According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, approximately 39 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer (LGBTQ) men and slightly more than half of LGBTQ women experience abuse from their partners. Many LGBTQ youth face obstacles that heterosexual couples don’t, which is why it’s so important to discuss the challenges they may face in the context of relationships. By understanding how much harder it can be for young people to report abuse if they identify as LGBTQ, we can begin to make meaningful changes that will remove those obstacles for good.
One of the reasons many abusive LGBTQ relationships are unreported is because those belonging to this community may be more reluctant to go to the police. They may worry their dating abuse will not be taken seriously if reported, or that they will have to meet with homophobic counselors or law enforcement. Pervasive and outdated attitudes, such as “two men fighting is common,” “women do not hurt each other” or “these relationships are always unstable,” can keep law enforcement from taking abuse seriously. As a result, young people who identify as LGBTQ and are seeking help may have to deal with limited services, conflicting values, and unwarranted phobias about the their community. Sometimes these concerns are related to a lack of education about the LGBTQ community, and these experiences speak to the need for further discussion to help ensure safety for all young people.
Furthermore, young people who identify as LGBTQ may not be completely comfortable yet discussing their sexual or gender identity openly. As young people, they’re still navigating what it means to be in a relationship. It is already a confusing time, and based on their upbringing or circumstances, they may feel shame or guilt over being in a LGBTQ relationship in the first place. This conflict is frequently the product of social stigmas, but can make it even harder to ask for help.
When someone is experiencing abuse, they often look to their family and friends as a support system. LGBTQ youth may feel if they report abuse, they will be cut off from their support network due to their sexual or gender identity. This can be particularly difficult if someone comes from an unsupportive family or community. Young people may also fear that by reporting another person who identifies as LGBTQ for abuse they are not showing solidarity or supporting the LGBTQ community.
If a person is dating someone who says that unhealthy behavior is normal in a relationship, they’re wrong. Healthy relationships are based on respect, open communication, honesty and equality. A relationship should be a safe space where anyone feels free to be themselves, and all relationships -- LGTBQ or otherwise -- should mirror that.
Respecting a dating partner’s personal limits and chosen gender pronouns are part of a healthy relationship, along with being on the same page about sexual boundaries and practicing healthy communication. A healthy relationship does not involve harassment, manipulation, sexual coercion or threatening to “out” someone because they won’t always do what their partner wants. These forms of abuse may be less recognized, because they don’t necessarily fit into our heteronormative ideas of what relationship dynamics look like. However, they are still abusive behaviors, and should be treated as such.
Abusive relationships comprised of those who identify as LGBTQ need the same support and guidance as heterosexual ones. If you know someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or trans* who is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, be there for them the same way you would for someone who is experiencing abuse in a heterosexual relationship. Listen and offer support by helping them develop a safety plan or obtaining a protection order. Laws vary from state to state, but many states have gender-neutral laws that do not discriminate. If you’re nervous about how to offer support, just remind your friend that abuse in any type of relationship is serious and unhealthy.
Regardless of your choice of partner, everyone deserves a safe and healthy relationship. Talk to a peer advocate if you have questions about LGBTQ relationships, healthy relationships or how to stay safe in an abusive relationship. People of all sexual and gender identities deserves a safe and healthy relationship.