The City of Reykjavík released a pamphlet about domestic violence in queer relationships. The pamphlet, released by the city’s Human Rights office, is meant to help LGBTQI+ people who may be affected by domestic violence as well as to educate domestic violence service providers on the specifics of queer relationships.
“We need to start talking about how we might have different things going on in our community that might not be happening in the broader public,” says Svandís Anna Sigurðardóttir, who helped put the pamphlet together.
The pamphlet is part of a broader project by the city to tackle domestic violence. Until now, Svandís says there has been almost no research on domestic violence in Iceland’s queer community, so when she began working for the Human Rights office it became clear that the project needed to focus more in this area. Because of the lack of available research, much of the pamphlet is based off a series of pamphlets produced by the city of Brighton and Hove in the United Kingdom. The Human Rights office also conducted a survey of about 60 LGBTQI+ people in Iceland about their experiences of domestic violence.
“If you’ve been out for 20 years and you’re starting to see someone who just came out a couple months ago, that gives you a lot of power and status. You can use it to your advantage if you want to.”
The small survey size meant that they weren’t able to determine the prevalence of domestic violence in Iceland’s queer community, but Svandís says most studies show that bisexual women experience domestic violence more than almost any other group. “The theory is, if you’ve got a partner prone to violence and you’re bisexual, it doesn’t matter whether you’re spending time with a male or a female friend, there’s always the chance of something going on that will spark jealousy or rage,” she says. “It’s this kind of ridiculous stereotype that is always around bisexual people.”
Although it was difficult to find numbers about trans people, some research shows that trans women may experience higher levels of violence. This may be exacerbated by the fact that trans women don’t always feel welcome at women’s shelters, which Svandís says is one of the issues she hopes this pamphlet will help address. As for the experiences of gay men, she says they were all over the place. “Some research showed lower levels compared to straight men, some showed higher levels.”
Svandís says the pamphlet defines domestic violence in a broad way. “We’re talking about physical violence — the classic hitting, punching, kicking, all of that — but we’re also talking about emotional abuse, sexual abuse and also financial abuse,” she says. “We also do not confine it to the home — it can happen outside the home. It’s a connection between the people at hand that’s what we’re looking at.”
Regardless of the numbers, Svandís says it’s important to understand the ways domestic violence might look different in the queer community. But why does it look different? According to Svandís, one important factor is the power imbalance that can exist if the people in the relationship have different experiences of being openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.
“If you’ve been out for 20 years and you’re starting to see someone who just came out a couple months ago, that gives you a lot of power and status. You can use it to your advantage if you want to,” she explains. “That came up time and time again in our survey. And that’s something that people don’t often realize, the fact that I can say that this is what lesbian relationships look like or this is what BDSM relationships are like, and we’re supposed to be doing this and no one’s going to believe you and you’re going to lose all your queer friends because they’re all through me.”
Another finding that struck Svandís was the number of queer people who experienced domestic violence who also said they experience violence from their parents when they were children. “That was about 39 per cent of those who answered the survey,” she says. “The highest rate was within the trans community who experienced violence from parents and that was something that concerned me.”
“We need to start talking about things that I think have been viewed as normal upbringing,” Svandís explains. For example, she says the worries there’s a belief that parents of trans children are just “being responsible” when they discourage their children from wearing clothes or act in ways that affirm their gender. “All of those small comments — that is in the scale of emotional abuse. We have to start viewing that as serious and not just as, well that’s what it’s like growing up queer,” she says.
“The highest rate was within the trans community who experienced violence from parents and that was something that concerned me.”
With these findings, Svandís is hoping to show domestic violence service providers the importance of reaching out to the queer community. “It’s not enough to say, hey our doors are open, everyone’s welcome. You have to specifically reach out to this community because you haven’t done it before,” she says. “This community’s not just going to waltz in and say, ‘Hey as a trans woman I’m going to the women’s shelter.’ You need to know that you’re welcome there and that these people have an idea about your situation.”
“Something that I talk about a lot when I go out and talk to people in this field is the minority stress that LGBTQI people experience,” Svandís explains. She says that people may worry about having to “come out” when seeking refuge from a domestic violence situation. “Am I going to be sitting here talking about the fact that I’m gay for half an hour when I really need to talk about the violence, or is this person going to totally close the subject and not even mention it when and this is actually a huge factor in my relationship or life?”
Now that this pamphlet has been published, Svandís says the next step is getting the word out about it and making sure everyone — both people in the LGBTQI+ community and domestic violence service providers — know where to find it.
You can find both the Icelandic version of the pamphlet and the English-language pamphlets produced by Brighton and Hove on the website of Reykjavík’s Human Rights Office.
For people currently experiencing domestic violence, Svandís recommends visiting Bjarkarhlíð. She encouraged anyone who is concerned for their safety to call the police.