Every Monday morning Alex (name changed for anonymity) and I met for breakfast at our favorite dive in Boston’s Harvard Square.
I would notice visible bruises and cuts on his face, arms, and legs, but assumed the black and blue marks were simply par for the course for a guy who enjoyed the rough-and-tumble adrenaline high that come with playing weekend scrimmage football. I don’t recall a time when Alex didn’t have a knot on his head, a cut on his lip, a bite into his skin, welts on his arms, or stitches. I did notice over time, however, that the teddy bear sweet guy who sat across the table from me with a smile as wide as the Charles River looked beaten up rather than injured. When I began asking Alex about his bruises he shrugged off my queries and talked about something else. Some Monday mornings he would call me at the last minute to cancel or he wouldn’t show up at all.
One morning he called me to cancel, telling me he was in Mount Auburn Hospital. His partner had stabbed him, injuring him severely.
October is Coming Out Month, and it is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Within lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities of color, not enough information and statistics come out about domestic violence. And neither does attention, education, intervention, and advocacy to prevent it.
The topic lives so deeply on the “down low” that I missed the signs from Alex.
It’s estimated that 25 percent to 33 percent of the LGBTQ population will experience some form of partner abuse or domestic violence in their lifetime. The Inter-Personal Violence study conducted in 2011 stated that LGBTQ communities of color are one of the demographic groups experiencing a high incidence of domestic violence. However, it’s often hard to determine accurately how prevalent interpersonal violence is in these communities because of social stigmas and cultural taboos that prevent people from accurately reporting abuse. Other forms of oppression and discrimination figure in this as well.
What also prevents the gathering of accurate data in these communities of color is that same-gender interpersonal violence is clouded with myths. There is a belief that because the victim and the abuser are of the same gender, and are also in a consensual sexual relationship, the battering that occurs starts out as a mutual act of S&M. Another myth is that same-gender sexual abuse is not as bad because men and men and women and women are on equal playing field when it comes to defending themselves. Sadly, these untruths still abound among many health care workers and law enforcement officials.
Domestic violence is not only an act of physical violence; it can also be an act of sexual violence as well as mental violence such as threatening and stalking.
Because Alex wasn’t out to his team, his partner — an effeminate male who couldn’t simply be introduced as just a buddy without suspicion — could only watch him play from a distance. Alex’s partner’s eyes turned suspicious as he witnessed friendly, innocent pats on the butt during games. And he began stalking Alex. On the morning we were to meet, his partner accused him of an affair and a fight ensued.
Alex was seen several times for his scrapes, cuts, and bruises in the same emergency room at the same hospital. However, with violence associated with young black males, the protocol and treatment for domestic violence-related injuries in inner-city hospitals for these patients are rarely introduced or followed up.
Another major problem is the lack of police intervention.
The police were called to the house several times by both Alex and his partner. If they came at all, they were coming to the call of an interracial couple in distress. However, when the cops looked at Alex — African-American, 6 foot 2,’ and 200 pounds — and then his partner — white, 5 foor 9, and 160 pounds — judgment was rendered as to who was the abuser.
In same-race relationships, many victims will often not prosecute their partners for fear of community abandonment, isolation, and scorn. Rather, some rationalize the violence as the root cause of persistent micro and macrolevels of racism their partner encounters.
But not all LGBTQ people of color feel that way.
“People of color are expected to stay silent in the face of violence and as part of the LGBTQ community the silence becomes louder when law-enforcement, judicial, and political figures ignore our calls for help,” Sean Smith wrote in his 2013 article“Imprisoned by Violence: Domestic Violence in the (Black) LGBT Community.” “Not having power over our own behaviors and emotions causes us to exert dominating and violent attitudes within our community and toward our partners.”
Resources and services have to be made available to LGBTQ communities of color. And this is the time to reach out to us. Everyone deserves a safe, loving, healthy, and violence-free relationship.
REV. IRENE MONROE is a writer, speaker, and theologian living in Cambridge, Mass.