Editors' note: Guest blogger Roberta Sklar is a communications activist and consultant to LGBT and other progressive movements. She is the former Director of Communications for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
In the same historic week that Hate Crimes legislation was signed into law another face of violence in the LGBTQ communities was revealed in a report on domestic and intimate partner violence in 2008. Recently, working with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs I've had the following experience all too often: Dial the number at any LGBTQ anti-violence program in the country and the first you hear is "Leave a number and let me know if it is safe number to call you ...if you are in danger or this is an emergency, call 911."
That call, when made by a victim of intimate partner violence, is often the beginning of a long, challenging journey. Service providers talk to victims of domestic violence about "safety plans" or assisting them to reaching safe haven, to see them through the long, difficult process to find safe ground.
Facing law enforcement and the courts for help is not easy for a person from our community when it comes to domestic violence--the danger of homophobic reactions, of possibly being further abused or being "outed" looms large. Survivor after survivor, counselor after counselor, talk about the impact of the negative judgment of LGBT friends and community that looms large as well.
"What a wuss you are. What a pussy. You're bigger than he is, why didn't you just hit him back? What? You reported it to the police? That's just what our community needs! Couldn't you just keep it in the family? It's not really domestic violence anyway; it's just a fight between lovers." These are a few in the litany of responses survivors report getting from LGBTQ friends.
No community likes to talk about domestic violence--in this regard our community is no different than any other. Air our dirty laundry? Give our movement a black eye? Better keep it in the closet. Privacy. Shame. Fear. Isolation. These elements are all at play in the dynamics of domestic violence and the closet as well. What a winning combo for not making progress!
In October 2009 the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released its report: Domestic Violence within Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Communities in the United States. The total number of cases reported to 15 NCAVP members throughout the country was 3,419. The report also reflected an increase in DV-related fatalities and significant increases in police misconduct (93%).
There is no question: the report is the definitive resource on LGBTQ domestic violence in the US. And no question that incidents of domestic violence are under-reported and under-addressed due to systemic anti-LGBTQ bias and discrimination. The report also told of increases in reports along race and ethnicity categories --from LGBTQ people identifying as Latina/o, Multi-racial, of African Descent and especially amongst immigrants with recent visas, refugees and people who are undocumented. Reports of domestic violence against people living with disabilities nearly doubled.
According to Kaitlin Nichols, Director of Organizing & Education for The Network/LaRed in Boston, "Increased violence at the hands of intimate partners and of the police cries out for strengthened cultural competency in mainstream institutions and LGBTQ specific anti-violence programs are needed now more than ever."
The NCAVP report clearly articulates the need for local state and federal governments to increase funding to LGBTQ domestic violence programs, extend support to community and non-profit based prevention initiatives, and improve the efficacy of law enforcement's response to LGBTQ domestic violence.
Speaking to LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence another mandate to our community becomes clear: face the reality, recognize the existence of domestic and intimate partner violence in our communities. We have an opportunity to get in front of intimate partner violence. We don't have to perpetuate violent behavior and patterns of heterosexual sexual politics. Maybe we can turn it around in our own community, but not without first acknowledging that domestic violence exists.