Domestic Violence in LGBTQ+ Communities

LGBTQ+ individuals face unique challenges in seeking justice and protection for intimate partner violence (IPV). They can encounter discrimination and homophobia, as well as misunderstandings about same-sex dynamics from law enforcement. Understanding the types of abuse and available resources can help LGBTQ+ couples and families find safety and healing.


The movement for equal legal rights for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) community has led to several changes in the law in recent years. However, domestic violence in LGBTQ+ relationships is not as widely discussed in the legal landscape.

In 2013, the Supreme Court held that the federal government could not deny federal benefits to same-sex married couples. Two years later, the Supreme Court went further. The Court ruled that states could not prevent gay couples from getting married. And in 2020, the Court declared that federal law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act barred employers from discriminating against people because of their gender identity.

Still, not all issues affecting the rights of LGBTQ+ persons are resolved or final. 

Violence in Same-Sex and Non-Binary Relationships

Data demonstrates intimate partner domestic violence in same-sex and non-binary relationships exists at levels just as high, if not higher, than heterosexual and opposite-sex relationships. For example, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports:

  • Approximately 22.5% of trans women, 22.4% of non-binary women, and 19.2% of trans men reported sexual abuse to The Hotline in 2023. This is higher than the average of 14.2% of LGBTQ+ survivors.
  • 45% of transgender and non-binary survivors do not report violence to authorities because they think law enforcement won’t help them. 
  • Transgender people who have experienced domestic violence are more likely to have experienced other forms of violence. Further, almost 92% of survivors reported emotional and verbal abuse to the Hotline.

Further, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported:

  • 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women have been raped, beaten, or stalked by their partner at some point (as opposed to 35% of heterosexual women).

  • 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men have been raped, beaten, or stalked by their partner at some point (compared to 30% of heterosexual men).

IPV has virtually the same prevalence in LGBTQ couples and their family members as in heterosexual ones. But victims of violence are far less likely to access the legal system for help they might need. Victims may be concerned that if they contact the police, they will be treated differently by the criminal justice system than victims in heterosexual relationships.

They may also fear that rather than consider the power imbalance often inherent in abusive relationships, police might decide that any violence was “among equals" and not make an arrest.

Still, LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence should not be deterred from seeking help if they have an abusive partner. The law provides the same protection to LGBTQ people who experience domestic violence as it does to heterosexual and cisgender people.

Types of LGBTQ+ Domestic Violence

In general, the types of domestic violence experienced by LGBTQ+ persons tend to be the same as those experienced by heterosexual persons. Typical patterns of abuse for all couples may include:

  • Physical abuse, including attempted and actual physical violence, whether an actual physical injury occurred
  • Sexual abuse, including any form of unwanted sexual contact or conduct and sexual violence
  • Emotional abuse, such as name-calling, insults, and other forms of humiliation
  • Psychological abuse, such as intimidation, threats, stalking, and other forms of instilling fear
  • Financial or economic abuse, withholding financial or other resources from a partner, or engaging in financial misconduct to harm a partner

However, domestic violence in a same-sex relationship can also take somewhat different forms of abuse than domestic abuse among heterosexual couples. For example:

  • A batterer may threaten to "out" the victim as an LGBTQ+ person to work colleagues, friends, or family.
  • They may engage in name-calling disparaging their status as a "real" woman or man.
  • They may ridicule their partner's body or appearance.
  • They might misgender their partner or refer to them as “it."

Domestic Violence Laws

In general, the legislatures of each state define domestic violence. State or local law enforcement authorities must use their discretion to enforce the law. Generally, state laws will provide the same legal protections to same-sex or LGBTQ+ people in the same way they apply to heterosexual or cisgender people. Victims should work with victim advocates or a family law attorney to understand the laws of their state.

For example, in California, broad language is used in the statute that does not discuss opposite-sex or same-sex partnerships. Domestic violence is defined as abuse committed against:

  • A current or former spouse
  • A present or former cohabitant
  • Someone with whom the accused has or has had a dating relationship
  • Someone with whom the abuser has any children

Actions that constitute domestic violence may include:

  • Inflicting bodily injury on another (even if there is no visible injury)
  • Threatening to cause serious bodily injury or death
  • Stalking and harassing

Certain federal laws give additional protections to people against domestic violence. One such law is the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, signed into law in 1994. VAWA provides funding for community-based programs to combat domestic violence. It allows for the prosecution of individuals for perpetrating intimate partner violence while crossing state lines.

In 2013, Congress reauthorized VAWA and broadened the law to include protections for victims of same-sex domestic violence. The protections in the new version of the law include:

  • Prohibiting domestic violence shelters from turning away victims of abuse based on sexual orientation
  • Providing funds for organizations specifically serving LGBTQ+ victims of domestic violence
  • Permitting states to use federal funding to improve responses to domestic violence in same-sex couples

LGBTQ+ Domestic Violence Resources

There are a growing number of resources available to the LGBTQ+ community for victims of same-sex intimate partner violence. Some of these service providers are:

  • The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) is an organization that works to end all forms of violence against and within LGBTQ+ communities. This umbrella organization has members in 26 states and Washington, D.C. They can help connect people to resources when they have been abused in a same-sex relationship.
  • The Community United Against Violence (CUAV) is a San Francisco organization that tracks anti-LGBTQ+ violence and provides support to those affected by it. CUAV also offers counseling and mental health support groups for victims of same-sex IPV.
  • FORGE helps transgender and gender nonconforming individuals experiencing domestic violence. They also provide referrals to local mental health professionals.
  • The Network/La Red is a bilingual, survivor-led organization working to end domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ communities. They offer support groups, hotlines, housing, and other resources.

Questions About Domestic Violence in LGBTQ+ Communities? Talk to an Attorney

Domestic violence can occur in any relationship. This is regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or sexual identity. 

If you are experiencing domestic violence, finding security and healing can be overwhelming. In addition to needing immediate safety, you may have to deal with relocations, custody issues, and other legal matters. Contact a local family law attorney to learn more about how they can help you and your family.

You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to learn more about support programs in your area.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Victims of domestic violence can press charges against their abuser
  • The ability or requirements to press charges varies in each state
  • Contacting a family law attorney or advocacy groups for advice is essential

Some attorneys represent victims of domestic violence. Others defend the rights of those accused of domestic abuse or other related crimes. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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