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Home Articles Diversity Matters Domestic Violence Among LGBTQ+ Partners Just as Prevalent

Domestic Violence Among LGBTQ+ Partners Just as Prevalent

No group seems to escape domestic abuse

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gay couple domestic violence

This article was updated in 2022. The original was published in 2014.

It’s common to hear domestic violence spoken about in heterosexual, cis-gender terms, but statistics show that abuse occurs in the same frequency and severity among the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+  domestic violence is immensely underreported, unacknowledged or not reported as domestic abuse because of fear of homophobia, transphobia or sexism.

Jump to Section:

  1. Five ways domestic violence is different for LGBTQ+  victims
  2. How can LGBTQ+  domestic violence victims get help?
  3. LGBTQ+  domestic violence resources

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, two out of every five gay and bisexual men are victims of abusive partners, comparable to the number of heterosexual women who endure domestic violence. The Coalition also found that 50 percent of lesbian women have experienced or will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In one survey, 44 percent of victims of LBGTQ domestic violence identified as men while 36 percent identified as women. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that more than half (54 percent) of transgender and non-binary respondents had experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.

Five Ways Domestic Violence is Different for LGBTQ+ Victims

Most abusers follow the same “playbook,” which is often demonstrated as the Power and Control Wheel. While many of the same actions such as destroying the victim’s self-esteem or isolating victims from friends and family are just as prevalent among LGBTQ+  abusers, there are unique methods of abuse that these abusers will use to exert power and control over their victims.

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  1. Threatening to out you.

Many LGBTQ+  people remain closeted for important reasons; maybe they live in an area where it’s physically dangerous for them to be open about their sexuality or gender expression. They may risk losing their job or other financial support. Some may even just be taking their own time to decide how and when to come out, which is a deeply personal decision. Being forced to come out or being “outed” is a threat abusers use to keep control over their victims by reminding them the abuser holds important, potentially dangerous information over their head.

2. Using looks, actions, gestures to reinforce homophobic, biphobic or transphobic control and questioning if you are a “real” lesbian, “real” man, “real’’ woman, “real” femme, “real” butch, etc.

It’s common to see abusers in the media portrayed as yelling, screaming or being physically violent. These methods of abuse are certainly real and prevalent. But abusers can also be extremely subtle in their methods of exerting power and control over their victims. LGBTQ+ individuals are often sensitive to subtle signs of bigotry, which abusers exploit. For example, an abuser may gaslight their victim and attack their identity by saying they’re “acting too swishy” or “don’t pass for a real woman.” These forms of abuse keep the victim feeling indebted to the abuser for recognizing their identity (even in an unhealthy way) and isolated from the rest of the LGBTQ+ community with fear of not being “real” enough to be a member. 

3. Saying no one will believe you, especially not if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans and using privilege or ability to “pass” to discredit you, put you in danger, cut off your access to resources or use the system against you.

The LGBTQ+ community has encountered significant historical and modern discrimination, intimidation and oppression by law enforcement and other institutions, which leads to many individuals hesitating to reach out for help. Abusers will leverage this well-documented institutionalized violence to continue to isolate victims, especially if the abuser has more “passing privilege” (ability to present as cis-gender and/or heterosexual) than their victim. Abusers in any situation, heterosexual, cisgender or LGBTQ+, are skilled at manipulating systems to their advantage and to the disadvantage of their victim.

The fear of institutionalized reprisal or not being believed also leads to underreporting of LGBTQ+ domestic violence.

4. Saying women can't abuse women/men can't abuse men and reinforcing internalized homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.

Domestic violence is most often discussed and portrayed as a man abusing a woman. While this gendered view of domestic violence is valid and real, it doesn’t contain all the possibilities of abuse. Men, women, non-binary, genderqueer and transgender people can all be victims of domestic abuse. However, societal assumptions make it harder for some victims to be believed or recognize that they’re being abused

Abusers will take advantage of these assumptions to further gaslight and emotionally control their victim. A male abuser may tell his boyfriend “men fight equally” or a female abuser may tell her wife “women can’t abuse women, only men do that.” 

Internalized hatred or discomfort (usually cultivated by discriminatory, bigoted or unsupportive communities) can even make LGBTQ+ victims feel like they “deserve” to be abused.

Make a Donation

It is easy to ignore this message. Please don't. We and the millions of people who use this non-profit website to prevent and escape domestic violence rely on your donations. A gift of $5 helps 25 people, $20 helps 100 people and $100 helps 500 people. Please help keep this valuable resource online.

5. Threatening to tell your ex-spouse or authorities that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans so they will take the children.

Abusers often use children as a tool to further exert power and control over their victim. In some areas, LGBTQ+ parents may not be allowed to have legal rights as a parent or guardian of their child, especially if they aren’t the biological parent or they’re not married to the child’s other parent. Even in areas where LGBTQ+ parents have legal protections, they may still struggle with a discriminatory system or not have access to resources to help them leverage their legal rights. An abuser might tell their victim “if you leave me, you’ll never see your child again.” This very real threat makes escaping domestic abuse a complex, almost impossible choice. 

How Can LGBTQ+ Domestic Violence Victims Get Help?

Anna Marjavi, program manager with Futures Without Violence, a national nonprofit aimed at advocacy to end violence against women, says LGBTQ+ domestic violence survivors often encounter barriers to finding help. “They may not be in an ‘out’ relationship. Their partner may even be threatening to out them. In rural and smaller communities, there may not be LGBTQ+ -specific programs to help them.”

Marjavi says that many LGBTQ+ individuals may also feel shame because their sexuality is not accepted or supported by the community. She says LGBTQ+ abuse survivors who feel this way should look outside their immediate area, town or community to find accepting programs around the country. 

Make a Donation

It is easy to ignore this message. Please don't. We and the millions of people who use this non-profit website to prevent and escape domestic violence rely on your donations. A gift of $5 helps 25 people, $20 helps 100 people and $100 helps 500 people. Please help keep this valuable resource online.

The find help search tool on DomesticShelters.org can help victims find programs serving the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ victims can also call the hotline for their state's coalition against domestic violence to find more resources. The National Domestic Violence Hotline also offers a 24/7 hotline (1-800-799-7233), live online chat, or text (text “START'' to 88788) support for domestic violence survivors.

It’s important for gay, lesbian, trans and other LGBTQ+ victims and survivors to realize they aren’t alone and that they don’t deserve to be abused. “A lot of times, it’s more about listening and breaking that sense of isolation that people feel. They should just know they’re not alone. There’s lots of people in similar situations,” says Marjavi. 

LGBTQ+ Domestic Violence Victim and Survivor Support Resources

Help is out there and everyone deserves to feel safe in their relationship. To find support, safety plan, connect with other survivors or learn more about domestic violence, you may want to consider reaching out to one of these organizations.

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual; Transgender Community Center (New York)

CenterLink, The Community of LGBTQ+ Centers

Community United Against Violence (CUAV)

FORGE, for transgender and non-binary survivors

LGBT National Help Center

National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging

The Network/La Red

The Mazzoni Center