Structural inequity is about systems of privilege that do not take into account the various needs of different groups of people.
Substantial changes have occurred over the last couple of decades for LGBTQ+ people, leading to significant legal recognitions and increased societal inclusion, but there are further improvements needed for a truly fair and equitable system. This includes a need for national data collection of people’s gender and sexuality, which is not currently captured in the Australian Census or other national surveys.
Furthermore, GBTQ+ men and gender diverse people are not captured in national domestic violence research and the whole domestic violence system is built around responding to cisgender men’s violence against cisgender women. While that is certainly an essential issue, LGBTQ+ people’s relationships are left outside of this system response as a result.
Society as a whole is biased toward cisgender heterosexual people. This is evident everywhere, from male and female only public bathrooms, husband and wife only wedding toppers and mandatory gender prefixes on forms. Although there is evidence of change, LGBTQ+ people still have to search for inclusion in the majority of scenarios.
When it comes to abusive relationships and the service system, a lack of obvious inclusion leaves LGBTQ+ victims in an even more vulnerable position, as abusers can use the system to manipulate their victims and cause further harm.
Individual professionals have a vital role to play in advocating for inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, whether by changing client forms in their own office or lobbying for accurate data collection on a national scale.
Historical and Cultural Trauma
Many LGBTQ+ people are impacted by historical and cultural trauma, and many were alive when homosexuality was illegal and people were either arrested, sterilised or sent to a hospital for the mentally ill; so-called gender-dysphoria was a mental illness; and “queer” people were being beaten and murdered (sometimes by authorities). This trauma has lead to many people experience long-term anxiety, fear and distrust of many systems and institutions, especially the medical and legal systems.
These historic events are sometimes compounded by recent personal experiences of discrimination in many institutionalised settings and structures.
Victims are less likely to report abuse and seek help and abusers may play to these fears, knowing that the abused person won’t seek help or by telling them things like “no one will believe you”, “the police will only harm you” and/or “your children will be taken away from you”.
It is important for professionals to be trauma informed in their approach to working with LGBTQ+ people, taking into account not just the trauma resulting from their abusive relationship, but the life-long trauma many have suffered. It is important to be client-led in your response to their abuse, as an LGBTQ+ person is likely to be hesitant going to the police or even to a doctor and it is important to address these very real and understandable fears.
Stigma and Discrimination
Many LGBTQ+ people experience stigma and discrimination every day. This incremental trauma has a significant impact on their physical and mental health, including their social wellbeing and willingness to access resources and support.
Historical, cultural and incremental trauma due to interpersonal and systemic discrimination leads many LGBTQ+ people to be distrustful, and to protectively self-exclude or disengage from services in order to avoid increasing risks to their personal safety and well-being.
This is why it is important for services and individual professionals to be clearly inclusive and to create an environment that is discrimination-free.
The greatest antidote to your client’s shame is visibility and acceptance.
Many LGBTQ+ people experience internalised stigma relating to their gender and sexuality, which is a natural personal response to their lived experiences of marginalisation and discrimination.
Understanding this complex experience is crucial to having an inclusive practice. You may need to spend more time than usual working with an LGBTQ+ client’s feelings of shame and self-blame.
In a family violence context, it is also important to understand how homo/bi/transphobia might have played a role in an individual’s experience with abuse. An LGBTQ+ person might feel like they were abused because of their identity, either thinking they deserved it or it was inevitable because of their identity. Understandably, this can leave them feeling helpless.
It might be helpful to let your client know that they were not abused because they are LGBTQ+, but because that is how that family member(s) chose to manage their own emotions. They were abused not because they are LGBTQ+, but because their family member made a choice to be abusive, and could have easily done that for a variety of reasons in different scenarios as well.