What does LGBTQIA mean?
LGBTQIA is an abbreviation for:
- queer or questioning;
- intersex; and
Lesbian and gay are terms for people who experience sexual attraction to partners of the same gender. Bisexual is a term for people who may experience attraction to partners of multiple genders. These terms describe sexual orientations or sexual identities.1
Transgender or “trans” people have gender identities that in some way do not match the sex they were assigned at birth. This can include people who are:
- nonbinary (do not identify with either “man” or “woman”);
- gender nonconforming (do not identify with any gender); or
- other gender identities that do not fit a binary (man/woman) definition.
A person does not have to have gender confirmation surgery or take gender-specific hormones to be transgender. For example, a trans man could be a person who adults identified as a girl at birth, but who is a boy or man. Being transgender does not necessarily mean someone is also lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. Trans people may identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, or may identify as heterosexual or asexual. To learn more about the trans community, please visit the National Center for Transgender Equality.1
Note: A cisgender or “cis” person is someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Generally, someone born with a penis is assigned “male” or “boy” at birth, while someone born with a vagina is assigned “female” or “girl” at birth. A cis person is someone whose identity matches this assignment.
Queer is an umbrella term that may refer to both sexual identity and gender identity. Someone may refer to their sexual orientation or attraction to people of many genders as being queer. Someone who is queer may also be gender nonconforming, nonbinary, or genderqueer, which may mean they do not identify as any one gender, they identify as multiple genders, or their gender expression falls outside any one category. For more information on the difference between gender identity and gender expression, please see the Human Rights Campaign’s page “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions.”1
Intersex is a general term used to refer to someone whois born with reproductive or sexual body parts that don’t seem to fit the typical definition of “male” or “female.” For instance, an intersex person may have a penis, but also have a uterus or ovaries, or be born with genitals that are not clearly defined as a penis or vagina.2
Asexual describes someone who does not experience sexual attraction or desire for anyone of any sex or gender.1
How common is domestic violence in the LGBTQIA 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.1 One study shows that 30-50% of all transgender people experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.2
Despite similar rates of domestic violence in the LGBTQ community compared to the cisgender and heterosexual community, LGBTQ people face barriers to leaving abusive relationships that cisgender and heterosexual victims often do not. Domestic violence is most commonly thought of as something that happens to cis women and is committed by cis men. Therefore, most services are geared towards helping cisgender heterosexual women, which can make LGBTQ victims feel isolated and misunderstood.
Note: Data was only collected for LGBTQ individuals in the cited materials. Data for intersex and asexual individuals was not available at the time of writing.
1 “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2014,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2 “Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Abuse Among LGBT People - A Review of Existing Research,” The Williams Institute
Forms of abuse
What 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 are unique 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 their sexual orientation or gender identity;
- telling the victim that no one will help them or that they deserve the abuse because of their gender identity or sexual orientation;
- denying the victim’s identity by saying that at some point their 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; and
- claiming that the abuse is an expression of some “desirable” trait within LGBTQ relationships (e.g., “This is just me being butch, which is why you like me”).1
Along with general resources for domestic violence victims, there are places where LGBTQ victims of abuse can find help specific to their needs. For a list of local and national resources that are LGBTQ-friendly, please see our National Organizations / LGBTQ page.
Note: This information is based on materials for LGBTQ people. For information on forms of abuse unique to intersex or asexual victims, please see What forms of abuse are unique to intersex victims? and What forms of abuse are unique to asexual victims?
1 This information was adapted from the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s LGBTQ Relationship Violence page.
What forms of abuse are unique to transgender victims?
