Despite high rates of same-sex domestic abuse, there are few if any resources available to LGBT victims in North Texas. Will the city of Dallas’ new domestic violence campaign help change that?
PJ Snyder decided to leave her ex-girlfriend three years ago, after the angry outbursts and brutal beatings became more violent and life threatening.
Snyder had been dating the woman for a few months in the fall of 2009 in Oklahoma when they moved in together.
Within a couple of weeks, her ex began belittling her, which soon led to violent episodes.
“It became increasingly violent,” she said.
Snyder worked in law enforcement and her ex was a former cop who knew her sergeant. Her ex threatened to out her at work if she told anyone about the abuse. But her ex was careful not to leave bruises that would show, beating her on her arms, legs, chest and back — but never in the face.
“I was really passive and wanted to keep the peace,” Snyder recalls. “I let her get away with a lot.”
Stunned by how violent the relationship quickly became, Snyder said she didn’t know where to turn or in whom to confide. After leaving and moving back in repeatedly over two years, Snyder finally moved to Dallas last year to start over. But there are few resources in North Texas for victims of same-sex domestic abuse — which new CDC statistics show happens at the same rate or higher as heterosexual domestic violence.
Resource Center Dallas had an LGBT domestic violence program beginning in 2004 but it ended in 2010 because of the small number of clients and a lack of funding.
A city of Dallas initiative announced in January to help stop domestic violence and reach out to victims is aimed at the traditional population affected by abuse. Mayor Mike Rawlings has scheduled a “Men Against Abuse” rally for March 23 to encourage men to support ending violence against women.
But Councilwoman Delia Jasso, who chairs both the city’s Domestic Violence Task Force and its LGBT Task Force, insisted that the initiative will be inclusive and help LGBT people in abusive relationships.
Jasso said when Dallas police respond to domestic violence calls, they now ask a series of questions to determine if the victim’s life is at risk. If so, they coordinate with a local shelter to take them. She said the same questions and services will be offered to LGBT victims.
“Our shelters do not turn anyone away,” Jasso said. “We need to get that info out to the LGBT community that they have the same resources as anyone else.”
Jasso said the official outreach campaign will kick off in March to encourage victims and people who know victims of abuse to seek help. She said the campaign won’t specifically target the LGBT community but said wording could be added so everyone knows help is available.
“We want to make sure that LGBT people know that the shelters and the resources are available to them,” she said. “There’s no exclusion.”
A safe place
Snyder recalls her ex shooting a gun into the air and trying to stab Snyder with a screwdriver. The experiences drove her to leave after three short months.
“I was like, ‘I’m done. I can’t handle this,’” she recalls.
Six months later, she found herself living back with her ex due to health and financial reasons. The two had tried to work things out apart but her ex was still violent.
Her ex was addicted to pain killers and Snyder even sent her to rehab three times in eight months, but nothing changed. She lived with her on and off for two years, but every time she moved out, her ex would win her back.
“She was very charming,” she says. “That’s how I got sucked in.”
Snyder finally sought help from a Baptist-run shelter in 2011 after her ex threatened her with a gun and said she would commit suicide.
When the people at the shelter found out she was a lesbian, they put her in a private room to seclude her and didn’t like her interacting with the other women. The shelter even offered homosexual reform classes.
She finally left the shelter and lived in her car before staying with her ex for a few weeks until she found another shelter that actually offered LGBT group therapy.
Although she was afraid to report her ex because she was a former police officer, she finally filed for a protective order.
But she wanted a fresh start away from her ex and away from the memories of the pain she had endured. She moved to Dallas in January 2012 and stayed with a friend for a while before seeking help at the Salvation Army. She’s now staying in the Salvation Army Carl P. Collins service center on Harry Hines Boulevard until she can find a permanent place to stay.
While the Salvation Army is known for being anti-gay, Snyder said she didn’t know where else to go and that people at the shelter have been kind to her, even after she came out.
“They have welcomed me,” she said.
Although Snyder has been accepted at the Salvation Army, there still isn’t counseling or programs for LGBT victims of domestic abuse available locally.
Cece Cox, CEO of Resource Center, said the center’s defunct domestic violence program began as a grassroots effort and developed into a full program with counseling, group therapy and training for how to leave a violent situation. Cox said one major challenge was the lack of a shelter, so the center worked with the North Texas LGBT Family Violence Coalition.
With about 75 clients a year using the program’s services and a continued struggle for state funding, Cox said the program ended in 2010 as did the coalition, though the center has continued to refer people to area shelters that were accepting.
Cox said domestic violence is an issue in the LGBT community that needs to be addressed. She said fear of not being accepted and having to admit that their partner was of the same sex prevents many LGBT people from seeking help — issues that officials at shelters need to keep in mind.
“I do think that other providers need to be culturally competent,” she said. “It adds to how people have shame and don’t access services and remain in the shadows.”
Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place, said the nonprofit worked with RCD in the past to place LGBT victims. While specific LGBT counseling isn’t offered because there hasn’t been a need, she said Dallas police will also begin recording the gender of the victim and the abuser.
