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New Funding Allows Legal Focus on Domestic Violence in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Communities

February 1, 2007

Author: Amy Schwartz-Wallace

Despite a dearth of research, studies seem to indicate that a large percentage of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community experiences intimate partner violence at some point in their lives.  As with heterosexual domestic violence, GLBT survivors experience the same patterns of power and control tactics such as coercion, manipulation, emotional abuse, physical violence, threats, isolation, sexual abuse, and economic control.  While many of the tactics of abuse may be similar to those in heterosexual relationships, the larger heterosexist, homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic context presents different,   additional oppressions and challenges faced by these survivors.  Sadly, this domestic violence also has the potential to be lethal.  In December 2006, a gay man allegedly strangled his estranged boyfriend before taking his own life with a drug overdose in a small town in Allegany County.

Many survivors in the GLBT community face enormous, complex barriers when reaching out for the support and services necessary to help leave an abuser.  For example, many GLBT persons will not disclose the abuse in their relationships to friends, family, colleagues, or their faith community because of fears that this will be considered “evidence” that their relationships are “sick” or “unhealthy”.  If GLBT survivors are not out about their sexual orientation or gender identity to friends, family, or colleagues, they may be reluctant to make such disclosures, even where they are experiencing frightening abuse.  Many social service, criminal justice, legal and medical personnel are often deficient in their ability to serve GLBT people who are the victims of intimate partner abuse.  Most mainstream domestic violence or victim services programs have limited or no training or specialized services to provide for the unique needs of GLBT survivors of domestic violence.  Indeed many survivors have feared or actually    experienced homophobia or transphobia when they sought or considered seeking support from service providers such as law enforcement, the courts, or victim services providers.  Gay males, bisexual males, or persons with a male gender identity or gender expression have been refused residential services at domestic violence shelters with physical spaces traditionally housing women and children.  Key legal protections including but not limited to civil orders of protection, divorce, spousal support, mandatory arrest and primary aggressor determinations, and access to Integrated Domestic Violence Courts are generally unavailable to most members of these communities.  In their all-encompassing struggle for basic civil rights and non-discrimination, GLBT service organizations have often overlooked the challenges faced by the community of abuse survivors.  

In response to growing concern about this issue, in Fall 2002 a group of domestic violence service providers, policy makers, community leaders and educators from around New York State met to attempt to identify and find ways to address these difficult issues.  The result was the formation of the New York State Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Domestic Violence Network (The Network).  Empire Justice Center was an original member of this organization and has remained active since its inception over four years ago.  The Network meets as a large group annually and works throughout the year on discrete issues.  However, one of the major obstacles the Network identified included funding challenges for service providers attempting to effectively outreach to serve this community. 

In recognition of the importance of the issue and the funding concerns, in December 2006 members of the State Assembly dedicated a total of $375,000 in grants to 14 Network members allowing them to focus their attention and resources on capacity-building and resource development for GLBT domestic violence-specific services and outreach.  Notably, this is the first funding package of its kind.  Beginning in the spring 2007, this exciting grant opportunity will allow Empire Justice Center’s Domestic Violence Legal Program to provide legal technical assistance and legal trainings on the rights and remedies of GLBT domestic violence survivors to Network members throughout the state.  Trainings may be available to other organizations on a more limited basis.  We will also enhance our existing website with an area devoted to addressing legal rights and remedies of GLBT survivors.

In addition to the Empire Justice Center, recipients of funding this year include: New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (NYC), NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Alternatives for Battered Women (Rochester), Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley (Rochester), Men of Color Health Awareness Program (Rochester/Buffalo), The Advocacy Center (Ithaca), In Our Own Voices (Albany), LGBT DV Committee of Western NY (Buffalo), Park Slope Safe Homes Project (Brooklyn), Rockland Family Shelter (Rockland County), Safe Horizon (New York City), Vera House (Syracuse), and Victim Assistance Services (Westchester).

Thank you to all the legislators supporting this funding including: Danny O'Donnell (New York City), Speaker Sheldon Silver, James Brennan (Kings), Joan Millman (Kings), Deborah Glick (New York City), J. Gary Pretlow (Westchester), Adam Bradley (Westchester), Sandy Galef (Westchester/Putnam), Richard Brodsky (Westchester), Kenneth Zebrowski (Rockland), John McEneny (Albany), Joan Christensen (Onondaga), Barbara Lifton (Cortland/Tompkins), Susan John (Monroe), Joseph Morelle (Monroe), Crystal Peoples (Erie), and Sam Hoyt (Erie).

For more information about this new initiative, please contact Amy Schwartz at or Dishpaul Dhuga at


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