Domestic Violence Services for Same Sex Couples

In late June of 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States of America made history by legalizing marriage equality for all people within its borders. Even though it is a great moment in history, it may also highlight the challenges and barriers LGBTQ couples and families face in seeking treatment and services for domestic violence.

Domestic violence, also termed intimate partner violence, can be an all too real and very dangerous circumstance of dating and marriage for some individuals. The possible dangers do not change just because it is a same-sex relationship or marriage.

Screen-Shot-2013-09-18-at-2.08.31-PMThere are many domestic violence and women’s centers across America that mainly help heterosexual women and their children escape violent family situations. Many of these centers state they also help heterosexual men in abusive situations and would help LGBTQ individuals seeking services if requested.

However, some of these centers do not openly advertise their help for heterosexual men and LGBTQ individuals, and they may be protected from having to provide services to LGBTQ individuals due to religious freedoms laws being passed in various states around the country.

In 2005, The Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services shared a study by Stephen Owens and Tod Burke on intimate partner violence of same-sex couples. The criteria for this study was use of physical force, withholding financial gain, psychological (name calling, manipulation, threats), and engagement in forced and unwanted sexual activity. For more specific examples of abuse, you can check out the LGBT Relationship Violence Power and Control Wheel. The study group contained sixty-six individuals (50% of each gender) of which 56% had admitted to experiencing one or more forms of intimate partner violence.

The prevalence of domestic violence in a sample of 33 men and 33 women currently or previously in same-sex relationships was assessed. Data were collected through a mail survey in the state of Virginia. Of 1000 surveys sent out 66 usable ones were returned (response rate = 6.6%). Analysis indicated that 34 had experienced some form of domestic violence, but significant differences between male and female respondents were not detected. When data from this same-sex sample were compared with those of the heterosexual sample of the National Violence Against Women Survey, intimate partner assault may be more prevalent against gay men than against heterosexual men, but there was no significant difference between lesbians and heterosexual females. Read More

Federal non-discrimination laws and policies aim to prevent agencies from denying or failing to provide services to individuals in a  protected class such as race, gender, religion, etc.  However, LGBTQ individuals have not yet been given federal nondiscrimination protection which has been relegated to state or local bodies to extend protection.

Even though a domestic abuse center claims they will help LGBTQ individuals who are in abusive relationships, there really is no guarantee they will help without a non-discrimination clause against discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Adding these two areas to any and all non-discrimination policies will give LGBTQ individuals the added security they need when seeking services instead of fearing discrimination based on who they love.

Marriage equality is still controversial, and it will take time for some people to get used to the expanded definition of marriage, but nothing should be offensive about another person needing help. Just as everyone should be entitled to marry the person they love, everyone should be entitled to help when they need it.

3 Things to Know When Working With LGBT Clients

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that all couples, regardless of gender, have a constitutional right to marry the person they love. After the ruling was announced, states across the nation were forced to drop their bans on same-sex marriage allowing loving gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender couples the right to marry.

The ruling marks a significant advancement for the rights of LGBT individuals, who have faced a long history of discrimination and oppression. While the ruling is a monumental victory for the rights of LGBT Americans, our LGBT brothers and sisters face challenges that extend far beyond the right to marriage.

lgbtqhomeless1_400_393_90When working with individuals in the LGBT community, we must acknowledge the ways in which societal and social influence, oppression, and discrimination impact these clients as well as the communities we serve. As social workers, we have an obligation to be culturally competent and sensitive to the unique needs of our clients.

To do so effectively, we must first understand some of the significant psychosocial stressors that may impact members of the LGBT community.

Discriminatory Policy

While LGBT individuals now have the right to marry the person they love, only 22 states in the nation protect the LGBT community from employment discrimination. This means that in over half of our nation’s states, a person could be denied employment or fired from their job for identifying as LGBT. For LGBT individuals working in these states, such policies can prevent individuals from feeling comfortable in the workplace for fear of being fired. Uncertain job stability coupled with the stress of hiding one’s identity in the workplace can lead to a variety of negative effects, such as low job satisfaction or even depression and anxiety.

Knowing the policies of your state and how these policies impact the LGBT community can help you better assess the role discrimination may be playing in the lives of your LGBT client(s). Having a good understanding of these policies also allows you to engage in meaningful conversation with clients, the community, and other stakeholders about how to best facilitate change to such policies.