In addition to “traditional” forms of abuse and the abuse described in What forms of abuse are unique to LGBTQ victims?, transgender or trans victims of domestic violence may face specific forms of abuse because they are trans. In one 2015 study, trans survivors reported experiencing physical violence, emotional abuse, threats, and intimidation.1 Trans people are vulnerable to emotional abuse and bullying by the abusive partner because of their 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 victim by calling the victim “it” or anything other than the victim’s pronouns;
- making fun of how the victim’s body looks and/or how it does or doesn’t “match” the victim’s gender identity;
- accusing the victim of not being a “real” man/woman;
- ridiculing the victim’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation, perhaps by using slurs, offensive pronouns, or insults;
- denying the victim access to medical treatment and/or hormones by hiding or discarding medication, preventing the victim from seeing the doctor (such as by taking away the car or withholding money), or creating other barriers that prevent the victim from receiving medical attention;
- hiding or throwing away a victim’s accessories or clothing items, especially items which help the victim present as their gender (such as a binder for trans men and nonbinary and gender nonconforming people);
- touching parts of the victim’s body in an unwanted way, or calling body parts by terms the abuser knows will hurt the victim;
- justifying sexual abuse by saying things like, “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 victim that they would “make the LGBTQ community look bad” by coming forward with the abuse; and
- forbidding the victim from revealing that they are transgender or from talking about issues specific to the transgender community with others.1
Along with general resources for domestic violence victims, there are places where transgender victims of abuse can find help specific to their needs. 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.
1 This information has been adapted from information compiled by FORGE - see “Transgender/SOFFA: Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Resource Sheet.”
What forms of abuse are unique to intersex victims?
Intersex victims of abuse may face specific forms of abuse because they are intersex. In addition to “traditional” forms of abuse and the abuse described in What forms of abuse are unique to LGBTQ victims?, intersex people are vulnerable to abuse based on ignorance or bigotry about their bodies. Intersex victims of domestic violence face similar or higher rates of domestic violence when compared to the general population. In one study from 2007, 50% of intersex victims of domestic violence reported being raped by a romantic partner.1 Here are some of the behaviors abusers may use to gain power and control over intersex victims:
- threatening to tell the victim’s friends, family, or coworkers that they are intersex without their permission;
- pressuring the victim to behave in a way that conforms to specific gender stereotypes;
- pressuring the victim to take medications or have surgeries to change their body to conform to a specific set of sexual characteristics;
- telling the victim that they are not a specific sexual orientation (for instance, that they are not gay) because they are intersex; and
- accusing the victim of “tricking” the abuser because the victim’s body does not look like what the abuser thinks a person of that gender should look like.
For more information and support on intersex issues, please see the Intersex Society of North America.
What forms of abuse are unique to asexual victims?
Asexual victims of abuse may face specific forms of abuse because they are asexual. In addition to “traditional” forms of abuse and the abuse described in What forms of abuse are unique to LGBTQ victims?, asexual people are vulnerable to abuse based on their lack of sexual attraction or desire. Here are some of the behaviors abusers may use to gain power and control over asexual victims:
- saying there is something “wrong” with the victim or that the victim is “broken” because they are asexual;
- telling the victim that something is “wrong” with their body, and that is why they are asexual;
- mocking the victim’s body or making the victim feel bad about their body responding or not responding to sexual acts;
- touching the victim’s body without permission or in a way the abuser knows makes the victim uncomfortable;
- threatening the victim with rape or sexual assault to “cure” the victim’s asexuality;
- telling the victim that they are asexual or are confused about being asexual because no one wants to have a relationship or sex with them;
- threatening to tell the victim’s friends, family, or coworkers about their asexuality without their permission; and
- stopping or forbidding the victim from speaking to other asexual people, talking about asexuality, or attending in-person or online support groups for asexual people.1
For more information on domestic abuse and sexual violence toward asexual people, please see Resources for Ace Survivors.
1 This information has been adapted from the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition’s and OUTreach Resource Center’s brochure, “Asexual People and Intimate Partner Violence,” with additional information from The Huffington Post’s “Battling Asexual Discrimination, Sexual Violence And ‘Corrective’ Rape.”
Ending the abuse
What are the unique barriers to finding help that LGBTQ victims may face?
