by Kourtney Baker, STAR Volunteer
June is Pride month where we celebrate and honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual individuals. Pride occurs in the U.S. to commemorate the historic Stonewall uprising, which occurred in June of 1969. Since the uprising, we recognize the continued progress towards ensuring the dignity and equality of LGBTQIA+ community.
While Pride is a time of celebration, it is also a time to focus on the continued struggles and disproportionate violence experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, LGBTQIA+ individuals experience sexual violence at higher rates than heterosexual individuals. Forty-four percent (44%) of lesbians and 61% of bisexual experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of straight women (Smith et al, 2018). Additionally, 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29% of heterosexual men (Smith et al, 2018). The 2015 Transgender Survey found that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime (James et al, 2016). Transgender people of color are particularly at risk for sexual assault due to the intersecting oppressions of gender and race.
Experiences of sexual violence among LGBTQIA+ individuals can be particularly isolating and traumatic because of the marginalization that they experience from living in a heteronormative society every day. Many people come to the LGBTQIA+ community to find a sense of belonging, and with that comes the myth that sexual assault does not happen in those spaces because everyone is aware of and sensitive to different identities. This is simply not true, as the statistics above demonstrate. When an assault occurs in the LGBTQIA+ community, survivors are essentially exiled from their home, the home that they have created for themselves against the hatred and prejudice that they may have experienced in normative society.
Unfortunately, it remains true that many sexual assault services throughout the U.S. are inherently geared towards cisgender people (those that identify with the sex they were assigned at birth). In fact, many centers have gendered names, such as “women’s centers” or “women and children centers.” For the trans population, gender is a spectrum that can vary, meaning that non-binary people may not feel comfortable seeking services from a “women’s center” or services that are perceived to be predominantly intended for women. It is the duty of sexual assault centers to brand themselves in gender neutral ways so as not to exclude this population.
This is where sexual assault centers, such as STAR, can play a critical role in helping the LGBTQIA+ community reestablish a life for themselves in the aftermath of an assault. Importantly, this work must not just be done in June during the month of Pride, but every day of the year for every survivor that identifies as LGBTQIA+. In order to provide support to LGBTQIA+ survivors, sexual assault centers must first acknowledge these survivors’ existence, conduct outreach and develop credibility within the LGBTQIA+ community, welcome these survivors with culturally sensitive services, and provide them with support in the many different areas of life that sexual assault impacts.
STAR is here for all survivors and we believe in the dignity and worth of LGBTQIA+ survivors. We see you. We believe you. We support you.
James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
Smith, S.G., Zhang, X., Basile, K.C., Merrick, M.T., Wang, J., Kresnow, M., Chen, J. (2018). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.