Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Relationships

Identity-Based Abuse

Identity-based abuse is the use of personal characteristics that are central to who one’s partner is to demean, manipulate and control them.

Identity-based abuse is the use of personal characteristics that are central to who one’s partner is to demean, manipulate and control them

Abusers often believe they are superior to their partners and that they are entitled to control and abuse them. This belief is often based on aspects of their own identity that give them privileges – race, educational level, religion, income, intelligence, ability, gender, gender conformity, etc. Tactics based on anti-LGBTQ bias work well against LGBTQ people, just as racist tactics work against people of color and sexist tactics work against women. 

Regardless of what the entitlement feelings are based on, the identity-based tactics are very similar. They include:

It is crucial to understand that victims are not being abused because of their identity. Rather, their identity is being used as an excuse for abuse, and as a weapon. Victims are abused because of their partner’s attitudes and choices, not because of who they are or anything they have done.

Tactics aimed directly at a victim’s gay or lesbian identity may include:
  • Making anti-LGBTQ remarks.
  • Claiming that violence is normal in LGBTQ relationships:  “All guys fight.” 
    • Violence is not a natural part of any relationship, nor is it limited to any one kind of relationship.  Most men, gay or straight, are not violent or abusive toward their partners, and some women, including some lesbians, are.
  • Demanding that partner change their appearance, behavior, or friends in order to look straight, not look straight, or not look attractive.
  • Pressuring partner to come out.
  • Blaming partner for “converting” them.
  • Demeaning partner for wanting – or refusing – to play roles (butch/femme, top/bottom).
Bisexual victims may be assaulted by a same- or opposite-gender partner, who uses tactics such as:
  • Telling partner they should “get off the fence” or that their bisexuality is “just a phase” – or treat partner’s non-bisexuality as a hang-up.
  • Accusing same-sex partner of calling themselves bisexual just to protect themselves against homophobia and keep their heterosexual privilege.
  • Stereotyping bisexuals as promiscuous; accusing partner of unfaithfulness.
  • Destroying partner’s other relationship (if any); using it as an excuse for abusive behavior; threatening the other partner; demanding threesomes
  • Blaming their abusive behavior on the fact that partner is bisexual. 

Tactics aimed directly at a victim’s transgender identity may include3

  • Assaulting surgically or medically altered body parts, or body parts that partner is embarrassed about; e.g., forcing them to publicly expose surgical scars.
  • Forcing partner to undergo unwanted medical or surgical treatment to make their body what the abuser wants it to be.
  • Treating partner as a sexual object; refusing to engage in non-sexual aspects of the relationship; e.g., refusing to introduce partner to family and friends.
  • Labeling partner abusive because of how hormones influence their behavior; criticizing how hormones affect partner’s sexual performance.
  • Refusing to spend money on transition-related health care, medication, hormones or clothing for partner.
  • Destroying clothing, hormones and personal items needed for partner’s gender expression.
  • Ridiculing partner’s appearance, dress, voice, or mannerisms.
  • Refusing to use partner’s name or preferred pronouns; referring to partner as “it; refusing to allow partner to talk about gender identity."

If both partners are transgender, the abuser may also claim to be more “real” than their partner. 

Context is everything

Nobody is only their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nobody is only their sexual orientation or gender identity. What victims experience also depends on what else is happening in their lives.  An LGBTQ victim may reside in a rural area, have a disability, or be an adolescent, old person, female, immigrant, parent, unemployed, ill, a member of a religious group, unable to speak English, etc. The partner who abuses them may use tactics that target any combination of their specific identities or vulnerabilities. For instance…

Adolescent abusers use tactics specific to the world of adolescence, such as:

An abuser who has HIV/AIDS may use tactics specific to that situation, such as:

An abuser whose partner has HIV/AIDS may:

Next: The Myth of Mutual Violence

Back to Intimate Partner Violence in LGBTQ Relationships homepage

  1. Other tactics may be found in Forge’s Transgender Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Resource Sheet.