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Supporting people who identify as LGBTI

LGBTQIA+ experiences of domestic, family and sexual violence

  • Supporting people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) requires an understanding of how to provide inclusive and safe services
  • Heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia and cisgenderism can affect the way people respond to domestic, family and sexual violence
  • This page explains some of these issues, while the other tabs in this section explain the things support workers can do to help them respond better.

Understanding the issues

The initials LGBTI stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex. You might also see it written as LGBTQIA+, where the Q stands for 'queer' and A for 'asexual'. All of the content on the 1800RESPECT website is written to be inclusive of all people. However, we know that for some people there can be specific needs or extra barriers around accessing support. This content looks at the issues faced by people who identify as LGBTI who are impacted by sexual, domestic and family violence.

Violence against people who identify as LGBTI includes a range of behaviours. Sexual assault, domestic and family violence and controlling behaviour based on sexuality, gender or identity, are all part of the picture. Heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia and cisgenderism play a powerful role in shaping the way we think about and respond to sexual assault, domestic and family violence.

How these issues impact LGBTI communities

Heterosexism is believing that heterosexuality is the 'normal' way to be and that people who do not belong to this group are ab-normal or even unnatural. Many aspects of society assume that everyone is heterosexual,  for example:

  • Everyday conversation, such as:
    • Asking 'What does your husband (or wife) do?' (Assumes that couples are always made up of a man and a woman)
    • Asking same sex couples questions like 'Who is the man (or woman) in your relationship?' or 'Who is the real parent?'
  • Standard forms that ask questions that assume all people are straight or in male-female relationships
  • The terms 'tolerance' and 'acceptance', which are also forms of heterosexism

This can feel quite overwhelming to many lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people. The anxiety of having to explain themselves time and again, and the impact of being exposed to negative attitudes can create mental distress. It can be the reason that many people choose not to be open about their sexual identity.

Heterosexism from a professional might include:

  • Using language that presumes a person’s partner is of the opposite sex
  • Not recognising and responding in ways that are respectful of culture or connection to community
  • Not taking into account the unique experiences of shame and fear that accompany sexual assault, domestic and family violence for LGB communities. This can also include things like threats of outing someone by disclosing their sexual identity.

Homophobia is prejudice, discrimination or violence against Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) people, including:

  • Offering restricted or no access to services that are safe and appropriate
  • Not recognising that violence can happen in LGB relationships
  • Not recognising the unique issues affecting LGB people, their rights and your responsibilities as a professional
  • A lack of safe refuge for LGB people escaping domestic violence
  • Discrimination against non-offending parents in times of crisis
  • Being rude to anyone who identifies as LGB

Transphobia and other gender-based phobia is discrimination against a person whose gender identity is different from that which was assumed at birth.

Gender-based discrimination may include:

  • Not using a person’s preferred pronoun
  • Not referring to their preferred gender
  • Making overt or subtle comments about how a person should look or act to conform to a particular gender
  • Assuming the sexuality of a transgender, intersex or non-binary person
  • Denying access to services based on someone's intersex status, gender history or gender identity
  • Differentiating between pre- and post-operative transgender people
  • Restricting access to gender-transitioning medications
  • Asking inappropriate questions about a transgender or gender-diverse person's anatomy, sexual practices or surgical history

Cisgenderism assumes that a person's gender is determined and fixed at birth based on their biological sex. It also assumes that gender identity is the same as biological sex.

Cisgenderism treats other gender identities as abnormal or wrong, or refuses to acknowledge their existence. Our society reinforces this, which can result in transgender and gender diverse people being excluded, ignored or stigmatised.

It can be difficult for transgender or gender diverse people to obtain identification documents when their gender identity does not match their birth certificate. It can also be difficult to explain gender identity and diversity each time someone engages with a different service.  

Increased risk

Due to a lack of information and reporting that identifies violence or controlling behaviours in LGBTQIA+ relationships as sexual, domestic or family violence, the issue is often not well understood.

Mainstream media and the majority of information often focuses on heterosexual relationships where men perpetrate violence against their female partner and children. This makes violence in LGBTQIA+ relationships harder to recognise.

When present in LGBTQIA+ relationships, sexual, domestic and family violence can involve perpetrators using tactics unique to those relationships. It can also involve increased risk due to the valid fears that people who identify as LGBTQIA+ may have about disclosing violence.

These can include:

  • A fear of discrimination or minimisation by police, legal systems and service providers
  • The threat of being 'outed' if the abused partner has not disclosed their sexuality, gender, intersex status or HIV status to their family, friends, workplace or their cultural community
  • Pressure to look or act more 'male', 'female' or straight
  • The fear of a lack of confidentiality within, or of being isolated from LGBTI communities
  • Fear of non-offending parents that their right to stay with their children may be challenged due to different legal rights of LGBTQIA+ parents
  • Financial discrimination that makes accessing shared financial resources of an LGBTI couple more difficult or impossible
  • A fear of nowhere to go for support that is safe and culturally appropriate
  • Shame and confusion around society's assumptions that women are not violent and men cannot be victims

A lack of information that acknowledges intimate partner violence in a diversity of relationships contributes to the barriers for accessing services. Likewise, a lack of awareness of violence based on assumptions of gender and sexuality also contribute to the problem. Understanding sexual assault, domestic and family violence is a good start.

Organisational policies and practices need to be adapted to include violence against people who identify as LGBTQIA+ to be truly effective. All staff working with any client should have regular LGBTQIA+ inclusivity and awareness training. Where possible, training should address responding to domestic and family violence that occurs in LGBTQIA+ communities.