Every Monday morning, Alex (not his real name) and I met for breakfast at our favorite dive in Harvard Square.
I would notice visible bruises and cuts on his face, arms, and legs, but assumed the black-and-blue marks were simply par for the course for a guy who enjoyed the rough-and-tumble adrenaline high that comes with playing weekend scrimmage football. I don't recall a time when Alex didn't have a knot on his head, a cut on his lip, a bite into his skin, welts on his arms, or stitches. I did notice, however, that over time the sweet guy who sat across the table from me on Monday mornings with a smile as wide as the Charles River didn't look injured, he looked beaten up.
When I began asking Alex about his bruises he shrugged off my queries and talked about something else. Some Monday mornings he'd call me at the last minute to cancel or he wouldn't show up at all.
Then one morning he called me to cancel telling me he was in Mount Auburn Hospital. His partner had stabbed him severely.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but not enough attention, education, intervention, and advocacy is given to this issue in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities of color.
Statistics estimate that 25-33 percent of the LGBTQ population will experience some form of partner abuse or domestic violence in their lifetime. The inter-personal Violence (IPV) study conducted in 2011 stated that LGBTQ communities of color are one of the demographic groups experiencing high incidents of domestic violence. However, understanding how high IPV is in these communities is obfuscated by social stigmas and cultural taboos, including racism and other forms of oppression and discrimination.
What also obfuscates obtaining accurate statistics on IPV in communities of color is that same-gender interpersonal violence is clouded with myths. For example, there is the myth that because the victim and the abuser are of the same gender and are also in a consensual sexual relationship, the battering starts out as a mutual act of S&M that somewhere during the course of the couple's sexual encounter gets violently out of hand. Another myth is the conflation of same-gender sexual violence and homosexuality.
Sadly, because these myths about same-gender interpersonal violence still abound among many health care workers and law enforcers, LGBTQ communities -- particularly those of color -- are least likely to seek out services and resources.
Domestic violence is not only an act of physical violence; it can also be an act of sexual violence as well as mental violence (such as threatening and stalking).
Because Alex wasn't out to his scrimmage football team, his partner -- a flamboyant, effeminate male who couldn't simply be introduced as just a buddy without arousing suspicion -- could only watch him play from a distance. Alex's partner became jealous as he watched friendly, innocent pats on the butt during games, and he began stalking Alex. On the morning we were to meet, his partner accused him of an affair, and a fight ensued.
There are at least several factors contributing to the ongoing uninterrupted incidents of domestic violence in communities of color.
One is the dominant view that regards black males as the face of the social ills of race and violence.
Alex was seen several times for his scrapes, cuts, and bruises in the same emergency room at the same hospital. However, because violence is associated with young black males, the protocol and treatment for domestic violence-related injuries in inner-city hospitals for these patents are rarely introduced or followed up.
Another is the lack of police intervention.
The police were called to the house several times by both Alex and his partner. If they came at all they were coming to the call of an interracial couple in distress. However, when the cops looked at Alex -- African American, 6'2", and 200 pounds -- and then his partner -- white, 5'9", and 160 pounds -- judgment was rendered as to whom was the abuser.
Also contributing to domestic violence in LGBTQ communities of color is the belief that a history of racism trumps deserving a safe, healthy and violent-free relationship.
In non-interracial relationships many victims oftentimes will not prosecute their partners for fear of community abandonment, isolation, and scorn. Instead, some would rather rationalize the violence as being caused by persistent micro- and macro-levels of racism their partners encounter than hold them accountable for their actions.
But not all LGBTQs of color feel that way.
"People of color are expected to stay silent in the face of violence and as part of the LGBTQ community the silence becomes louder when law-enforcement, judicial and political figures ignore our calls for help. Not having power over our own behaviors and emotions causes us to exert dominating and violent attitudes within our community and toward our partners," Sean Smith wrote in his article "Imprisoned by Violence: Domestic Violence in the (Black) LGBT Community."
Resources and services have to be made available to LGBTQ communities of color, and this is the time to reach out to us. Everyone deserves a safe, loving, healthy, and violent-free relationship. LGBTQ communities of color have to be educated to embrace the fact that they do, too.
Photo from The L.A. Complex, via National Youth Pride Services.