Campus Against Violence Program


Holloway Hall

Relationship Violence in the LGBTQ Community

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In many ways, relationship violence among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) relationships is the same as violence that happens among heterosexual couples:

  • No one deserves to be abused.

  • Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and involve verbal behavior used to coerce, threaten or humiliate.

  • Abuse often occurs in a cyclical fashion.

  • Abuse often occurs and is most dangerous when one partner in the relationship tries to leave.

  • The purpose of the abuse is to maintain control and power over one's partner.

  • The abused partner feels alone, isolated and afraid, and is usually convinced that the abuse is somehow his or her fault, or could have been prevented if she or he knew what to do.

  • A pattern of violence or behaviors exists where one seeks to control the thoughts, beliefs, or conduct of their partner, or to punish their partner for resisting their control. This may be seen as physical or sexual violence or emotional or verbal abuse.

However, there are also differences in the way in which relationship violence is experienced by someone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer:

  • An abusive partner may threaten to out their partner at their place of employment or to their friends and family. This can be especially traumatizing to someone who has not made the decision to come out.

  • It is often incorrectly assumed that lesbian, gay and bi relationship abuse must be "mutual." Relationship violence is rarely seen as being "mutual" in heterosexual relationships.

  • Survivors may believe that in order to access services they must lie or hide the gender of the abuser to be perceived (and thus accepted) as a heterosexual. Accessing services can also force the survivor to come out before they are ready. The Counseling Center can provide survivors of relationship violence with support and resources as they clarify their feelings about the coming out process and make decisions about their relationship. The survivor's sexual orientation is considered confidential information.

  • People who are abused may be concerned that telling others about the violence in the relationship may reinforce the myth that lesbian, bisexual and gay relationships are inherently dysfunctional. Some members of the LGBTQ community are often not supportive of abused persons because many want to maintain the myth that there are no problems (such as sexual assault and relationship violence) in these relationships. 

  • The LGBTQ community may be small within the survivor's community, and they may be concerned that others will learn about their abuse.

If you are being physically or emotionally abused in your relationship, know that it's not your fault and help is available. Contact the Counseling Center (410.543.6070) to schedule an appointment to discuss your feelings and your options in a confidential, judgment free environment.

Source: An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection


There are also a number of destructive myths about relationship violence in the LGBTQ community. The next time you hear one of these myths, stand up and speak out!

MYTH: Relationship violence does not exist in same-sex relationships in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-sexual communities. Only men batter women.

FACT: Relationship violence does exist among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people and in other sexual minority communities. It is not a problem limited to heterosexual relationships. In the LGBTQ community, the extent and severity of abuse is becoming increasingly evident. Despite fear and community denial, more and more lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals are speaking out about violence in their relationships.

MYTH: In same-sex relationships, the problem is really fighting or "mutual battering," not relationship violence.

FACT: The issue in relationship violence is control. A survivor's needs are usually subordinated and she or he often changes his/her behavior to accommodate or anticipate his/her batter's demands. This unequal power relationship distinguishes battering from fighting. In an abusive relationship fighting back is self-defense, not "mutual battering."

MYTH: Relationship violence only affects certain groups of sexual minority people.

FACT: Violence and abuse are found in all parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities. No group regardless of race, class, ethnicity, age, ability, education, politics, religion or lifestyle is free from relationship violence. Being abusive is not determined by a man or woman's size, strength or economic status. LGBTQ people who are abusive can be friendly, physically unintimidating, sociable and charming. LGBTQ people who are abused can be strong, capable and dynamic.

MYTH: Factors such as substance abuse, stress, childhood violence or provocation are the causes of violent behavior in relationships. 

FACT: An abuser chooses to be violent and is responsible for his/her behavior. Individuals and communities deny this responsibility. We want to find excuses. Alcohol and drugs do not cause relationship violence. Stopping substance abuse does not guarantee that the violence will stop. Most lesbian, bisexual, gay and trans people experience some kind of stress and may have experienced childhood violence, but there is no direct cause and effect relationship between these factors and relationship violence. There is no provocation or justification for relationship violence.

MYTH: The batter will always be butch, bigger or stronger. The abused partner will always be femme, smaller or weaker.

FACT: Size, weight, butch, femme or any other physical attribute or role is not an indicator of whether or not a person will be the abused partner or an abuser. A person who is 5'2", prone to violence and very angry can do a lot of damage to someone who may be taller, heavier, stronger and non-violent. A batter does not need to be 6'4" and built like a rugby player to smash an Ipod, hit someone with a lamp, destroy clothing, throw things or threaten to out their partner to friends or family members.  

MYTH: It is easier for LGBTQ survivors of relationship violence to leave abusive relationships than it is for heterosexual survivors who are married. If it were that bad, they would just leave.

FACT: LGBTQ couples are as intertwined and involved in each others' lives as heterosexual couples. Abusive relationships are rarely only violent and abusive. Love, caring and remorse are often part of the cyclical pattern of abuse. This can leave a survivor feeling confused and ambivalent about what he/she is experiencing. Emotional or economic dependency, shame or isolation can make leaving seem impossible. Please contact the Counseling Center if you are caught up in a cycle of violence in your relationship. A counselor will help you to sort out your feelings and decide how you would like to proceed.

MYTH: Lesbian and gay relationship violence is the same as relationship violence between a man and woman.

FACT: The dynamics of same-sex relationships are not the same as heterosexual relationships. The stresses of being without full legal protections and the lack of societal support for their relationships are added barriers for LGBTQ victims/survivors to overcome.

Source: Ann Caffrey, LMFT and The Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse

Source: Texas Council on Family Violence

If you are being physically or emotionally abused in your relationship, know that it's not your fault and help is available. Contact the Counseling Center (410.543.6070) to schedule an appointment to discuss your feelings and your options in a confidential, judgment free environment.