* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.So many LGBTQ+ people learn about their sexuality on the go, without representation, meaning abusive relationships can go completely unchecked
Michael Handrick is the author of Difference is Born on the Lips. He has written about sexuality and mental health for Attitude and PYLOT.
‘I think you were in an abusive relationship,’ my friend said.
Stunned, shocked, doubt, embarrassment. I went through so many emotions and thoughts before I could respond, the only one missing being belief. I reflected on the relationship. Mean or toxic would have been how I’d described it, but abusive?
It led me to learn about trauma bonding, a form of emotional attachment where the abuser cycles through abuse followed by love or affection. Those with a history of being abused are mostly likely to fall victim to it.
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t recognised what I’d been through - and I needed to understand why I felt like it was normal.
In doing so, I discovered this wasn’t just a ‘me’ problem. Abusive relationships are pervasive within the queer community, despite varying data.
According to a report from domestic violence service End The Fear, 25% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced violent or threatening relationships. Another Stonewall study found almost half of gay and bisexual men had suffered domestic abuse.
One report by Interventions Alliance showed half of transgender people, a quarter of lesbians and gay men, and a third of bisexual people were in abusive relationships.
So why isn’t abuse discussed more openly in the community, the media or among us?
Section 28 was implemented in the UK in 1988, banning young people from being taught about LGBTQ+ issues until 2003. It meant so many of us grew up with zero representation - and nowhere to learn about healthy queer relationships.
Many of us entered adulthood learning about our sexualities and gender identity on the go, without role models for reference.
This led to groping in clubs, not understanding about boundaries and consent, or the normalisation of toxic relationships - all of which set a precedent for what we accept for ourselves and from others.
Section 28 ended in 2003, but 20 years later queer people still suffer daily discrimination, abuse, stigma, and prejudice.
This can severely damage our mental health, self-esteem and worth. It can result in the idea that we don’t deserve better and normalise abuse through a changed sense of the relationship model.
It leads to people not speaking up when they are mistreated - whether through shame, lack of understanding or fear.
LGBTQ+ people are as much at risk of abusive relationships as heterosexual women, yet public discourse on the topic often doesn’t include us. Same-sex domestic abuse was only included in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act in 2004.
This lack of visibility can also lead to queer people not believing abuse can happen to them or not knowing the signs to look out for.
Some people are also not ‘out’ with their sexuality, making reaching out to family, friends or the criminal justice system not an option for them in times of need.
Others might be scared they won’t be believed or supported. All these issues act as barriers to seeking support and lead to abusers not being held accountable.
More data on domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ couples and greater media coverage would help make people aware of the signs and more able to protect themselves.
Inclusive education about abuse and consent should also happen early on, so young people can recognise what unhealthy relationships look like.
We need better support and refuges for queer people seeking help, along with reform to the judiciary and criminal justice system. LGBTQ+ victims need to feel like they are safe, they will be believed and that their cases will be handled sensitively.
But most importantly, as a community, we must talk about abuse more between ourselves by calling out harmful behaviour, being open about our relationships and supporting one another.