The Jills* were the envy of us lesbian couples of African descent.
Their public display of love and their special terms of endearment were the stuff of romance novels. They were inseparable and we distinguished them by calling them Jill and Jillie.
When I received the call that one was being seen in the ER and other one was being detained by the police for battering, I knew it had to be a mistake.
But looking back there were visible signs of inter-personal violence (IPV) that we sistah-friends came to understand.
We wished we could have intervened. But we were so enamored, envious and awestruck by their oversized displays of love and apparent respect for each other we didn’t see their troubled marriage.
LGBTI domestic violence
October is Domestic Awareness Month, and within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities of color, not enough attention, education, intervention and advocacy is given to this issue.
Advocate reported in 2014 that ‘21.5% of men and 35.4% of women living with a same-sex partner experienced intimate-partner physical violence in their lifetimes.
‘Transgender respondents had an incidence of 34.6% over a lifetime.’
The Inter-Personal Violence (IPV) study conducted in 2011 revealed LGBTI communities of color are among the worst affected.
The real scale of the problem in these communities is disguised by social stigmas and cultural taboos, racism, oppression and discrimination.
The truth about same-gender domestic violence among people of color is clouded with myths. There are multiple cultural barriers preventing reporting domestic violence and getting help.
The Black Church is one of them.
Jill grew up in the church and whenever troubled and heavy burdened she took her woes and concerns there. The network of support through prayer and counseling weren’t available to Jill and her spouse once she came out.
In 2016 many black churches are woefully far behind the country’s acceptance of LGBTI Americans. These places of worship are still spewing homophobic rhetoric from their bully pulpits.
Sadly some LGBTI victims of IPV really believe the church’s message. They think they actually are an abomination to God and therefore deserved to be abused, flogged and beaten.
‘I thought I showed strength by staying in the relationship. I thought if we acted happy we would become happy,’ Jill stated.
Too many churches value suffering in one’s life as a test from God like that of the biblical Job. And they promote the marriage vow ‘for richer or poorer until death do us part’. Forgiveness is elevated as virtuous.
The result is too many LGBTI victims remain in abusive relationships.
Silence is another cultural barrier preventing reporting domestic violence and stopping them getting help.
This silence is rightfully aimed at taking a disapproving white gaze off the black community. But it stops us addressing problems plaguing our communities including HIV and AIDS, mental illness, suicide and IPV.
Instead, we spin these problems into a damaging discourse of blame, shame, stigma and misinformation.
Many of us are also confronting the daily micro aggressions of racism and homophobia in the workplace and out in the world. So the last thing many LGBTI victims want to tackle is IPV at home – a ‘safe space’.
Jill’s spouse suffered with bipolar disorder and always attributed her spouse’s violence to her mood changes. Looking back we sister-friends only saw the couple during what they depicted as being ‘jubilantly high on love’.
Healthcare professionals and police officers hold the view that communities of color, especially of African descent, are predisposed towards violence. This stops victims from taking action and prevents the community from raising awareness.
We distrust law enforcement officers due to the rash of shootings and killings of unarmed black men and women across America. Most in my community – straight or LGBTI – only call the police in the most dire situations.
Consequently, victims of IPV, especially LGBTIs, are not taken seriously.
Law enforcement officers often misjudge same-gender sexual violence, precisely because both the victim and abuser are the same gender and in a relationship. The violence is viewed as part and parcel of being homosexual.
LGBTIs and people of color both suffer healthcare inequalities. For LGBTI people of color, that’s exacerbated. So we also distrust health professionals and fail to use resources that would prevent violence or help us heal and move on.
The Jills have finally separated but not because a police officer or medical professional intervened. We sister-friends stepped in.
Not everyone has that support system. We must make resources and services available to LGBTI communities of color.
Everyone deserves a safe, loving, healthy and violent-free relationship. LGBTI communities of color have to be educated to realize they do too.
*To protect their privacy, the names are fictional and the couple described is a composite of numerous couples I counseled on inter-personal violence (IPV).
If you need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the US, on 1-800-799-7233.