in their communities. By maintaining strict confidentiality with LGBT clients, becoming familiarized with the unique issues and supports of the LGBT community in your area, working to fill resource gaps for LGBT community members, and disregarding the heteronormative stereotypes of domestic violence, you can more effectively serve those in your community who need your help.