Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Congress voted in 2013 to require domestic abuse service providers who receive federal funds to offer help to people in same-sex relationships. But many advocates say LGBT people still have far fewer resources available to them than what’s traditionally been available for woman escaping violence from men. To help fill that gap, the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project opened a center earlier this year in Westport to provide support for LGBT people living in the Great Plains region. But the group’s executive director, Justin Shaw, tells KCUR’s Alex Smith that there’s still a lot of unwillingness – both inside and outside the community – to face up to the problem.
Are there a lot of misconceptions about violence within these communities?
People have for a long time looked at gay and lesbian and trans folks and bisexual folks in same-gender relationships as devious already. And so, well, of course two guys are going to get in a fight. Men are naturally violent. So of course two gay men are going to get in a fight. And it’s just a fight. It’s not violence. You know, domestic violence only happens to a woman from a man, from her husband. ’Cause that’s the story we’ve heard for so long and people only talking about domestic violence victims as being ‘her’ and things like that.
When it comes to sexual violence, again, we are looked at as a deviant – sexually deviant – community, so any sexual assault that could happen sometimes is looked at as – you wanted that, or violence is just naturally part of that. And I think that internalized homophobia within that affects a lot of people from reaching out and seeking services.
I wonder if there is resistance within the community from people who say they want to protect the image of people like them?
That is a huge thing. People often said, ‘Well people already look at us bad enough. Do want to report that as well? We just got marriage equality. Why do you want to go talk about the problems in your relationship to everybody?’ And I think there’s a lot of politics within the LGBTQ community about that, as far as there’s definitely groups of people that want to normalize the LGBTQ community or assimilate us into ‘we’re just the same as everybody else’ – which, in reality, nobody is the same as anybody else. And so to approach life from that kind of standpoint is really dangerous, because you’re not addressing specific needs of specific community members.
Are there particular issues or factors that more often lead to abuse in same-sex relationships?
I think it’s a lack of education about that it can happen to us, and I think that’s education to the community. I think that we try to get that information out there, but (if you) do an outreach at a bar on a Saturday night, people don’t want to talk about violence and abuse there. They’re there to escape the week of whatever has just faced them, whether that be discrimination or having to stay in the closet at their job. So just realization from the community that this violence happens first. And that there are people and services available for them.
Why reach out beyond Kansas City to provide services?
I think that Kansas City and St. Louis both have really vibrant LGBT communities, which is really exciting, and I think being in the middle of the map, so to speak, and then having these really kind of rural areas, (with) not a lot of big cities in the states around us – I think that we are a haven for people to go to come to. And so it’s important to be located and kind of based within there, but we do know that a lot of people don’t want to leave their homes if they consider themselves a country person or they are a farmer and they love farming. Why should they have to leave their home and escape to the city where they don’t know anybody? And it’s not always certain that they’ll find a community here. There’s people here, but as far as finding that feeling of community, that’s not always a guarantee.
What kind of help are you able to offer someone from, say, western Kansas?
Sure. We can start on the phone. This is something we do quite often, actually. We get calls from rural areas and kind of start on the phone. Try to assess safety needs. Part of the education and outreach we do across the states is not just to get more inclusive but it’s also to help our referral base, so we know of organizations that are actually competent, that aren’t just saying that they’re culturally competent, and so we can try to connect people with resources that are close to them. If there aren’t any, then our therapists can do phone therapy. If somebody really wants to come to Kansas City, we have funding to get transportation here. But like I said, that’s not everyone’s situation. So (we’re) trying to provide support to those folks however we can – and oftentimes that looks like regular checkups on the phone and that kind of support and being there.
Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR