If you needed help to escape an abusive relationship, where would you go? What long-lasting impacts can abuse have on an individual? What barriers does the LGBT community face in improving the resources available to survivors? The topic and more will be discussed at the next “Lunch and Learn” event, hosted by the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care on Thursday, October 10th from noon to 1:30 pm in the community rooms at Chase Brexton’s Mount Vernon Center (1111 North Charles Street, Baltimore).

We asked Kate Bishop, education coordinator for the LGBT Health Resource Center, and social worker Randall Leonard, a staff therapist at the center, to preview some of the information they will present at the workshop.

How significant an issue is intimate partner violence in the LGBTQ community?

Kate: The rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse among gay and lesbian people are about the same as for straight folks. The rate of partner abuse in the lives of gender diverse people is alarming. But bisexuals, bi women and to a slightly smaller degree bi men, are by far the most at risk of any population in the US. For example, about a third of lesbians report having experienced abuse, but almost two-thirds of bisexual women are survivors.

Randall: Beyond each individual’s situation, there are many structural reasons our community’s safety becomes compromised. A lack of targeted research means that we don’t have a clear picture of the scope of the problem. Also, sexism and heteronormativity have cemented a limited framework about what intimate partner violence looks like, so it is hard for police, judges, families and friends to see abuse for what it is. They’ll say “that’s just men being men” or “she couldn’t have hurt you, look how small she is.” Those stereotypes lead LGBTQ people to doubt our own perceptions are true, which is exactly what the abuser wants.

In addition to immediate physical harm, what long-lasting effects can such violence have on an LGBT individual?

Randall: Stress takes a heavy toll on our bodies. When someone is in an abusive relationship, trying to anticipate their partner’s anger, trying to guess when the next incident might come, stress never ends. Anxiety pumps the stress hormone cortisol into our system. Over time, cortisol builds plaque in the arteries and can lead to heart failure. Living with abuse leads to compromised physical and emotional health in many ways.

Kate: Recovering from trauma can be a lifelong journey as well. Long after the relationship has ended, many survivors experience paralyzing flashbacks or nightmares of the abuse, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and many other difficult conditions. At the same time, it’s very important for people who’ve lived through hell to know that recovery is possible. You can heal your wholeness, survive and thrive. You deserve that.

What barriers might prevent someone from seeking help?

Randall: Well, preventing someone from seeking help may be an abuse tactic in and of itself. The first job of an abuser is to isolate their partner, to alienate them from family, friends, and community, as well as restrict their access health care, law enforcement, and other avenues of escape. It is common for abusers to monitor and control all aspects of their partner’s life, including their phone and computer use as well as their movements and money.

Among LGBTQ couples, specifically, power and control might take the form of threatening to “out” you to your family or employer if you leave, hiding your hormones or HIV medication, destroying the wig or shoes you need to feel comfortable leaving the house.

Kate: And when someone does reach out for help, the helpers often let our communities down. Men and gender diverse people may have limited options for shelter, for example. Professionals may dismiss same-sex abuse or discriminate against LGBTQ clients. Even well-intentioned providers may be slow to understand what’s going on.

If someone is facing a violent or potentially violent situation, what should they do?

Randall: Tell someone. Please, reach out and tell someone. If possible, call the hotline for an intimate partner violence advocacy organization like House of Ruth or TurnAround for support. Also try a health care or mental health provider. If you are being watched at your visit, find a way to indicate to the doctor that you need to speak to them alone. Hospitals, medical offices, therapists, and many faith leaders are trained to respond.

Kate: Even if you aren’t ready to tell someone about your whole situation, it’s a good idea to keep your social network strong. That way you have someone to listen, help reality check what your partner is telling you, and support to escape if you need it. Tell someone and keep telling until you get the help you deserve. Silence is deadly – the truth can help you get free. 

To register for the upcoming “Lunch & Learn” session, RSVP to lgbt@chasebrexton.org or call 410-837-2050 x1049. For more on the LGBT Health Resource Center’s resources and programs, visit ChaseBrexton.org/LGBT.