LGBTQ victims of domestic violence may have to overcome homophobia and/or transphobia 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. Victims may feel like they have to lie to the shelter in order to hide their identity, or may be forced by the shelter to “come out” (tell the shelter about their sexual orientation) in order to get help. Additionally, not all service providers may be fully aware of issues specific to LGBTQ relationships. This lack of knowledge may cause providers to say or do homophobic or transphobic things.
- Discrimination from law enforcement. LGBTQ victims often have to deal with cultural myths when interacting with law enforcement. For instance, some law enforcement officers may believe that abuse in same-sex relationships is mutual (that both partners batter each other), or that abuse cannot occur in same-sex relationships. This myth may result in both the victim and the abuser being arrested if the police are called. An LGBTQ survivor may also be afraid that revealing the abuse will reflect badly on all LGBTQ people or fuel anti-LGBTQ biases.
- Lack of resources for LGBTQ people. Homophobia and transphobia may make it more difficult for LGBTQ people to find housing, employment, or medical care because some states do not make it illegal to discriminate against an LGBTQ person. When a victim cannot access resources, they may be more dependent on abusers. In addition, some states do not allow victims to obtain restraining orders against the 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, they may feel isolated and afraid to leave the relationship. It can be especially difficult for them to find support if the victim lives somewhere where there are already limited support resources for LGBTQ individuals.1
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.
1 This information has been adapted from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Are there other barriers to finding help that transgender victims may face in particular?
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. Trans victims of domestic violence may have to overcome transphobia from service providers when trying to find help. A 2011 transgender discrimination survey found that 55% of transgender victims were harassed by shelter staff, 29% were turned away because of their gender presentation, and 22% were sexually assaulted by other residents or staff.1
Here are some of the unique challenges faced by transgender victims of domestic violence when they try to get help:
Refusal to serve transgender victims. Shelters may explicitly refuse to serve transgender victims of violence, and refuse to serve transgender women in particular. Shelters may also accept only trans women who have had gender confirming surgeries or only accept trans women who can provide “proof” of gender transition from a medical professional. Transgender women in particular who are refused entry to a domestic violence shelter may be forced to go to a homeless shelter if they have no other options. A trans woman who is forced to go to a men’s homeless shelter can be vulnerable to an increased level of violence.1
Discrimination or violence from law enforcement or legal professionals. Transgender victims of violence experience higher rates of harassment, violence, and sexual assault from law enforcement than other LGBQ people. Transgender people also face unfair treatment from court staff, judges, and other professionals in the legal system. For instance, court staff may refuse to use a transgender person’s correct pronouns or refuse to let a transgender person file certain forms based on anti-trans prejudice.1
Discrimination and harassment from medical professionals. Medical professionals may be uninformed about trans people or may be biased against trans people. A 2010 report found that 50% of trans people had to teach their providers about the care they needed. In addition, one in five trans people reported being refused care because they are transgender. These types of barriers may force trans people to go without medical care they need. Trans survivors may also be wary of reporting abuse to medical professionals who are uninformed or biased against them because they fear that they won’t get the help they need.2
1 This information has been adapted from Pennsylvania STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program.
2 “National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Healthcare,” The National LGBTQ Task Force
Can I get a restraining order against my same-sex partner?
One tool that can be helpful when any victim is 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 and can order an abuser to:
- stop all contact with you;
- stay away from you;
- leave your home; and
- do (or not do) other things ordered by the judge to keep you safe.
All but two states allow an unmarried victim in an abusive LGBTQ relationship to get a restraining order. In North Carolina and South Carolina, unmarried victims of abuse may only file for a protection order based on domestic violence against abusers of the opposite sex.
You can find more information for North Carolina at Can I get a DVPO against a same-sex partner?
You can find more information for South Carolina at Can I get an order for protection against a same-sex partner?
In every other state, laws about restraining orders are written to be gender-neutral or inclusive of same-sex partners. In other words, the law doesn’t refer to the gender of the parties involved, or specifically includes same-sex couples.
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?”
You can find information about LGBTQIA victims of abuse and what types of barriers they may face on our LGBTQIA Victims page.
Where 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. You can also go to our Advocates and Shelters page for non-legal support.