How and why we’re working to support LGBTQ survivors of violence

Meghan Maury Federal Policy Counsel, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

I love diners. The greasier the food, the surlier the waitress, the happier I am. They feel like home; the formica countertops identical no matter what town the diner sits in. A refuge from the day’s tensions, where we can sit and drown our troubles in bottomless murky coffee. Which is why, twenty years ago, I stared with complete and utter confusion at a rock the size of my head flying, in apparent slow motion, toward the car I was riding in with my girlfriend. We were driving out of the parking lot of the local diner, and I just couldn’t imagine where that rock (really more of a mini-boulder) had come from.

The rock fell short, but the hail of smaller rocks that followed it made impact, one cracking the rear window next to my head. I finally focused on their source. They were being thrown by two full-grown men, their faces red, screaming “faggot” and “dyke” and telling us to go home. It wasn’t the first or the last time I would confront violence because of my sexual orientation or gender identity.

It wasn’t even the worst time. But somehow it stays with me, echoing of a hatred so strong that it draws people out of the comfort of the diner to literally stone four barely-pubescent teens because they were holding hands while eating their french fries.

I like to think that violence against LGBTQ people is a thing of the past. It’s not. Violence remains an everyday part of our community’s experience, both from external forces and within our own homes. Here are some of the sobering statistics:

  • 20% of hate crimes occur because of the victim’s sexual orientation, and an estimated 259,700 hate crimes occur in a year
  • 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women have experienced physical violence, stalking, or rape as a result of intimate partner violence
  • Transgender and gender-nonconforming people are disproportionately killed in anti-LGBT homicides
  • In jails and prisons, gay prisoners are frequent targets of sexual abuse – one study found that 41% of gay prisoners experienced sexual assault

Given this level of violence, what is there to do? First, we make sure that the people who are subject to violence have access to supportive services. Despite statistics like the ones above, a recent study of 648 domestic violence agencies, sexual assault centers, prosecutors’ offices, law enforcement agencies, and child victim services found that 94% of respondents were not serving LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence. In 2011, 61.6% of LGBTQ survivors reported being denied access to shelters and the related supportive services they provide.

The Federal Government provides funding for supportive services through the Victims of Crime Act. In a recent Proposed Rule, the Office for Victims of Crime (who administers the Act) expanded the ability of LGBTQ survivors to access these services. Though the rule is an improvement for the LGBTQ community, it still contains limitations. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Centers for Anti-Violence Protection, along with 22 co-signers filed public comments this week asking the Office of Victims of Crime to make access to these services even stronger.

Of course, helping survivors of violence access counseling and transitional housing isn’t the whole answer to the problem. We must work to change the experience of our community: to reduce violence in all its guises until there are hardly any survivors to support. That’s going to mean education, both inside and outside our community. It’s going to mean activism; working to change the legal protections available to us in every city and every state. It’s going to mean working together to change the norms that have shifted so little in the two decades since I sat in that car, watching the crack spider out from the center of that window.

I’m not sure what else it’s going to take, but I’m going to keep working on it and keep talking about it. I hope you’ll join me.