Domestic Violence Programs and LGBTQ Victims
New York State-licensed domestic violence programs are required to serve all victims, not just women abused by men. Most only accommodate women, including lesbians, within their main shelters. LGBTQ victims may not be warmly or competently received everywhere, and may have difficulty finding shelter.
Programs face both physical and attitudinal challenges in sheltering LGBTQ victims.
Shelter residents often must use common bathrooms or share rooms. Due to space limitations such as these, male and transgender victims may only be offered shelter in a safe home, hotel room, or even a homeless shelter. Those who need to get away from an abusive partner immediately may feel that these are an acceptable short-term option, but they are not ideal. Homeless shelters, in particular, often place LGBTQ individuals at risk of additional victimization, and do not have the confidential location common to DV shelters.
Some male victims report not being taken seriously or being treated as perpetrators by staff members who assume that they are only pretending to be victims, and would make heterosexual women residents feel threatened. If shelter staff are more concerned about the comfort of heterosexual residents than that of LGBTQ victims, they may turn LGBTQ victims away.
Some shelters are beginning to take seriously the task of challenging their assumptions, finding ways to address women’s fears while providing equal services to male victims, taking a hard look at institutional and individual homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and responding to the challenge of addressing such attitudes if they arise among shelter residents.
Even when services are LGBTQ-inclusive, abusers sometimes gain access to shelters. Sometimes lesbian victims find that a shelter is unavailable to them because their abusive partner is already living there – having convinced staff that she is a victim. Abusers may claim to be victims for a variety of reasons – to stop their partner from accessing the shelter, to find out where she/he is, or to validate their own perception that they are the ones being victimized.11
In order to avoid housing victims in the same location as their abusive partner, shelter staff must be trained to screen for victimization and perpetration.
Non-residential domestic violence services
Even if they do not provide shelter in their main facility, any domestic violence program should be able to help LGTBQ victims with:
- Advocacy with law enforcement, courts, social services, etc.
- Applications for orders of protection and custody orders.
- Legal assistance. Some programs have attorneys on staff; others may have arrangements with lawyers in the community.
- Support groups.
- Children’s programs.
- Job search help.
- Safety planning for victims and their children. Advocates will help each victim identify risks and safety concerns, plan how to safely escape when necessary, and make longer-term plans for their safety and independence.
Some programs offer specific services, such as support groups, for LGBTQ victims, but not all do.
Considerations for LGBTQ victims
Going to a shelter, attending a support group or calling a crisis line may mean having to deal with coming out while you are in the middle of a crisis. Being open about your identity and that of your partner may help you get the services you need, but it also may mean having to deal with other people’s hostility or bias. You are the only one who can decide what’s right for you.
If your situation is urgent and you are unable to find help through a local domestic violence agency, the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project hotline at 212-714-1141 may be able to help you. In the Albany area, contact the Capital District LGBT Anti-Violence Project, at 518-432-4341. Members of the NYS LGBTQ DV Network may also be able to help connect you to LGBTQ-friendly resources in your community.
- The Network/La Red (2010). Open Minds, Open Doors: Transforming Domestic Violence Programs to Include LGBTQ Survivors, p 29.