LGBT domestic violence: ‘We have to start naming it’


The Health Initiative
Lesbian survivor support group
Every Monday, 7 p.m.
404-688-2524, ext. 112
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“That is not something we are going to go beyond. Our information right now is this was a roommate status. We have no confirmation of anything else,” said Cpl. Kay Lester, spokesperson for Fulton County’s police department, in an interview with the GA Voice.

UPDATE: At a preliminary hearing on July 31, a Fulton County police officer testified the two were in a serious romantic relations for several years, including holding a commitment ceremony.

But friends have told the GA Voice and other media outlets that the two were partners, and the woman behind bars facing murder charges changed her name to her ex-partner’s last name.

The police report on the shooting includes only a short narrative: Officers arrived on the scene after Crystal Parker’s friend went to Parker’s house looking for her and found the back door open.

“We located a person unresponsive in the upstairs bedroom,” the report states.

The Parker case comes just a month after the conclusion of another local high-profile lesbian intimate partner violence case. WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw pleaded guilty in June to aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and other charges.

In November in Atlanta, she terrorized her ex-girlfriend, WNBA player Jennifer Lacy, by breaking out Lacy’s car windows with a baseball bat and then firing a gun into the car. Holdsclaw was sentenced to three years probation and a $3,000 fine.

But is domestic violence, now more commonly referred to as intimate partner violence, or IPV, a major issue in LGBT communities?

CDC: ‘Violence affects everyone’

A groundbreaking study by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention shows that lesbians and gay men reported IPV and stalking victimization (including text messaging, emails and GPS) over their lifetimes at levels equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals.

The CDC study is based on data gathered from the very first National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), conducted in 2010. In 2013, the CDC released an analysis of the data from respondents who identified as lesbian, bisexual or gay.

According to the study, two-thirds of lesbian women (67.4 percent) reported having only female perpetrators of intimate partner violence while most gay men (90.7 percent) reported having only male perpetrators of intimate partner violence.

“The report just goes to show violence affects everyone regardless of sexual orientation,” said Mikel Walters, PhD, an author of the study who works in the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention.

Data like this has never been collected before, Walters explained, and it gives a strong foundation for further research in this field.

Transgender people were not included in the study, Walters said, because not enough people identified as such in the survey. But she said there is definite interest in gauging intimate partner violence in the transgender community because “we do recognize that as a community their victimization is not highlighted, especially at the national level.”

Help for LGBT survivors

Founded in 2008 as a grassroots organization, United4Safety was the only known organization in Georgia to focus on gay survivors of IPV.

“The idea was we would be helping lesbians, but then we quickly realized we were serving more men,” said Elijah Davis, board chair of the group that is now a non-profit.

Since 2008, United4Safety served approximately 40 men, including transgender men, who identified as survivors of intimate partner violence.

Through group sessions, facilitators helped the men identify patterns that lead to physically and emotionally abusive relationships. Sometimes the men just needed help relocating. And for transgender survivors, United4Safey offered temporary housing rather than sending them to anti-trans city shelters, Davis said.

United4Safety is currently becoming a program of the Health Initiative, which already has a support group for women survivors of IPV as well as a support group for batterers. The plan is to have United4Safety completely under the Health Initiative’s umbrella by the end of August, with no planned interruption of services, Davis said.

In its own time as its own non-profit, United4Safety conducted trainings to some 250 service providers in Atlanta, Savannah, Macon and Augusta, including college students going into social work, about how LGBT communities differ from heterosexual communities, Davis said.

“We basically do a Gay 101 … a lot of these people work and want to help but don’t have a basic understanding of our issues. We would sometimes have to explain the difference between cross dresser, drag queen and transgender,” Davis said.

Davis said he’s seen men stay with their abusive partners because they are HIV positive and on that partner’s health insurance policy. To leave would mean giving up medication that keeps them alive.

There are many reasons why LGBT people don’t really know much about intimate partner violence, Davis said, including the major push from most gay organizations to focus on marriage rights and being accepted as equals.

“Currently, there are so many other LGBTQ issues on the political and legal landscape so a lot of people are focused on marriage equality. I believe fully in those issues, too, but that is putting IPV on the back burner,” he said.

Also, even among heterosexuals, there is so much focus on female survivors rather than men, so the mentality persists that men don’t get beaten, he added.

More than anything, Davis said, people have to recognize this is happening and not shrug it off.

“First, we actually have to start naming it. We can’t call an ex-partner someone’s roommate,” he said. “Doing so doesn’t speak to the dynamics of the relationship and that the violence was actually IPV.”

Batterers ‘self-focused, narcissistic’

Alex Delaney contracts with the Health Initiative to facilitate a group for lesbian batterers who are typically referred through the court system.

A major issue Delaney sees is police officers unfamiliar with lesbian or gay IPV. The officers will respond to a scene, notice one woman or man is larger than the other and automatically assume that person is the attacker. That’s not always the case, Delaney stressed. And sometimes the officer has no idea what is going on and arrests both people because the victim tried to fight back.

United4Safety has trained some officers in the Atlanta area, but there is still much that needs to be done in this area, Davis said.

For Delaney, working with batterers is just as important as working with survivors — batterers have to learn their behavior is unacceptable.

“We try to get them in touch with how it is to be oppressed as a lesbian and apply that to them oppressing their partners,” she explained. “Batterers tend to be very self-focused, narcissistic. If they can learn to value their partner’s opinion, way of life, understand where they are coming from and that they are also struggling through life, it becomes harder to hurt them.”

Delaney said more people need to intervene when they see a friend or someone they know in an abusive relationship. And she agreed with Davis that the issue needs to be named for what it is.

“I’ve yet to see a media report [on the Parker case] that this was domestic violence. The language used is housemate or roommate. But this is not accurate,” Delaney said.

“It doesn’t allow the public to see that, yes, this does happen in lesbian relationships. It has a negative impact,” she said.


Top photo: Danielle Parker is accused of killing her ex-girlfriend, an East Point police officer. (Photo courtesy Fulton County Sheriff’s Department)