“That will tell us what the numbers are for same-sex couples,” she said.
Dr. Liz Hodges, a program director and counselor at The Family Place, has been with the nonprofit for 17 years and planned to do LGBT group therapy several times — but there weren’t enough people. She’d like to have a group to eventually address issues specific to same-sex domestic violence, such as the fear of being outed, fear of losing children because of unfriendly courts, increased shame because of the gender of the abuser, and fear to tell police and seek help because of bias.
“If the shelters don’t take them, then there’s no point to calling,” she said, adding that things have changed in the last decade and many local shelters will help LGBT victims.
Representatives from Genesis Women’s Shelter and SafeHaven of Tarrant County said they welcome lesbians, though there are no specific programs or groups for them. SafeHaven also helps men with counseling and shelter if they are in imminent danger.
Hodges said gay victims often want to speak to other gay victims and many women are afraid to admit to others that their abuser was a woman. Finding a path to healing often involves speaking to someone the victim trusts, so Hodges will arrange for same-sex victims to talk to each other about their experiences.
A national impact
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in January that estimated LGBT people experience the same or higher rates of domestic abuse than heterosexuals.
The report was the first to evaluate violence in relationships based on sexual orientation. It found that prevalence of sexual and physical violence in a relationship is high in the LGBT community, with 44 percent of lesbians, 26 percent of gay men, 61 percent of bisexual women and 37 percent of bisexual men experiencing abuse. Among heterosexuals who responded, 35 percent of women and 29 percent of men experienced abuse.
Sally Huffer, community project specialist at Houston’s Montrose Center, is a member of the New York-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which focuses on violence affecting the LGBT community.
The Montrose Center has a 24-hour domestic abuse hotline to help provide shelter and resources for LGBT victims. But Huffer said many people in abusive relationships aren’t near an LGBT center where they can seek help.
On average, Huffer said one in four relationships involve domestic abuse with one in two transgender relationships involving violence. She said the CDC numbers show a greater need to educate mainstream shelters on LGBT issues and have outreach programs.
“A lot of people in the gay and lesbian community don’t know if there are resources,” she said. “If there is a place, we need to educate them so they don’t turn them away because that may be the only place they can go.”
Congress is working on renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. A version with LGBT protections passed the Senate this week. The House bill hasn’t been introduced yet.
Last year the Senate passed the bill with provisions to help LGBT victims, including gay men, but the version in the U.S. House excluded them, and the bill wasn’t renewed. The Senate rejected a version of the bill last week that would have taken out the LGBT protections.
Ty Cobb, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, has been working on the VAWA. He said he hopes the protections can be added to the Republican House version this year. If the bill makes it without the provisions, he said the LGBT protections could be added during the reauthorization process later this year.
Cobb said HRC has been working with domestic violence service providers for years to extend equal protection and help to LGBT victims. He said having VAWA include same-sex couples would prevent discrimination and allow more funding for outreach and services.
Many male victims
Resources for men, especially gay men, are extremely lacking. While lesbians are often welcome in mainstream shelters, gay men have a difficult time finding help.
Jonathan Hall-Neal-Bayne moved to Dallas to live with his boyfriend in 2006 after dating him for two months. He said there were control issues from the start with his ex often taking his car and his phone, and the abuse began in May 2007 when Bayne asked his ex where he was going one night.
The question started an argument and led to his ex slamming him with the bathroom door before tackling him. He punched him and held his arm behind his back until Bayne heard a snap. He said his ex then left, taking his phone and car so he wouldn’t tell anyone.
Bayne tried to walk to nearby Baylor hospital, but he was in such excruciating pain that he couldn’t make it. He said a man pulled up beside him, picked him up off the ground and drove him the short distance to the hospital, where he found out he had a fractured clavicle and a 2-inch bite mark on his cheek that needed stitches. He said the bite hit muscle, so sometimes he still experiences numbing on his cheek.
He stayed at a friend’s place that night and left the next morning to stay with family in Tyler.
But after a couple of weeks of messages from his ex, explaining that he’d had a bad childhood and Bayne just didn’t understand him, he convinced Bayne to move back.
After moving back, his ex wouldn’t talk about the issues that led to the abuse and more violence followed. He moved in and out over the next few years, staying with friends from time to time, but eventually going back to stay with his ex.
“I can’t wrap my mind around it,” he said about continuing to go back to his ex. “I think I felt sorry for him. … The amount of control someone can have on you. It’s unbelievable.”
He went to the Resource Center at one point, but was told shelters would only take a man if it was an emergency. So he again went back with his ex because he didn’t like asking friends for help.
Cox said it was a challenge to find shelter for male victims, who made up 75 percent of RCD’s client load, as mainstream shelters weren’t equipped to help them.
Bayne’s father became ill in 2010, so he moved to Euless to stay with him until he died. After that, Bayne said his perspective of life changed and he decided living in Tyler was better than being with his ex in Dallas.
To this day, he wishes he had left and never returned after the first sign of violence.
“It broke me. It literally broke me down — mentally, physically, emotionally,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2013.