It’s Pride Month and we wanted to dedicate a post to looking at how dating abuse happens in the LGBTQ community. What dating challenges are unique to same sex couples? We had the opportunity to sit down with Tonya Turner, Senior Staff Attorney at Break the Cycle and ask her about what she sees in her programs with LGBTQ youth.
Tonya shared that unhealthy relationships are often continued because young adults struggle to answer one big question — what does a healthy relationship look like?
This can be a hard question for anyone to answer. Tonya shared that when she first asks young people this question, almost everyone assumes they are in a healthy relationship. Then later when red flags for unhealthy behaviors are discussed, the students begin to change their minds about the health of their relationships.
Why is this?
It can be hard to see your own relationship clearly. You are emotionally connected to your partner, you may be in denial, or you may not have a ton of experience with dating and assume that everyone must go through what you’re going through.
For LGBTQ youth, Tonya explained that it is even more difficult to tell what’s healthy because an abusive relationship might be the first experience someone has with a same-sex partner and there are few role models in the media or in person.
This can be further complicated if the relationship is with an older partner. Because the older partner has more experience, the younger one may simply go along when they are uncomfortable with certain aspects of the relationship because they think, “Oh, this is what a same-sex relationship must be like.”
LGBTQ young adults can experience dating abuse in a different way from their straight counterparts. They can be threatened to be outed to parents, friends, teachers or a religious leader. An abuser can use the secret that their partner is gay to maintain power and control in the relationship. Also, the violence is minimized because both are the same gender. They think, “It’s just two girls fighting so it’s a fair fight.” This is not true.
LGBTQ teens may be struggling with their own conflicted feelings or guilt about their sexual orientation, especially if they haven’t been supported by friends and family. This shame can be compounded when they enter an unhealthy relationship. They may feel that they “deserve” to be treated that way, out of guilt for being LGBTQ. This isn’t true. Everyone has the right to a healthy and loving relationship no matter what.
Homelessness is another issue that affects LGBTQ young adults experiencing dating abuse. A June 2010 study conducted by the Center for American Progress found that 20 to 40 of the homeless youth population were are gay or transgender, compared to only 5 to 10 percent of the overall youth population. If a homeless gay teen/young adult experiences dating abuse, they may be dependent on their partner for emotional or financial support and it will be harder for them to leave to safety.
Not knowing what counts as healthy dating behaviors makes it difficult for LGTBQ young adults to identify abuse when it happens. We can make a difference by openly discussing what healthy looks like in ALL types of relationships. Everyone deserves love and respect.