On May 24, Elliott Rodgers, a young man who went on a shooting spree, injuring thirteen and killing seven, including himself, galvanized a variety of social media activism with a youtube.com video he made blaming his homicidal and suicidal actions on a lack of attention from women. Activists who say that Rodgers’ words reflects a dangerous sense of entitlement common among straight men launched campaigns like the twitter tag #YesAllWomen and the tumblr When Women Refuse.
While this activism is well intentioned, focusing on heterosexual manifestations of gender violence erases the reality of many who suffer from it but do not identify as straight or female. The truth is, gender based violence is not exclusively aimed at women, nor is it exclusively perpetuated by men. According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) young people are more likely to suffer from dating violence than their heterosexual peers. For example, about 43% of LGBTQ youth and 89% of transgender youth experience physical relationship violence, compared to just 29% of straight youth.
Such figures suggest that lawmakers, educators, and advocates ought to pay special attention to the needs of LGBTQ youth in abusive relationships. However, legal structures and social services remain inadequate and, at times, can actually be obstacles for young people looking to escape unhealthy situations.
For example, the majority of domestic violence shelters are single sex. While this allows cis-gender women (meaning biological females who identify as women) to escape cis-gender male (meaning biological males who identify as men) abusers, it leaves survivors of same- relationship abuse vulnerable to their abusers. Furthermore, shelters are often insensitive to transgender teens, placing them without regard to their gender identity, an experience that can be demeaning, demoralizing, and frightening at an already emotional time.
The same is true of legal avenues. Already, many states do not have mechanisms for filing protection orders against minors, leaving teens that are abused by a partner under the age of eighteen without recourse. For LGBTQ teens, the system is even more challenging: few states recognize queer couples, and Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina actually prohibit the filing of protection orders against members of the same sex.
LGBTQ teens face personal challenges that are also ignored. Research shows that many teens rely on their families for support in stopping abuse. LGBTQ teens often lack this option because their parents either do not know or accept their sexual orientation. And while many heterosexual teens may have peers that they can turn to who are not personally involved with their partner, LGBTQ teens – and, in particular, teens that live in homophobic communities – may be part of tightly knit groups of friends that have relationships with both the abuser and the survivor. In this scenario, ending a relationship means risking the loss of a vital support system. Consequently, teens may decide to stay in an abusive relationship rather instead of running the risk of sacrificing tenuous lines of support.
Teens that enter into cycles of dating violence during their first relationships are prone to developing negative patterns that can last a lifetime. Early interventions can break these patterns. Increasingly, school districts are adopting programs catered to individuals as young as ten years old. Unfortunately, existing educational materials designed to prevent dating violence explicitly and implicitly leave out LGBTQ youth. For example, the Shifting Boundaries curriculum published by the National Institute of Justice only contains the gender categories “Girl” and “Boy” and contains exercises that are clearly intended for heterosexual couples.
Increasingly, nonprofits are stepping into the void left by the lack of public services for LGBTQ young people. Organizations like Break the Cycle, for example, have developed inclusive and effective curricula that address dating violence issues among same sex, opposite sex, cis-gender, and transgender youth. Groups like the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project and The Network / La Red operate safe homes and provide counseling services to LGBTQ couples and survivors. However, these supports remain few and far between, and are unknown outside of certain communities. Until awareness of both the importance and existence of these programs are integrated into institutions that serve teens – such as schools, courts, and hospitals – LGBTQ young people will remain underserved.
#YesAllWomen has begun a vital conversation about the culture of violence against women. It is time to expand that conversation to individuals whose sexual and gender identities make them vulnerable not only to violence, but also neglect. After all, patriarchy is not just dangerous to women: it is dangerous to us all.
Mathangi Subramanian, EdD, is a writer and educator. She has been a classroom teacher, an assistant vice president at Sesame Workshop, and a senior policy analyst at the New York City Council. Follow Mathangi on Twitter @Mathangisub and for more infomation visit her website http://www.mathangi.co/