To be lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* or intersex (LGBTI) means to have grown up in a society that ignores, stigmatizes and/or criminalizes LGBTI people. Although much of today’s mainstream message focuses on recognition of and acceptance of LGBTI people, there is still a strong undercurrent of negative stereotyping about LGBTI people and LGBTI sexuality. If your friend identifies as LGBTI, there are several issues that you should keep in mind that may help you better support your friend.
How heterosexism and homo/bi/transphobia may affect your friend:
- Support services for survivors of sexual violence may be perceived as being “for women only,” and your friend may feel excluded by the language of “men’s violence against women.”
- Internalized homo/bi/transphobia may exacerbate self-blame for sexual violence.
- Your friend may lack family or community support, particularly if they are not out, or if the perpetrator identifies as LGTBI.
- Family, police, and medical and social service providers may blame your friend’s abuse on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
- Your friend and their abuser are likely to share the same support system, with common friends, events, social spaces, etc., if the perpetrator is also from the LGBTI community.
Common reactions to sexual assault:
Emotional responses vary from survivor to survivor, and there is no “correct” way to feel or act following an experience of sexual violence. While all survivors of sexual assault share many of the same trauma responses, some may be more pronounced or prevalent for LGBTI survivors.
- Inability to identify sexual violence: Because the most visible information and statistics about sexual violence focus on straight, cisgender male perpetrators and straight, cisgender female survivors, LGBTI survivors often have trouble recognizing their experiences as sexual assault or rape.
- Guilt and shame: Many survivors feel guilty or ashamed following a sexual assault. This may be exacerbated among LGTBI survivors, particularly for male-identified and masculine-presenting survivors, who may feel as though their gender identity has been challenged by the assault.
- Loss of trust / community: Particularly if the perpetrator was another member of the LGBTI community, your friend may feel as though the community that they thought that they could trust is no longer safe.
- Isolation: Sexual assault is an incredibly isolating experience, and survivors often feel alone as a result. This may be compounded for LGBTI survivors who fear judgement from their friends and family, who share a common support system with their perpetrator, and/or who feel unsafe in seeking support due to experiences of homo/bi/transphobia in law enforcement, medical, or social services.
In addition to the oppressions of heterosexism and homo/bi/transphobia, LGBTI survivors may face the additional impact of oppressions based on race, class, disability, or immigration status. For example, if your friend is Latino, Latino communities may be more conservative with regard to sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular. This may be an added barrier for your friend to disclose their assault and seek help. Understanding the political and cultural implications of sexual violence and what they mean for your friend can help you to better support them.