Stand Against Racism: LGBTQ Community Faces Institutionalized Discrimination

This Friday, the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism annual event will bring together hundreds of thousands of people across the nation, from all walks of life, to call attention to the legacy of discrimination and raise awareness that racism still exists. In the four days leading up to the Stand Against Racism, Firesteel is examining how discrimination and institutional racism can block violence survivors from accessing housing services and resources.

This series is co-authored by YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish’s GirlsFirst and Volunteer Services Coordinator Nanyonjo Mukungu, and YWCA Walla Walla‘s Communications Coordinator Sara Rasmussen, who have been friends since college. This week, Nanyonjo and Sara join together with Firesteel to consider how discrimination affects different members of their communities in Seattle and Walla Walla. We invite you to do the same, and to join the YWCA in taking a Stand Against Racism this Friday, April 26.

YWCA pride
Friends of YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish march at the 2012 Pride Parade, showing their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQ members of the YWCA community. Read more about the “many faces of pride” in our “Participating & Proud” blog series.

Written by Sara Rasmussen, Communications Coordinator, YWCA Walla Walla

As I noted in my first post, with its expansion and renewal the Violence Against Women Act made an important step in ensuring that its protections and services fully include and extend to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault “regardless of the gender of their perpetrator.”

However, such allowances in the law are not going to instantly end discrimination and create access to services on the ground. There is often a lack of acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community by service providers and shelters. Similarly to what Nanyonjo explained in her last post, this also stems from institutionalized assumptions about who “qualifies” as a “perfect victim.”

As a consequence, when attempting to access services, LGBTQ survivors regularly face additional barriers. As we’ve discussed in the Firesteel community before, housing discrimination against the LGBTQ community is one example of this tangible problem.

At shelters, they may face bullying or discrimination, often by staff or other residents. According to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, 45% of LGBTQ victims are turned away when they seek help from a domestic violence shelter. Nearly 55% are denied protection orders. In addition to this, many service providers also lack cultural competency. Approximately 96% of victim services providers and law enforcement agencies lack any staff training or programs for the specific needs of LGBTQ survivors.

Another major issue which goes largely undiscussed is harassment and abuse perpetrated by law enforcement against LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color, who already face oppression and invisibility when “discussions of police brutality… focus primarily on experiences of racial profiling and physical abuse,” according to INCITE! National.

When seeking help through the criminal justice system, “women and trans people of color who are seen as defying racialized gender norms – including lesbians, sex workers, and women who use controlled substances are highly sexualized by police and therefore particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse by law enforcement agents,” also according to INCITE! National. In turn, police who abuse their power are essentially denying the deservingness of these communities for police protection. If LGBTQ victims don’t fit the standard model of how a victim “should” be, they aren’t considered worthy of services. That is the message being sent.

As Nanyonjo discussed in her last post, VAWA currently does not address the question of violence by institutions against individuals. We need to continue to see a major shift in the cultures of law enforcement, service providers and shelters, amongst staff as well as those they serve, in order to protect and better meet the needs of the LGBTQ community.

Again, the inclusions worked into the language of the 2013 Violence Against Women Act are a first step. But as Angela Davis askscan an institution infused with homophobia and violence simultaneously work to minimize violence against the LGBTQ community? It’s a difficult question to answer, but one that requires our immediate attention.

When joining with YWCAs across the nation to Stand Against Racism this week, take time to reflect on how the experience of racism can intersect with other forms of discrimination in ways not often discussed or acknowledged. Let’s take the first step toward ending barriers to crucial services such as homeless shelters and victim services—by recognizing their existence. In the final post of this series, Nanyonjo will look at other ways that we can work together as a community to improve our response to—and better yet, to end!—violence against women, in all of its forms.

Get the Firesteel Blog in Your Inbox