Similarities & Differences

How is LGBT partner abuse similar to abuse in non-LGBT relationships?

  • No one deserves to be abused.
  • Abuse can be physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, financial, or psychological.
  • Abuse often occurs in cyclic fashion (link to cycle of violence).
  • Abuse can be deadly.
  • The purpose of the abuse is to maintain control and power over one’s partner.
  • The abused person may feel isolated, afraid, and convinced that they are at fault.
  • The abused person risks the loss of community if they tell.
  • If the abused person has children, they risk the loss of children if they tell.
  • The incidence rate of partner abuse in LGBT relationships is approximately the same as for non-LGBT people – 25-30% of relationships are abusive.
  • The end of the relationship involves grief and loss.

How is LGBT partner abuse different from abuse in non-LGBT relationships?

  • Living in a homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and heterosexist society creates a different context for the abuse, including gender dynamics in the relationship.
  • Racism creates a distinctive context of LGBT people of color who experience abuse in relationships, and an entirely different context in transgender people of color.
  • LGBT people who have been abused, including men, may have more difficulty finding useful support than heterosexual women do.
  • The myth prevails that LGBT relationship abuse is “mutual.”  Few assume that abuse in non-LGBT relationships is mutual.
  • Utilizing existing services, such as police reporting or partner abuse programs, is similar to coming out and is a major life decision.
  • Within the LGBT community, support may not exist.  To talk about LGBT abuse reinforces the homophobic myth that LGBT people are “sick” or that LGBT relationships are unhealthy.
  • LGBT survivors may know few other LGBT people; leaving an abuser could mean increased isolation.
  • LGBT people who do know many other LGBT people may risk losing friends if they disclose about the abuse.  Some LGBT friends may believe an abuser and not a survivor.  This could also lead to increased isolation.
  • Transmen and transwomen may have problems finding partners of their desired sexual orientation; their partners also need to be accepting of their gender.  This will make the pool of potential partners smaller.
  • The LGBT community may feel small; news of the abuse can become public knowledge.  This may be true for transpeople who are sensationalized by the press.
  • The abusive partner can use blackmail to hold a survivor in the relationship.  Being outed at work or to parents can be more threatening than the abuse.  In trans relationships, the threat of obstruction of transitions may be used.
  • There is little clear language to talk about rape in LGBT relationships.  Because people don’t have language to discuss rape in LGBT relationships, studies sometimes indicate that rape or sexual abuse is less likely to occur in the context of partner abuse for LGBT people.  In reality, rates of sexual assault in LGBT relationships are similar to rates of sexual assault in non-LGBT relationships.

Adapted From

The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Confronting Lesbian Battering Manual by Susan C. Turell, PhD, and Molly M. Herrmann, MS