Supporting someone who identifies as LGBTI: how do I offer support?

When a friend or family member tells you they have experienced sexual assault, domestic or family violence, there are some practical things you can do to help.

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People who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Inter-sex (LGBTI) are more likely to talk to a family member or friend when they experience sexual assault, domestic or family violence. You can be an important source of support and assistance. Your friend or family member may fear that they will not be believed, that they will be blamed or that their experience will be dismissed or minimised. You may be concerned about responding in the right way, but there are some simple things you can do and the following information will help you respond. Professional help is also available.

General information can be a useful starting point. This can help with recognising the signs that your friend or family member is at risk of, or experiencing, violence. There are also some particular risks for LGBTI people. These are described below.

What is sexual assault, domestic or family violence against people who identify as LGBTI?

Violence against people who identify as LGBTI includes a range of behaviours. Historically, homophobia has resulted in ignoring or minimising violence against LGBTI people. Well-founded fears of discrimination and concern about how others, including the service system, will respond can make it difficult for people to talk about what is happening, which increases risk. Sexual assault, domestic and family violence, controlling behaviour and particular types of violence based on sexuality, gender or identity are all part of the picture of violence against people who identify as LGBTI.

Sexual assault is any sexual or sexualised act that makes a person feel uncomfortable, intimidated or frightened. It is behaviour that a person has not invited or chosen.  Find out more about sexual assault .

Domestic and family violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate relationship or other type of family relationship where one person assumes a position of power over another and causes fear. Find out more about types of domestic and family violence including financial abuse, controlling behaviour and physical violence.

Sexual assault, domestic and family violence present unique and increased risks when they occur in LGBTI relationships.

Some of the risks include:

  • A lack of information that identifies violence or controlling behaviours in LGBTI relationships as sexual assault, domestic or family violence. Information often focusses on heterosexual relationships between a man and a woman
  • Experiences of fear and shame: including the ways in which not being publicly ‘out’ about sexuality, gender, identity or HIV status could be used as control
  • The fear of being isolated from the LGBTI community, or blamed by community for violence 
  • Discrimination against non-offending parents when children are involved
  • Financial discrimination that makes accessing shared financial resources of an LGBTI couple more difficult or impossible
  • A well-founded fear of nowhere to go that is safe and culturally appropriate

The role of homophobia, transphobia and hetero-sexism

In addition, when people who identify as LGBTI talk about the violence, they can experience homophobia, transphobia and hetero-sexism. When someone experiences violence, discrimination, bullying, shaming and name calling over the course of their lives, the impact can be profound and may affect how a person talks about violence, if they are willing to talk about it at all, and where they feel safe to go for support.

Homophobia is discrimination against a person because they identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This can include:

  • Denying access to services based on identity or sexuality
  • Providing inappropriate responses based on generalisation or ignorance about people who identify as LGBTI
  • A failure to recognise violence in LGBTI relationships  or calling it something else

Hetero-sexism refers to the practice of presuming a heterosexual identity. Heterosexist responses might include:

  • using language that presumes a person’s partner is of the opposite sex,
  • using language that refuses to recognise a person’s stated identity
  • fewer partner or parental rights at law
  • presuming that an LGBTI person has the same rights at law
  • a failure to recognise and respond in ways that are respectful of culture and connection to community

Transphobia and other gender-based phobia is discrimination against a person whose gender identity is different to what was assumed at birth. Gender-based discrimination may include:

  • not using a person’s preferred pronoun or not referring to their preferred gender
  • making overt or subtle comments about how a person should look/act to conform to a particular gender
  • assuming the gender and/or sexuality of a person’s partner
  • denying access to services based on gender or gender identity
  • differentiating between pre and post-operative transgendered people

Help is available

There are a number of things you can do to offer support.  By making some time to listen in a non-judgemental way you are offering important support. Talking about violence and abuse takes courage. Listen without judging. Focus on what you can do to offer support without telling your friend or family member what to do. Try asking: ‘What can I do to help?’

A person might not be ready to do more than talk. If they do want to find out about their rights and options, they might ask for your help in finding the right service. For some helpful general information that will need to be adapted for your situation view:

How do I support someone who had been sexual assaulted? 

How do I support someone experiencing domestic or family violence?  

The following information may also be useful:

When someone is in immediate danger call 000.

Police: To report sexual assault domestic or family violence you can contact your local police office. Your police office may have a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Liaison Officer (commonly known as GLLOs). They will most likely have a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer (DVLO). You can ask for these officers when contact the police station.

1800RESPECT provides counselling, information and support for people at risk of or experiencing the impacts of sexual assault, domestic and family violence. Call 1800 737 732. This service is open 24/7 and is free.

Some states and territories have services that are LGBTI specialist in responding to sexual assault or domestic and family violence. All states have specialist services for sexual assault, family and domestic violence. Use our Service & support map to find the closest generalist or specialist services in your area.   

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