LGBTQ+ Partner Abuse

Domestic abuse and violence is not limited to heterosexual relationships and cisgender people. People across the full range of sexualities and gender identities face abuse from intimate partners, at rates similar to, if not higher than, rates among the non-LGBTQ+ population.

Common elements of abusive behavior, regardless of sexuality and/or gender identity:

  • The person perpetrating abuse may engage in physical, sexual, or verbal behaviors to coerce, control, dominate and/or humiliate their partner.
  • The abusive partner may use the children in the family, if there are any, to help further their abuse.
  • The abusive person usually seeks to isolate their partner, place them in fear, and shift the blame for the abuse onto their partner.
  • Often the abusive person escalates their behavior when their partner seeks to end the relationship; this is the most dangerous time.

Common tactics abusive people use against their LGBTQ+ partners:

  • They may threaten to out their partner to people who do not know they are LGBTQ+. They may carry out this threat, wreaking havoc with their partner’s personal and professional life and sense of well-being and safety.
  • They may wield harmful stereotypes against their partner, for example, saying they do not look like the gender with which they identify. They may call their partners homophobic, transphobic or bi-phobic slurs.
  • Abusive people may coerce their partners into sexual activity with which they are not comfortable, and justify it by saying, for example, that “all real lesbians have sex this way.”
    They may tell their partner that there is no help for them, and that no one will believe them, because of their LGBTQ+ identity.

Additional Societal Elements that Affect the Tactics of LGBTQ+ Abusers, and the Options Available to LGBTQ+ Survivors:

System Elements:

  • Many of the justice system interventions that have been helpful to cisgender and heterosexual survivors look different for LGBTQ+ people. For example, a survivor may worry what will happen to his partner, who is trans, if he calls the police to report an assault. What will happen to his partner if he is arrested? Will he be held in a facility that matches his gender identity? Will he face the risk of assault and harm if he is incarcerated?
  • Using services such as the legal system or shelters means that a LGBTQ+ person may have to “come out,” which is a complex decision because of the way our culture has traditionally oppressed and marginalized LGBTQ+ people.
  • Supportive services may minimize LGBTQ+ domestic violence. Service providers may be ignorant of the severity of lesbian/gay battering or uncomfortable working with this specific population. They may lack knowledge of how to work with LGBTQ+ people in culturally competent ways, leaving a survivor in the unenviable position of having to do extra advocacy and education around their identity, while trying to deal with the impacts of their partner’s abuse.
  • Both partners might not be legally recognized as parents of any children. One parent might have sole parental rights if the other parent has not legally adopted the children. The fear of losing children can be very real in this situation.

Community Elements

  • The myth that lesbian/gay domestic violence is “mutual” prevails, as does the myth that domestic abuse only looks like men who abuse their female partners.
  • The LGBTQ+ community is often small and leaving the abusive person could mean total isolation from the rest of the community. Safety planning strategies must include harm reduction strategies, so that the survivor does not have to disconnect from their community in order to avoid their abuser.
  • The LGBTQ+ community may not be eager to acknowledge weaknesses that could be used to support homophobic, bi-phobic and transphobic stereotypes. In the face of recent gains toward more equal status under the law, there is pressure to present relationships within the community as loving and committed. In reality, no community is free from violence within relationships.

At MCEDV, it is our firm belief that not only do all people impacted by abuse deserve help and support, but that all forms of oppression are related, and that to address the gender oppression that causes domestic violence we must also address the oppression that has harmed LGBTQ+ people for millennia. We recognize the particular challenges that exist for LGBTQ+ people experiencing abuse from their partners, and we are committed to working to overcome them.

Our members provide services to all individuals affected by domestic abuse and violence, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We at the Coalition provide ongoing training and technical assistance to build our members’ capacity to serve LGBTQ+ survivors, and we collaborate with partners, including the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Maine Health Equity Alliance, and others to collaboratively address the systemic barriers that face LGBTQ+ survivors.