In June of 1969, a group of police officers raided a gay club, the Stonewall Inn. As a result, riots broke out in the streets of Greenwich Village. There was a collective call for equality and a call for places where members of the LGBTQ+ community could go without being fearful of discrimination and/or arrest. June has since been declared Pride Month in honor of those who participated in and were affected by the Stonewall Riots in an attempt to promote equality and express the freedom to be oneself. Although we have a come a long way since the Stonewall Riots, discrimination and the fear that goes with it, unfortunately still exists for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Although there are a variety of domestic violence resources available to the community, many organizations are not adequately informed of or outwardly welcoming towards members of the LGBTQ+ community. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the institutional barriers faced by many members of the LGBTQ+ community when it comes to accessing domestic violence resources and to offer some suggestions on how organizations can be more educated on and representative of the LGBTQ+ community.
One reason a member of the LGBTQ+ community may be discouraged from reaching out to a particular organization is that the organization may not have visible representation of the LGBTQ+ community. One way an organization can show visible representation is to have LGBTQ+ friendly signage at their facility and in their organizational materials. Something as simple as having a Pride flag posted on the front door, or a Pride logo on a website, can be the deciding factor as to whether or not an individual feels comfortable seeking services.
Another institutional barrier may be that the organization lacks awareness around the available LGBTQ+ resources in the community. Limited knowledge of available community resources can deter an individual from seeking services and can cause distrust. For any type of organization offering domestic violence assistance, it’s critical that the organization is aware of as many different types of community resources (e.g., substance abuse, LGBTQ+, other domestic violence agencies, legal, medical, financial) that are available. As advocates, we would be doing a disservice to our clients if we only focused on certain types of resources/referrals. Each individual that we meet with has a different story and a different need. Being knowledgeable about the different types of resources that the community has to offer allows us to better assist our clients and meet their specific needs.
Understanding that members of the LGBTQ+ community have different needs and face unique barriers is crucial to making an individual that identifies as LGBTQ+ feel comfortable. Being educated on and empathetic to these specific needs/barriers can make all the difference. In order to best serve members of the LGBTQ+ community, organizations should incorporate trainings for staff on LGBTQ+, including but not limited to using appropriate language (e.g., gender neutral terminology such as “partner”), understanding the different types of pronouns and the importance of using the correct pronoun, and understanding the unique, individual needs/barriers members of the LGBTQ+ community often face (e.g., fear of being outed by the abusive partner, lack of support from family/friends due to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and fear of discrimination).
And lastly, an organization may actually refuse services to an individual based on that individual’s gender identity/perceived gender identity. For example, a gay man fleeing an abusive relationship may have a much harder time accessing services due to the limited amount of domestic violence shelters that offer services to men. Even if an organization does not offer services to a male, an organization should have the ability to provide domestic violence education specific to that individual, be able to safety plan, and be able to provide community resources that can provide assistance.
Domestic violence does not discriminate against gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, culture, socioeconomic status, or race. Sadly, it is an epidemic that affects all different types of people across the world. As domestic violence advocates, it is our duty to be as knowledgeable and supportive as we can to those we serve in order to empower them and free them from abuse. To quote Harvey Milk, all people “regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” Happy Pride Month from those of us here at Genesis!
Written by Anna Fagan, assistant director of advocacy and education at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.