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Colorado AVP Tackles High Rates of LGBT Partner Violence

by Lindsay King- Miller
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday October 24, 2012

Intimate partner violence continues to be a problem in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) communities, and the lack of resources available to these communities increases the danger, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. NCAVP held an audio press conference on October 10 to discuss their report on LGBTQH intimate partner violence in 2011.

According to the NCAVP, it is difficult to determine unclear whether these figures indicate a real increase in violence, and specifically in homicides, or simply an increase in reporting -- and accurately labeling -- intimate partner violence.

"We have to take into consideration that those are the statistics we are able to collect, people who pick up the phone and call us. There might be many other people we don't know of," said Colorado Anti-Violence Project Director of Advocacy Sandhya Luther. "Law enforcement officials might not recognize an incident between two people of the same sex as dating violence. They might think it's roommates, or a random attack by a stranger."

NCAVP's mission is "to prevent, respond to, and end all forms of violence against and within LGBTQH communities." This report on intimate partner violence has been released annually since 1997. NCAVP is the only organization providing annual reports on LGBTQH intimate partner violence, and their data is the most comprehensive available.

According to the 2011 data, reports of intimate partner violence decreased by 22.2 percent in 2011. But the drop was in large part due to a decrease in reports from the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, which lost funding and staff for its intimate partner violence program, and as a result collected substantially fewer reports than in 2010. Excluding the LAGLC's reports, there was an 18.3 percent increase in reports of violence. NCAVP also reported a total of 19 homicides due to LGBTQH intimate partner violence in 2011, by far the highest death rate ever reported.

In places where an organization specific to LGBTQH violence, such as COAVP, is present, such an incident is more likely to be reported as intimate partner violence by trained advocates who recognize the signs. In locations without such organizations, particularly rural areas, there is a higher danger of same-sex intimate partner violence being mislabeled.

Lack of Resources Make LGBT Abuse Survivors Vulnerable

Lack of available LGBTQH-specific resources may make LGBTQH abuse survivors more vulnerable than their straight counterparts. NCAVP’s data showed that 61.6 percent of survivors were denied access to shelters in 2011, a substantial increase from 46.6 percent in 2010. Of all LGBTQH survivors, gay men are the least likely to have access to shelters and programs. Gay men are often turned away from shelters, which are frequently women-only and may also exclude trans women.

"In Chicago, there is not a single bed available in a shelter for a man or a trans woman," said Lisa Gilmore of the Center on Halsted Anti-Violence Project.

Shelters can be life saving for people in abusive relationships, and lack of access to shelters may help to explain why gay men are far more likely to be killed due to intimate partner violence than other LGBTQH individuals. There are shelters in the Denver metro area that accept people of all genders and sexual orientations, but they are in the minority. COAVP runs trainings for shelter workers and other people who work with intimate partner violence survivors, helping them to learn the sensitivity and inclusivity they need to help LGBTQH survivors.

Along with gay men, NCAVP’s report indicated that people of color, youth and young adults under 30, and transgender people experienced the most severe intimate partner violence in the LGBTQH community in 2011. Transgender people were almost twice as likely as other populations to experience sexual violence, while people under 30 and people of color were almost twice as likely to experience physical violence. People of color under 30 were in the greatest danger, having almost four times the experience of physical violence as other LGBTQH individuals.

Partner Violence Ignored, Underreported in LGTB Community

Sandhya Luther believes that intimate partner violence is often ignored in conversations about LGBTQ rights because it disproportionately affects populations like youth, people of color and transgender people, who already have little societal influence.

"A lot of what gets talked about in the media depends on who is funding the conversation," she said. "Violence against and within this community is something people aren’t aware of in the way they’re aware of an issue like same-sex marriage. The people funding the same-sex marriage issue are not the people who are most vulnerable in terms of violence."

Concerns about public perceptions of homosexuality may also play a part in the underreporting of intimate partner violence. With same-sex relationships just beginning to enjoy some tenuous social acceptability, some people fear that opening up about abusive relationships will give anti-gay forces new ammunition.

"I work so hard to be a positive queer figure and show the LGBTQ movement in a good light that I’m afraid anything like domestic violence or rape will be automatically attributed to the ’lifestyle’ or ’perversion,’" said a gay woman who escaped an abusive relationship, and has discussed her experience with almost no one.

In order to fight LGBTQH intimate partner violence, said Luther, "people need to be aware that the problem of IPV exists. We need to break our denial about that and be aware that resources are needed in this area."

Only a dramatic increase in funding, advocacy, and awareness will help LGBTQH communities overcome violence.

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