Invisible: Domestic Violence, People of Color, and the LGBTQ Community

For many of us who fall into one of the various underprivileged social groups within our country, the knowledge of our invisibility is overwhelming. Many times, our rights, our struggles, and our voices are buried and ignored by mainstream society. This invisibility often limits access to resources that our counterparts often have access to. Healthcare, wealth, support systems, and overall privilege of sympathy are just a few of these resources. This becomes ever so clear when discussing the topic of domestic violence among LGBTQ People of Color and the supposed safe spaces designed to protect and assist domestic violence victims.

 It is bad enough that People of Color aren’t given the resources and attention they deserve when it comes to domestic violence. But to add that LGBTQ individuals are erased as victims of domestic violence entirely means we, as LGBTQ People of Color, have an awful challenge in front of us to not only explain but to demand representation, *even as victims*. Our fight is unique, and there is no doubt about this. The safe spaces that should be available to us as victims are inadequate to aide us, and perhaps intentionally so.

First, some statistics. Domestic Shelters, a resource network for victims of domestic violence, reports that 44% of women who define themselves as lesbian,  experience domestic violence from an intimate partner. This includes rape, stalking, and other forms of physical and emotional violence. It is reported that roughly 61% of bisexual women experience these forms of violence at the hands of an intimate partner (either male or female).

 Regarding men, Domestic Shelters reports that 26% of gay men experience domestic violence at the hands of an intimate partner while 37% of bisexual men experience domestic violence. Trans men and women experience domestic violence at an even higher rate than lesbian, gay, and bisexual men and women. Statistics have reported that up to 50% of individuals defining as Trans men and women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime (Note: Statistics may vary among sources). With statistics as startling as these, one cannot help but ask: why are the struggles of the LGBTQ community with domestic violence not widely discussed or properly addressed by the American legal and social support structure? The answer has deep roots in gender roles and stereotypes, homophobia/transphobia, and, pertaining to LGBTQ People of Color, racism.

 Often, much like rape, domestic violence is associated only with women. Women are usually the victims while their husband and boyfriends, or even their sons, brothers, and fathers, are the aggressors. Many do not believe that the roles can be switched or that the same level of victimization can occur within a same-sex relationship. This view causes many cases of LGBTQ domestic violence to be left unaddressed and unresolved.

 Such was the case of Bernardo Almonte, a young professional who resided the Bronx with his boyfriend, Broadway dancer, Marcus Bellamy. In late summer, 2016, Bernardo was found beaten and strangled. The culprit? His boyfriend, who confessed to the crime in a series of cryptic messages on social media. The outcome? Bellamy was arrested but media is silent on the story since it broke last August. 

A few years ago, in Buffalo, NY, another gay man, Anthony (not his real name), petitioned for a restraining order against his abusive former partner. The judge refused his petition. The reason? Anthony asserts that is was clearly because he was a man and was gay.

These two examples reflect the way in which invisibility affects resources. Bernardo’s case, and many others like it, have been either forgotten or not discussed at all. Because of this, cases such as Anthony’s struggle to receive justice or assistance from the criminal justice system because of the notion that, “the term domestic violence cannot and does not apply to a ‘fight’ between two people of the same sex.” For this reason, LGBTQ domestic violence remains a growing situation with minimal advocates outside of the community present for assistance.

The limitations on resources for LGBTQ victims of domestic violence go even further. Homophobia and transphobia have prevented LGBTQ victims from seeking help all together. For those who sought counselling and medical treatments, many reported either not finding access to resources or experiencing judgment behavior from medical professionals because of their sexuality or gender identity.

Jill (again, not her real name) was a successful woman of color who, externally, had an enviable relationship with her partner. But beneath the surface, the relationship was anything but ideal. Domestic violence rocked Jill’s relationship, much to everyone’s surprise. When Jill, the victim, sought counselling from her church, she found that she did not feel much comfort in her religion as she had so many times before. This, according to close friends, was due to the Black church’s stigma and silence toward homosexuality.

 Many of us who identify as LGBTQ and grew up in religious environments often struggle to balance our religion with our love lives. We search for a middle ground. Often times, it seems as though there is no common ground. And the denial of solace that many seek in their religion is further proof of that. Instead of opening its doors to support victims as they typically do with people who define as heterosexual, the church has been known to shun and even blame LGBTQ people for their struggles. Not only does this cause the victim to feel shame, but it also causes the victim to feel as though they are alone. This could cause problems, including psychological problems, down the line.  

Race has played a significant role in the criminal justice system’s approach to many crimes. Whether People of Color have been the victim, the perpetrators, or wrongfully accused, the justice system has always practiced a level of unfairness. This has spurned the practice of what many activists and scholars have dubbed the “Politic of Silence.” This is the practice of not bringing “unnecessary attention” and stigma to oneself or their community.

For some domestic violence victims within LGBTQ communities of color, this practice is all too relevant. Due to stigmas relating to one’s sexuality and one’s race, as mentioned before, many choose not to share their struggles or seek legal assistance and counseling. This is true across our communities: Black, Latinx, South and East Asian, SWANA, Indigenous, and otherwise. The Politic of Silence is a major contributing factor to the invisibility of LGBTQ domestic violence. It is also the horrific result of the white, heterosexual mainstream society’s habit of stigmatizing victims instead of assisting them. One can infer that this is done intentionally.

 The idea of intent comes into play when one thinks of the history of the underprivileged in this society. From the beginning, laws and resources were solely permitted to white, heterosexual (presumably) men. All of those who did not fit into this criteria were pushed into substrata that emphasized that they did not belong. There’s our key point. Our society takes pride in emphasizing and highlighting which groups “do not belong.” Much like the ancient Indian caste system that we often learned about in our World History classes, our society was designed to place people into certain strata. Furthermore, the system was designed to ensure that you remained in your assigned strata.

Today, however, these strata are no longer stagnant. There is more flexibility in social class, more access to education, etc. But, our society, even subliminally so, still needs to emphasize and remind one of “their place”. Pertaining to domestic violence within the LGBTQ community, the message is clear: you “chose” to be different. Stay in your lane. You do not get to enjoy the same benefits we do as we “normal people”. The same can be said for people of color: you can be as educated or even more educated than your white counterparts, but still stay in your place because you are not white. And for an LGBTQ Person of Color? Well, you can infer what the message is from there. The “open” arms of our society, although really have not been open for anyone who is “different” have closed for LGBTQ People of Color.

The point here is that the resources needed by victims of domestic violence are not easily acceptable or altogether absent for the LGBTQ community. At an even greater disadvantage are LGBTQ People of Color. This is because domestic violence within our community is invisible: ignored by mainstream society and not talked about significantly within our community. Our struggles are dismissed and invalidated. And by these actions, our societies strive to remind us of our differences and to prevent us from thoroughly being part of the so-called American Fabric. As LGBTQ People of Color, it seems that we are alone and abandoned.

Where is OUR safe space when it comes to preventing, aiding, and bringing justice for the LGBTQ + POC victims of domestic violence? Where can we find it? How can we build it? Why isn’t it here already?

 

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