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Last week, I blogged about how October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, October is also another awareness month, and like breast cancer, this is also something that wasn’t directly relevant to me personally until this year (while these issues should be relevant to everyone, I have not been personally affected or at risk of being personally affected until now). This poster explains it all.

Yes, it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year, its going to hit a little too close to me…

Over the past year, I have shared an apartment with three strangers (all straight cisgender males) due to my lack of finances (I am on disability). Late June, I had arrived at my place and turned in at around 1:30am after a night hanging out with some close friends. I don’t often reveal that I sleep naked sometimes, but I feel that is relevant to this story. Only a half hour after I went to bed, my roommate, who is also the leaseholder, barges into my room without consent, keep in mind that I am only have a blanket around me, and starts accusing me of stealing $200 out of his room and kept hounding me about it, accusing me of smirking, and then threatened to "beat the sh*t" out of me and kill me. He would not even allow me the dignity of being able to get dressed, as he occupied my personal space, which leads me to believe that he had the intent to sexually assault me. The roommate is a cisgender male who is about my height, but considerably more muscular than I was, and they started to use male pronouns towards me and started denying my identity and accusing me of things I didn’t do (ie: this person can be a huge slob, and while its started to rub off on me after I started to get cleaner, I was the only one who even did the dishes or took out the garbage, and his room was even messier than mine). Fortunately, a roommate was cool-headed about the situation and he seemed to listen to me about how his behavior was triggering, and another, although I misinterpreted his intentions, was trying to stop him, trying to hell him that what he was doing was a hate crime and they lock people up for it.

Four months after this incident, I am still living at the same residence. Though I have gotten support from my other roommates, and he hasn’t tried anything since, there is always the fear that the other shoe will drop. And what makes me sad, angry, and afraid, is the fact that none of what he did that night was clearly illegal, and I fear that if it happens again, I will be caught between a rock and a hard place.

Often times, we hear about domestic violence being perpetrated by intimate partners, and while that is the lion’s share of cases, there is a perception that domestic violence can’t happen between two people whose only connection is that they live in the same house or apartment. In fact, Pennsylvania law does NOT recognize roommate related domestic violence in terms of protection from abuse orders, and thus locks people like myself out of many services, including but not limited to, rehousing, something that would be necessary given the fact I am on permanent disability. Many people who are impoverished have to get what they can take in terms of housing, and this often means having to share a house or apartment with other people who may or may not have many unresolved issues.

And then, there’s the fact that I am a lesbian and a transgender woman, and this testimony from Emily Pitt, the director of Fenway Community Health’s Violence Recovery Program to the Massachusetts State House:

“I once worked with a woman who was transgender, and whose partner had almost killed her. She had finally made the decision to leave the relationship and she went to a shelter in Massachusetts. When she got there, the counselors were confused about her gender even though she had previously explained to them that she was transgender, and what that meant. The shelter staff asked her a set of intensive and grueling questions about her body including, ‘What is between your legs?’ … after this humiliating treatment, they told her that she could not be housed there because they decided that she was really a man. After being denied shelter, this woman went back to her batterer because she had no family, no friends and nowhere else to go.”

Although my city, Philadelphia, does have non-discrimination protections based on gender identity, and the shelter system is better than most other cities in terms of placement of transgender individuals, one has to note that there are still pockets of bigotry, especially when it comes to emergency situations, police have been known to be apathetic and sometimes cruel, and attitudes of social workers can really vary. This creates a situation where if the other shoe dropped, I would be at risk of being forced into a men’s shelter.

However, sexual minorities can experience challenges too, as Michelle Fine, who also testified before the Massachusetts State House has said.

“When I sent out an email to other service providers and other folks in our supportive community about this hearing today, I got back a response that was really strong and shocked me as a service provider. Someone emailed me back to say, ‘How dare you compare a woman being beaten by her husband to f*gs and l*sbos.’”

Those who were abused in same sex relationships or are transgender are often denied services because of their condition, due to lack of anti-discrimination laws or enforcement of such as societal stigmas, such as the belief that because it was two members of the same gender or perceived as such, that they were evenly matched, or that domestic violence services cater mostly to cisgender women, and that there are no shelters for men that can adequately address the issues related to domestic violence, also fear of being outed was mentioned as well.

This year, however, it was addressed on the federal level for the first time. as legislation strengthening the Violence Against Women Act, first enacted in 1994, passed the Senate:

Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) spoke highly of VAWA in his opening statement and said no other statute “has done more to stop domestic and sexual violence in our communities.”

“As a prosecutor in Vermont, I saw firsthand the destruction caused by domestic and sexual violence,” Leahy said. “Those were the days before VAWA, when too often people dismissed these serious crimes with a joke, and there were few, if any, services for victims. We have come a long way since then, but there is much more we must do.”

According to a statement from the committee, among the ways the bill builds on existing law is setting aside grant money for programs addressing sexual assault crime and enhancing training for officials to identify high risk offenders who could commit domestic violence homicide.

But the legislation also has enumerated protections for victims of domestic violence in the LGBT community. The bill would make grants available for programs providing services to LGBT victims of domestic violence. Additionally, the bill has non-discrimination language prohibiting VAWA grantees from discriminating on the basis sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, the Republican-Tea Party controlled House has rejected language that would have taken into consideration the many issues that LGBT survivors of domestic violence face, thus increasing partisan gridlock and putting even more lives on the line. You may think this is a "special rights" issue, however, as similar as LGBT domestic violence is to domestic violence committed among straight, cisgender persons, there are many key differences which we must be cognizant of if we ever want to have a safer society.

As for me, I carry mace and lock the door to my room every night. Until I can figure out alternative arrangements, this will be my life for the time being.

-Jordan Gwendolyn Davis

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