By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
DETROIT – Triangle Foundation and the University of Michigan are teaming up to do a survey of domestic violence among same-sex couples.
Triangle, one of the leading advocacy, civil rights, and anti-violence organizations for Michigan’s LGBT community, will use the results of the survey to decide if the organization ought to add domestic violence programming to its list of services.
“I know from other National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program numbers that once an agency really commits to doing this work and the word gets out that there’s a commitment to it, the demand for services is huge in most places,” said Jeff Montgomery, Triangle’s executive director. “We wanted to get this thing going just so we could see what we might expect if we were to expand our programming to deal explicitly with domestic violence issues.”
If national figures hold true for Michigan, any domestic violence program that Triangle begins will be quite busy.
According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Web page on the issue, “Studies indicate that domestic violence is as prevalent in same-sex relationships as it is in opposite-sex relationships.” Twenty-five percent of gay men and between 22 and 44 percent of lesbians have experienced domestic violence, according to NGLTF.
LGBTs face unique challenges when confronted by domestic violence. According to Lamda Legal’s online fact sheet, those challenges include a lack of queer-friendly domestic violence programs and a perception that violence in same-sex relationships is frequently mutual. In addition, according to Lambda, coming out as a queer victim of domestic violence, “can reinforce the myth many believe that lesbian, bi and gay relationships are ‘abnormal.’ This can further cause the victim to feel isolated and unsupported.”
Unlike their straight counterparts, in many places of the country an abusive same-sex partner can use the threat of “outing” as a way to keep the victim in an abusive relationship. In several states, including Michigan, it is legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian, meaning that in addition to suffering the trauma of abuse, the victim risks losing their job if he or she is outed while trying to leave a domestic violence situation.
The lack of legal protections for same-sex relationships can benefit the domestic violence victim if he or she is not tied financially to the abusive partner. “However, if their lives are financially intertwined, such as each paying a rent or mortgage and having ‘built a home together,’ [the victim has] no legal process to assist in making sure assets are evenly divided, a process which exists for their married, heterosexual counterparts,” according to Lambda.
According to Royal Oak therapist and author Joe Kort, MA, MSW, the homophobia that couples experience in the wider community can contribute to violence at home.
“If you have low core value over yourself you’re going to be inclined to have higher levels of anger,” Kort said. “[In same-sex relationships] both members of the couple have low core value because of how we have all been treated. In an attempt to find value, the anger escalates.”
Montgomery said that he already has an “intuition” that more services are needed for LGBT domestic violence victims.
According to Montgomery, even though Triangle isn’t known for domestic violence services the agency still receives calls. “I imagine somewhere in the dozens over the course of a year,” he said.
Barbara Gilfix, MSW, ACSW, who has worked with same-sex singles and couples in Farmington Hills for about 10 years, told BTL, “I’ve had a number of [lesbian] couples come in who have had that particular problem, with either physical or extreme verbal abuse.”
Amanda Hooper, the U-M research fellow who is working with Triangle on the survey, said that 225 responses have been received since the survey was first made available at Grand Rapids Pride on June 17.
To participate in the Triangle/U-M survey, visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=977992280164 or call Triangle at 313-537-3323, ext. 114, and ask for Crystal Witt or Amanda Hooper. In addition, the survey will be available at Hotter Than July! in Detroit on July 29. The deadline to take part in the survey is July 29. Both organizations guarantee that all information will be kept confidential.
How to get help
Deirdre Shires, health services coordinator for Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Ferndale, recommends the following resources for LGBTs who are experiencing domestic violence (all numbers are toll-free):
Pontiac — HAVEN: According to Shires, HAVEN has recently received funding to expand outreach to the LGBT community. Call 1-877-922-1274.
Plymouth — First Step: 1-888-453-5900
Ferndale — Affirmations Crisis Line: 1-800-398-4297