Time for the Talk: LGBTQ students, interpersonal, and sexual violence

Kalyn Stroik

September 19, 2016

When are we going to talk about violence in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community?

By talk, I mean one of those deep around the fire conversations, not a ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store conversation. A real conversation. A conversation that has meaning, like one you replay over and over, one that is unfinished and continuous.

When I say violence, not only do I mean violence enacted upon us in the queer community, such as state violence, physical violence, emotional and spiritual violence, but violence we enact upon each other.

In recent years, higher education has begun to pay attention to interpersonal violence (IPV) and sexual violence. Unfortunately, the narrative of who experiences violence has gone largely unchallenged. White, cisgender, straight, middle class women without mental illness or disabilities are often centered in violence prevention and response. 

From the beginning, exclusion of LGBTQ folks from the anti-violence movement has been common place. The Battered Women’s Movement in the 1970s centered sexism and male privilege, but failed to deconstruct intersections with homophobia and transphobia (NCAVP, 2014). The narrative of cisgender men as perpetrators and cisgender women as victims quickly took hold in our societal perception of violence and became institutionalized in domestic shelter policies, legislation, law enforcement response, and court systems (NCAVP, 2014). On college campuses, this narrative is often reflected in our bystander intervention programs, Title IX response, and survivor support services. 

LGBTQ folks have always experienced, and continue to experience, IPV and sexual violence. In a society built on heterosexism and cissexism, our relationships and what happens in them often remain invisible. Laws utilize gendered stereotypes and language defining intimate relationships as heterosexual (Kingkade, 2015). Some states go so far as only using “he” pronouns when describing perpetrators and limiting definitions of sexual assault to nonconsensual intercourse between members of the opposite sex (Kingkade, 2015). As Shannon Perez-Darby states, “because of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism, gender becomes a much less reliable tool in queer and trans communities for evaluating who is battering and who is surviving in relationships.” (2011, p. 106).  Societal systems struggle to develop different tools to serve queer and trans survivors.

According to the National Intimate Partner Violence Survey of 2010, conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals have an equal or higher change of experiencing IPV and sexual violence than heterosexuals (Walters, Chen & Breiding, 2013). Almost forty four percent of lesbians, 61% of bisexual women, 26.0% of gay men, and 37% of bisexual men have experienced IPV at some point in their relationships (Walters, Chen & Breiding, 2013). Research by Julia Walker found trans and gender nonconforming folks experience IPV at higher rates than cisgender individuals (2015). These statistics are similar in our schools (Hoffman, 2016). Gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students are three times as likely to be raped, two and a half times more likely to experience sexual dating violence, and twice as likely to experience physical dating violence than straight students (Kann et al., 2016). A survey published in 2015 by the Association of American Universities found that LGBTQ college students also experience higher rates of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and IPV than heterosexual students (Cantor et al.). Trans and gender nonconforming students were found to experience the highest rates of rape (Cantor et al., 2015).

The intersections of multiple identities significantly impact victimization rates. Data collected by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which consists of 16 organizations around the country providing services to survivors, indicated queer, trans, and HIV-affected people of color experienced more severe types of violence and experienced IPV at disproportionate rates (2014). Immigration status increased rates of discrimination and LGBTQ individuals under the age of 24 were found more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted in their relationships (NCAVP, 2014). 

 All survivors face many barriers when seeking support following IPV and sexual violence. They may not have the resources to leave abusers. Rape culture makes it possible, and even likely, survivors won’t be believed when they tell their stories and if they are, they can then be blamed for their own assault. Additionally, survivors often know the perpetrator and they can fear retaliation. Queer, trans, and nonbinary survivors face additional obstacles to these. The LGBTQ community is often close knit, and in some places small. If you know the person who abused you and is in community with you, seeking help could change relationships in the community, risking valuable support and camaraderie. You may be outed. You could lose custody of your kids because you’re not viewed as a “real” parent. Service providers can lack knowledge and cultural competency. You may be misgendered. You can face further violence by police.

Once again, intersections of identity further exacerbate the consequences of these barriers. Trans people of color are almost as six times likely to experience physical violence when interacting with law enforcement than white cisgender survivors (NCAVP, 2014; NCAVP, n.d.). Trans women are also six times to experience physical violence when interacting with police, including after an incident of IPV, compared to overall survivors (NCAVP, 2014; NCAVP, n.d.). Almost a quarter of trans folks trying to access shelters have been sexually assaulted by someone at the shelter, including staff (Grant et al., 2011). Many LGBTQ people know all too well that the people and organizations that are supposed to protect and support us far too often are the same people and organizations that hurt us.

These injustices follow LGBTQ folks to campus and affect students’ wellbeing and academic success. A 2014 study found evidence to suggest experiencing rape and sexual violence impact women’s academic success and GPA (Jordan, Combs & Smith). Unsurprisingly, research has yet to examine the relationship between LGBTQ survivorship and academic success. Regardless, are we prepared to support LGBTQ survivors’ healing journeys during their college careers?

LGBTQ survivors with all identities, backgrounds, and experiences exist – not just “out there,” but in our communities and on our campuses. Ignoring the violence the LGBTQ community faces further stigmatizes and silences our pain. Social justice isn’t only a professional competency. For some of us, it’s not only the difference between earning a degree and not, but it’s a matter of survival.

So, are we ready to have that talk now?


Cantor, D., Fisher, B., Chibnall, S., Townsend, R., Lee, H., Bruce, C., & Thomas, G. (2015, September 21). Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from https://www.aau.edu/Climate-Survey.aspx?id=16525 

Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf

Hoffman, J. (2016, August 11). Gay and Lesbian High School Students Report 'Heartbreaking' Levels of Violence. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/08/12/health/gay-lesbian-teenagers-violence.html

Jordan, Carol E.; Combs, Jessica L.; and Smith, Gregory T., "An Exploration of Sexual Victimization and Academic Performance Among College Women" (2014). Office for Policy Studies on Violence Against Women Publications. Paper 38. http://uknowledge.uky.edu/ipsvaw_facpub/38

Kann, L., O'Malley Olsen, E., McManus, T., Harris, W. A., Shanklin, S. L., Flint, K. H., Zaza, S. (2016, August 12). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 - United States and Selected Sites, 2015. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/ss6509a1.htm#suggestedcitation

Kingkade, T. (2015, September 9). LGBT Students Face More Sexual Harassment and Assault, And More Trouble Reporting It. Retrieved August 9, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-students-sexual-assault_us_55a332dfe4b0ecec71bc5e6a

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). (2014). A Report From The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Intimate Partner Violence in 2013. 2014 Release Edition. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.avp.org/resources/reports

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). (n.d.). Hate Against Transgender Communities. Retrieved August 12, 2015, from http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/ncavp_transhvfactsheet.pdf

Perez-Darby, S. (2011). The Secret Joy of Accountability: Self-accountability as a Building Block for Change. In The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (pp. 100-113). Brooklyn, NY: South End Press.

Walker, Julia K. "Investigating Trans People's Vulnerabilities to Intimate Partner Violence/Abuse." Partner Abuse 6.1 (2015): 107-25.

Walters, M.L., Chen J., & Breiding, M.J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recommended Reading:

Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement 

Edited by: Jennifer Patterson

The Revolution Starts at Home 

Edited by: Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Violence against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and the Persistence of Anti-LGBT Discrimination 

By: Doug Meyer

Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law 

By: Dean Spade

The Color of Violence Edited

by: INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence

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