June is Pride Month, a fantastic opportunity to celebrate all of the wonderful contributions and achievements of the LGBTQA community. It is also an important time to focus in on the issues that impact the LGBTQA community, as well as what can be done to help keep everyone safe and healthy. At Planned Parenthood Keystone, we offer three weekly LGBTQA Youth Programs that provide education, advocacy and recreation to youth ages 14-21. Our oldest program, the Rainbow Room, will celebrate its 12th anniversary this month. One of the many things we have learned from all of the amazing young people we work with is that dating violence, while challenging for all young people, can pose unique challenges for LGBTQA identified youth. Below are some the challenges youth have shared with our staff over the years.
It can’t happen to me. So much of what youth are used to seeing and hearing about dating violence focuses on heterosexual relationships. This can make it seem like dating violence isn’t an issue for LGBTQ couples. The reality is it can. In fact, a recent study by the Urban Institute found that 43% of LGBT youth reported being victims of physical dating violence, compared to 29% of heterosexual youth. It is important the LGBTQ youth know dating violence can happen in any relationship regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Recognizing abuse. Since LGBTQ youth may not always see themselves reflected in campaigns and programs aimed at preventing dating violence, they may not see the signs of an unhealthy relationship and recognize that they may be in a dangerous situation.
The threat of being outed. Unfortunately, we still live in a time where not all young people are able to be out to their family, friends, and peers. A unique dynamic of abuse in LGBTQ relationships is that an abuser can use the threat of outing their partner to keep them in a relationship. A young person may know that they are being abused but stay to avoid the consequences of being outed.
Fear of homophobia. Reporting dating violence to a counselor, the police or another adult can be scary and takes a lot of courage. For LGBTQ youth, there can also be the added fear that whoever they disclose to might be homophobic. They may fear being harassed or re-victimized by the person they are seeking help from. This can keep youth from coming forward and getting the help they might need to stay.
It is crucial that LGBTQ youth know what an unhealthy relationship looks like and see themselves represented in dating violence prevention campaigns and programs. Youth also need to know who is safe to go to for help and support should they need it. A Woman’s Place (AWP) has a free, private, and confidential teen chat line Monday through Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. online at http://www.awomansplace.org/for-teens/ or 24-hour hotline, 800-220-8116.
There is a lot of work to be done to make sure all people live in a world free from domestic and dating violence, but awareness is the first step to change.
Alison Bellavance, M.Ed., CSE
Senior Director of Education & Training
Planned Parenthood Keystone
Interested in learning more about Planned Parenthood Keystone’s LGBTQA Youth Programs? Visit http://www.plannedparenthood.org/keystone/lgbtqa-programs-40928.htm.