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About Abuse

LGBTQIA Victims

Updated: 
September 12, 2018

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.
2National 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.