Know the Laws:
UPDATED June 21, 2012
Information on domestic violence among same-sex partners in the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or transsexual and queer or questioning. “Lesbian,” “gay,” and “bisexual” are terms used to identify people who experience sexual attraction to partners of the same gender, sometimes along with attraction to partners of the opposite gender. These terms describe sexual orientations or sexual identities.*
Transgender and transsexual people have gender identities and/or sexual orientations that in some way do not fit into the stereotypical male-female gender roles. For example, a transman could be a person who was born with female body parts and now identifies as male. To learn more about the trans community visit the Gender Identify Project “What is Transgendered?”.
The “Q”, which stands for “queer” or “questioning” was once considered a derogatory term, but a recent movement to reclaim the world uses it in a positive way to include the wide diversity of people whose sexual orientation and/or gender identities are other than the norm.*
* National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), a project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence."
The rate of domestic violence and statistics about abuse within the LGBTQ community are difficult to determine because of the high number of unreported cases. However, the available statistics suggest that domestic violence in LGBTQ relationships occurs at a similar rate as in heterosexual relationships: approximately a quarter of women in heterosexual relationships are victims of domestic abuse.*
Despite similar rates of domestic violence in the LGBTQ community compared to the heterosexual community, LGBTQ people face barriers to leaving abusive relationships that heterosexual victims do not. Domestic violence is most commonly thought of as something that happens to women by their male partners; therefore, most services are geared towards helping heterosexuals, which can make LGBTQ victims feel even more isolated and misunderstood than they may already because of their minority status.
* National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), a project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence.”
Physical, sexual and emotional abuse can occur in any type of relationship, but some other types of abuse happen to LGBTQ individuals. Here are some of the ways that abusers gain power and control over LGBTQ victims:
In addition to “traditional” forms of abuse, transpeople are vulnerable to emotional abuse and bullying by the abusive partner because of their non-conforming gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Here are some of the behaviors abusers may use to gain power and control over transgender victims:
Abusers who identify as transgendered might use their sexual identify and orientation as a way to manipulate their partners, regardless the partner’s gender identity. For example:
The presence of HIV/AIDS in an abusive relationship (either a heterosexual or homosexual relationship) creates its own unique set of challenges and can prove to be an additional obstacle to getting help. An abuser may use a victim's HIV-positive (HIV+) status against him or her, and the stress of abuse can worsen a victim's health.* A victim may also be dependent on an abuser to access necessary medical care. Alternatively, an HIV-positive abuser may use his or her HIV status as a way of gaining control over the victim.
Here are some behaviors that abusers use to gain power and control over an HIV-positive (HIV+) victim:
LGBTQ victims of domestic violence may have to overcome homophobia and/or transphobia from service providers when trying to find help for the domestic violence they are experiencing. Below are some of the most common obstacles:
Lack of focused services. Few domestic violence shelters or organizations offer programs aimed specifically at LGBTQ relationships, so victims may either have to lie about their gender identity or sexual orientation, or decide to come out to the shelter. Additionally, not all service providers may be fully aware of issues specific to LGBTQ relationships.
Discrimination. LGBTQ victims have to deal with cultural misconceptions such as the belief that abuse in same-sex relationships is mutual (that both partners batter each other) and/or that abuse cannot occur in same-sex relationships. Existing prejudice and myths about the LGBTQ community can make an LGBTQ victim less likely to reveal any problems with his or her relationship because of concern about furthering an already negative view of LGBTQ people and relationships.
Lack of resources for LGBTQ. Homophobia and transphobia may make it more difficult for LGBTQ people to find housing, employment, or medical care, making victims more dependent on abusers. Because two people of the same gender are not permitted to marry in most states, it may also be more difficult for victims to make financial claims on the abuser’s property. In addition, some states do not allow victims to obtain restraining orders against their abuser if they are the same gender. See Can I get a restraining order against my same-sex partner? for more information.
Isolation. If the victim does not know many other LGBTQ people besides the abuser, s/he may feel isolated and afraid to leave the relationship. Especially if the victims lives in a small town where there are already limited supports for LGBTQ individuals, it can be even more difficult for him/her to find support.*
Despite these challenges, there are places to find help. For a list of local and national hotlines and organizations that specialize in LGBTQ domestic violence or are LGBTQ-friendly please see our National Organizations / LGBTQ page.
* This information has been adapted from information compiled by LAMBDA - see "Domestic violence in Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Relationships."
Transgender victims often have even more difficulty finding help and support for domestic violence than gay, lesbian and bisexual victims of abuse. In general, there is less awareness about issues specific to transgendered people than there is about lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. LGBTQ victims of domestic violence may have to overcome homophobia and/or transphobia from service providers when trying to find help for the domestic violence they are experiencing.
Here are some of the unique challenges faced by transgender victims of domestic violence:
Maybe. One tool that can be helpful when trying to escape from domestic violence is a restraining order (also known as a protection order, injunction, etc.) A restraining order can provide many forms of protection such as ordering the abuser to stop all contact with you, stay away from you, leave your home or face arrest and prosecution. However, not all states allow a victim in an abusive LGBTQ relationship to get a restraining order.
It is safe to say that in most states, restraining orders are neutrally available to same-sex victims of abuse - in other words, the law doesn't refer to the gender of the parties involved. However, there are exceptions. In some states, the law is unclear as to whether or not a judge can grant a victim a restraining order against a same-sex partner. In other states, restraining orders are specifically limited by law to heterosexual couples only. To see what the law says in your state, go to our Restraining Orders page and enter your state in the drop-down menu. Then look for a question with a title similar to "Can I get a restraining order against a same-sex partner?"
There are various organizations across the country that specialize in helping the LGBTQ community. You can find those organizations by going to our National Resources / LGBTQ page. If you have trouble finding a place near you, you may want to reach out to the general legal services organization in your area, which can be found on our Finding a Lawyer page, or go to our State and Local Programs page for non-legal support.