Editors' Note: Guest blogger Sharon Stapel is the Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project which serves NY's LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities.
We deserve a loving and respectful Valentine's Day. Our communities have been subjected to increasingly public violence over the past several months. We've seen fatal incidents of hate violence; acts of bullying that have led to teen suicides; and - though less publically noted - equally lethal and tragic incidents of intimate partner violence.
In September, in Milwaukee, Rosalind Ross, a 30-year-old semi-professional basketball player, was shot to death by a woman whom Rosalind's mother described as having been dating her daughter for ten years. Then in early January, Carlos Castro, a journalist and gay rights advocate from Portugal, was found beaten to death; Castro's intimate partner, Renato Seabra, soon confessed to the murder. A few days later, Francisco R. Gonzalez was murdered in New Jersey and his boyfriend, Jose Garcia, was arrested for the crime. These three incidents of severe violence, which drew some public attention, are the tip of an iceberg. Intimate partner violence is the often unspoken violence within our communities and in our relationships.
The most recent report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) tells us that rates intimate partner violence in LGBTQ relationships have been steadily climbing and the violence is becoming more severe. At the same time, "Why It Matters: Rethinking Victim Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Victims of Hate Violence and Intimate Partner Violence," produced jointly by NCAVP and the National Center for Crime Victims tells us that service providers--both those within the LGBTQ community and those in the mainstream--are nowhere near culturally competent enough to address the needs presented by LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence. Now, with funding cutbacks to service providers and first responders, the picture is especially grim. However, there are some important things we can do about this.
First, break the silence. Let's stop treating intimate partner violence like it was a private matter, a lover's quarrel, or a family matter and begin to address it as the public health issue that it is. Catherine Shugrue dos Santos, Deputy Director in charge of Client Services, at the New York City Anti-Anti Violence Project (AVP), says, in a blog post today in The Huffington Post. "When someone you know says "I'm afraid of my partner," believe them. Remind them that no one deserves to be abused. Encourage them to reach out for help."
Silence within our community continues to be one of the greatest obstacles to addressing intimate partner violence. It is no wonder I was especially moved when I read David Mixner's Live from Hell's Kitchen blog post "Gay Men: Battered and Shattered." For so long our leaders and community members have shied away from talk of intimate partner violence - either because they are afraid to admit that this violence happens to LGBTQ people, or simply because we don't know how to talk about it.
Mixner cuts right to the chase: "Shame and low self esteem (often resulting from their
gayness) keeps many of these victims of unchecked violence from receiving help. The
man on man abuse doesn't just involve physical abuse but also mental and verbal abuse. Most are too embarrassed to seek help or don't even have the slightest idea of where to find it. Others feel so badly about themselves, their appearance, being gay, etc that they feel that this is gay life. Battered men - like battered women - feel they will never find another man like the one that is abusing them...If you suspect your buddies are being abused then take them to lunch, offer them support and even if they are in denial make sure you leave them with phone numbers to seek help down the road. Most importantly make sure they know they are not alone and you are there for them."
On this Valentine's Day, join AVP in celebrating healthy, respectful and strong relationships. Take the time to thank your friends, family, and lovers for supporting you. While you do that, reach out to those who may need your support. Most of all get involved and help us create a world of loving and safe relationships.