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UPDATED December 4, 2015

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Information on domestic violence in the LGBTQ community.

Basic info

back to topWhat does LGBTQ mean?

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. The “Q”, which stands for “queer” or “questioning” was once considered a derogatory term, but now is more commonly used in the community in a positive way to include the wide diversity of people whose sexual orientation and/or gender identities are other than the majority.

Transgender and transsexual people have gender identities that in some way do not fit into the sex they were assigned at birth.  For example, a transman could be a person who was born with female body parts and now identifies as male.  Trans people may also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or may identify as heterosexual.  To learn more about the trans community visit the Gender Identify Project

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back to topHow common is domestic violence in the LGBTQ community?

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 2010 National Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Survey found that 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, 26% of gay men, and 37% of bisexual men experience domestic violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives.*  Some studies show that up to 50% of transgender women experience intimate partner violence.**

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 often 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 heterosexual women, which can make LGBTQ victims feel even more isolated and misunderstood than they may already because of their minority status.

* Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2014
** Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Abuse Among LGBT People - A Review of Existing Research (2015)

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Forms of abuse

back to topWhat forms of abuse are unique to LGBTQ victims?

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:

  • Threatening to “out” the victim or reveal his/her sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • Telling the victim that no one will help him/her or that s/he deserves the abuse because of his/her gender identity or sexual orientation;
  • Denying the victim’s identity by saying that at some point his/her behavior or identity did not conform to the abuser's definition of any label the victim chooses to use (e.g. Saying to a man, "You've had a relationship with a woman, so you're not really gay.");
  • Telling the victim that the abuse is a “normal” part of a same-sex relationship;
  • Telling the victim that the abuse cannot be domestic violence because it is taking place between LGBTQ individuals;
  • Claiming that the abuse is an expression of some "desirable" trait. (e.g., "This is just me being butch, which is why you like me.")*

* This information has been adapted from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs - see "Special Issues in LGBTQ Violence"

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back to topWhat forms of abuse are unique to transgender victims?

In addition to “traditional” forms of abuse, trans people 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:

  • Emotionally belittling the trans person by calling the victim "it" or anything other than the victim’s preferred pronoun;
  • Making fun of how the trans person’s body looks and/or how it does or doesn’t match the victim's gender identity;
  • Accusing the trans person of not being a "real" man/woman;
  • Ridiculing the trans person's gender identity and/or sexual orientation, perhaps by using slurs, offensive pronouns, or insults;
  • Denying the trans person access to medical treatment and/or hormones by hiding or discarding medication, preventing the trans person from seeing the doctor (i.e. taking away the car or withholding money), or creating other barriers that prevent the trans person from receiving medical attention;
  • Hiding or throwing away accessories or clothing items that a trans person uses so that the victim's body and gender identity match;
  • Touching parts of the trans person’s body in an unwanted way or calling body parts by terms the abuser knows the trans person does not like;
  • Justifying sexual abuse by saying that "this is how real men/women like sex;"
  • Threatening to "out" the victim to family, friends, co-workers, landlords, law enforcement, or anyone else without the victim’s consent;
  • Telling the trans person that the victim would “make the LGBTQ community look bad” by coming forward with the abuse;
  • Forbidding the trans person from revealing that the victim is transgender or from talking about issues specific to the transgender community with others.*

Despite these challenges, there are places where transgender victims of abuse can find help.  For a list of local and national resources that specialize in transgender domestic violence or are LGBTQ-friendly please see our National Organizations / LGBTQ page.

* This information has been adapted from information compiled by FORGE - see "Transgender/SOFFA: Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Resource Sheet"

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back to topWhat unique tactics are used by transgender abusers to gain power and control over their partners?

Abusers who identify as transgender might use their sexual identity and orientation as a way to manipulate their partner, regardless of the partner’s gender identity.  For example:

  • Using hormone supplements are an excuse for violent behavior;
  • Claiming that the victim's behavior or identity "undermines," "suppresses," or is "disrespectful" of the abuser's identity;
  • Claiming that the victim is "not being supportive" if s/he questions the timing and/or cost of the abuser’s transition;
  • Denying that the abuser's transition may affect the life of the victim; and/or
  • Claiming that the abuser’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation is somehow “better” than the victim's.*

* See FORGE's "Transgender/SOFFA: Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Resource Sheet"

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back to topHIV/AIDS-related abuse

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/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/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:

  • Threatening to reveal a victim's HIV+ status to family, friends, co-workers, landlords, or in a custody case;
  • Making a victim feel guilty about the HIV+ status of his/her children;
  • Belittling a victim over his/her HIV+ status (e.g., telling the victim that no one will want him/her because of his/her HIV+ status);
  • Using the victim's HIV+ status as an excuse for violent behavior;**
  • Using a victim's HIV+ status as an excuse to isolate him/her from others and to take control of the victim's finances, making the victim more dependent on the abuser; and
  • Withholding, hiding or throwing away medicine, cancelling medical appointments or denying the victim access to medical care.*

Here are some behaviors that HIV-positive (HIV+) abusers use to gain power and control over a victim:

  • Manipulating a victim into believing that the abuser's health will get worse if the victim leaves;
  • Blaming the victim for any negative changes in the abuser's health;
  • Infecting or threatening to infect a victim to intimidate him/her into staying;*
  • Faking illness in order to get a victim to stay or to return if s/he has already left;**
  • Forcing the victim to do sexual acts against his/her will that put the victim at risk for contracting HIV or threatening to commit these acts; and
  • Purposefully trying to infect the victim under the theory that if the victim is also infected, there is a better chance that s/he won't leave the abuser.

* This information has been adapted from information compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs - see "HIV/AIDS and Domestic Violence"
** This information has been adapted from information compiled by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence - see "Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS"

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Ending the abuse

back to topWhat are the unique obstacles faced by LGBTQ victims of domestic violence when they reach out for help?

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.  This misconception often results in dual arrests when LGBTQ victims of abuse call the police to report domestic violence.  Additionally, existing prejudice and myths about the LGBTQ community can make an LGBTQ victim less likely to reveal any problems with his/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.  In addition, some states do not allow victims to obtain restraining orders against their abuser if they are the same gender unless they are/were married.  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 victim 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.

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back to topWhat are the unique obstacles faced by transgender victims of domestic violence when they reach out for help?

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 transgender 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:

  • Service providers may not recognize or acknowledge that abuse does not conform to typical gender roles and that people with any gender identity may be victims or abusers.
  • Previous past experiences with healthcare or law enforcement workers may make victims more cautious about seeking out help, as victims might expect to face transphobia and/or discrimination.
  • Transgender victims may feel uncomfortable going to a single-sex (“male” or “female”) shelter, as they may be forced to go to a shelter that does not serve persons matching their gender identity, or be unable to be served at all.
  • The fear of losing custody of children may prevent a transgender victim from seeking out help for domestic violence.
  • The number of organizations that specialize in transgender issues/domestic violence may be very few, even in a big city.
  • Advocates and other public service workers may incorrectly assume that all transgender people are involved in S/M and therefore want to be abused.
  • The abuser may be the only person the victim is "out" to, which increases the victim's sense of isolation and intensifying his or her fear of leaving the abuser in a transphobic society.*

* This information has been adapted from information compiled by FORGE - see "Transgender/SOFFA: Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Resource Sheet."

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back to topCan I get a restraining order against my same-sex partner?

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 unmarried same-sex partners.  In other states, the law only allows unmarried intimate partners to get restraining orders against an opposite-sex partner.  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?"

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back to topWhere to get help for LGBTQ abuse

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. 

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