Saturday 28 May is LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Day – an opportunity to raise awareness and increase visibility of domestic, family and intimate partner violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse, intersex, queer, and asexual people.
What began as a Brisbane-based awareness day in 2020 is now a national initiative – one that centres the voices of LGBTIQA+ communities and aims to educate allies, organisations and the general public about the systemic discrimination, erasure and additional barriers LGBTIQA+ people face when trying to seek domestic violence support.
For Elvis Martin, a youth advocate and member of Safe and Equal’s Expert Advisory Panel, LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Day is a reminder of the work that is still needed to ensure all LGBTIQA+ people can access safe and inclusive support.
“Because so many people view family violence as something experienced by cisgender heterosexual women, perpetrated by cisgender heterosexual men, it can be really hard for anyone outside of that binary to be seen and acknowledged as a person experiencing violence,” he said.
“This makes it very difficult to access support – if we don’t realise that what we are experiencing is family violence, and the system isn’t recognising it, we fall through the cracks.”
Research indicates that people who identify as LGBTIQA+ experience family violence and intimate partner violence at similar rates to those who identify as heterosexual. Private Lives is Australia’s largest national survey of the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ people, conducted by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University. The third edition of the survey, released in 2020, found that more than two out of five survey respondents reported experiencing intimate partner violence, and two out of five survey respondents reported experiencing family violence, predominantly from parents and older siblings.
The survey also highlights the unique circumstances in which LGBTIQA+ people may be subjected to violence, including rejection or abuse after ‘coming out’ to family members. As a young person, Elvis’ experience of family violence directly intersected with experiences of homophobia and discrimination.
“For a long time, I did not know that what I was experiencing was family violence,” he said.
“I didn’t know what to think – I would just tell myself that I was experiencing ‘conflict’ with my family. I did not see it as family violence until someone else named it.”
After recognising that what he was experiencing was family violence, Elvis realised there were further systemic barriers for LGBTIQA+ people seeking support that other communities may not face.
“For starters, there are not many LGBTIQA+ specialist family violence services, and many people don’t know who or where they are,” he said.
“Adding to that are the ongoing experiences of systemic discrimination and prejudice LGBTIQA+ communities are subjected to. This can increase our distrust of services, so even if we know a mainstream service is there, we might be hesitant to reach out.”
Challenging systemic discrimination and prejudice is key to the theme of this year’s LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Day – #SeenandBelieved. For Elvis, having people name the violence and ask about his safety was life-changing.
“Just having someone say that to me made me feel seen and believed. It gave me the confidence to seek professional support, which was something I was unable to do previously,” says Elvis.
“But we can’t just rely on professionals – because there are less LGBTQIA+ family violence services, the community has a really important role in supporting each other,” he adds.
“Just being there for someone who is experiencing family violence is so important. You don’t have to tell them what to do, just be there for them, don’t judge them, and let them tell you what they need.”
After overcoming some very difficult circumstances, Elvis now uses his lived experience to educate others in the community and amplify the voices of the LGBTIQA+ community. It is his hope that with initiatives like LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Day, more people will feel supported to disclose abuse and reach out for help, and services will become safer and more inclusive for LGBTIQA+ people.
“There is so much power in having these conversations. The more awareness we raise, the more our experiences are validated, the more we feel seen and respected, and the more government and policy makers must listen and change.”
For more information on LGBTQ Domestic Violence Awareness Day, visit https://www.dvafoundation.org/.
If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, you can contact Rainbow Door on 1800 729 367 (10am – 5pm, every day) or QLife on 1800 184 527 (3pm-midnight, every day) for LGBTIQA+ peer support, information and referral, or 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 (24 hours, 7 days).