Individuals within the LGBT community are at a significantly higher risk for violence. Though individuals identifying as LGBT account for only 3.8% of the U.S. population, they are the victims in 21% of reported hate crimes. Sexual violence is also a very real threat to those in the LGBT community. According to a startling report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46.4% of lesbian women, 74.9% of bisexual women, 40.2% of gay men, and 47.4% of bisexual men report being victims of sexual violence.

As social workers, it’s not uncommon for clients to seek our help in working through issues related to sexual or physical violence and intimate partner violence. Because of the high rates of these occurrences within the LGBT community, assessing clients for a history of sexual and physical violence as well as domestic violence are critical components of a thorough assessment. Using treatment approaches that take into account the experiences of the LGBT community will enhance the therapeutic milieu for your clients and help foster healing.

Mental Health

Individuals identifying with the LGBT community have significantly higher rates of mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and suicide attempts. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , LGBT men and women have a 2.5 times higher rate of mental illness or substance abuse than the heterosexual population. The types of mental health conditions impacting this population also differ. Gay and bisexual men are more likely to experience major depression and panic disorder than heterosexual men. Lesbian and bisexual women are more than 3 times as likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder.

In addition, the CDC reports that LGBT youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, with as many as 25% of transgendered youth attempting suicide. This is often due, in part, to the higher rates of bullying, physical and sexual violence, and social isolation experienced within this population.

Social workers need to be aware of the disparities in mental health and substance use disorders among the LGBT population so that proper assessment and intervention can take place. Ongoing screening for suicidal ideation or behavior is also of significance, especially for LGBT youth.

As the largest providers of mental health services in the nation, social workers frequently work with individuals across the various spectrums of diversity. This requires us to be skilled in understanding how discrimination, oppression, and public policy all play roles in the lives of our clients. While this may not always be easy, by tapping into your inherent skills as a social worker you can be a champion for your LGBT clients. If you feel overwhelmed by these complexities or find it difficult to understand issues surrounding the LGBT population, start by being a genuine, accepting presence for all your clients. After all, it’s all about love, isn’t it?

The Ongoing Fight For Marriage Equality

It has been one year since Amendment One passed here in North Carolina. The marriage amendment was a hot topic around the state bringing a much-needed debate at the same time a need for more awareness for the community on LGBTQ issues. Many people have made assumptions and judgments about this group of people which has been a barrier to expanding marriage equality.

945370_10151579259919339_1165518363_nEven though the amendment passed, this has brought marriage equality into the political conversation.  Marriage equality is going to come and one by one the attention of the nation has been focused on expanding marriage equality for all. Over the past year, community organizations such as Equality NC,  have empowered the community with their outreach and awareness efforts on behalf of the LGBTQ community.

With our hetero-privilege, our whole society is set up to oppress the LGBTQ community.  This country looks to the nuclear family model and often forgets that families do not fit a mold.  My close friends, myself included have actively participated in advocating for marriage equality.  The LGBTQ people I have connected with through working to advocate for marriage equality are amazing.

For people to maintain warmth, compassion, and understanding to society when many people discriminate against them, shows a lot of character. This community swells with the love of peace, understanding, unity, and respect for people; even as I said before, in the face of unsatisfactory behavior. Since I started my advocacy, I fell more of a sense of social justice than I did before. I always was a supporter of LGBTQ rights and the rights of anyone. But spending some time working with this community and the conversations that I had with the community made me feel that their issues were closer to home in a way. The urgency of justice was more aware to me.

282273_10151579227104339_87082254_nOn May 8th,  Equality NC commemorated the one-year anniversary of the passage of Amendment One. They asked friends, allies, and everyone to stand with them at the North Carolina General Assembly at their “STAND AS ONE” event, and to share their stories on how the passage of this amendment has affected them.

Participants of the event joined hands and circled the assembly as they “stood as one” and speakers such as State Senator Mike Woodard and openly-gay State Representative Marcus Brandon fired up the crowd by speaking about the fight for Equality in North Carolina.

As part of their on-going efforts Equality NC  has partnered with GIVE OUT DAY; an indicative to engage  “hundreds of organizations and mobilize thousands of people on a single day across the country to give in support of the LGBT community”. 

Interested donors can set up their own fundraising page to encourage family and friends to participate as well. And in order to spread awareness Equality NC also encourages all people from North Carolina families with LGBTQ members to share their stories on their  KNOW + LOVE channel. Many times, it is these personal stories that can bring about the greatest change.

Photo credit: Chris Speer

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