One year ago the Marriage Law Postal Survey result was welcomed by many as fair, joyous and long overdue, however the process caused an unnecessary and inordinate amount of anxiety and grief for members of Australia’s LGBTIQ community. In today’s blog post and to mark the 16 Days of Activism, Yvonne Lay of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand reflects on that process and the social services responses needed, describing the organisation’s Rainbow Tick journey and why it is important to ensure it moves beyond ‘compliance.’
On the 15th of November 2017 the results of the Marriage Law Postal Survey were announced. Over seven million eligible Australians voted with a resounding ‘Yes’, accounting for 61.6 per cent of total votes cast. The result was followed by legislative change in December 2017, allowing same-sex couples the right to legally marry; a right previously only afforded to heterosexual couples.
Almost 18 months before this momentous occasion, the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its report and 227 recommendations. Four recommendations were made with specific reference to family violence and LGBTI people and communities. The Royal Commission’s report highlighted what many LGBTIQ people and their allies already know – the service systems that respond to family violence do not adequately (if at all) provide the necessary supports to LGBTIQ victim survivors of family violence.
The social context of family violence against LGBTIQ people
Despite the lack of an accurate and comprehensive national picture of family violence against LGBTIQ people in Australia, a number of national and international research indicates that LGBT people experience intimate partner violence at a similar, if not higher rate to cisgender heterosexual women. Whilst there are similarities in the forms of violence perpetrated against LGBTIQ people and cisgender heterosexual women, there are also significant variations. For example, distinct forms of family violence perpetrated against LGBTIQ people include:
Threats to ‘out’ or reveal the victim survivor’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or intersex status to friends, families, peers, or work colleagues as a method of control.
Abuse towards the victim survivor that is directly associated with their sexuality, gender, or biological sex.
Exploiting the dominant understanding of family violence as a way to shame the victim survivor into not disclosing the abuse.
Threatening to disclose health related issues, such as HIV status, to family members, friends or peers.
Forms of violence perpetrated against trans and gender diverse and intersex people also have specific traits, “exploit[ing] identity-based vulnerabilities”. Forms of violence perpetrated against trans and gender diverse and intersex people include:
Withholding, or threatening to restrict access to hormones, medications, and medical treatment or support services.
Ridiculing or disrespecting gender identity or intersex status.
Misgendering the victim survivor.
Assault, mutilation or denigration of body parts such as chest, genitals, and hair that signify specific cultural notions of sex or gender.
Family violence against LGBTIQ people can often be perpetrated by multiple perpetrators throughout the life course. This includes violence enacted by parents, siblings, other family members, sometimes beginning early on in life, through to intimate partners and carers. LGBTIQ people’s experiences of family violence can also be compounded by experiences of discrimination, harassment and violence perpetrated by work colleagues, school peers and educators, health professionals, public figures, strangers in public spaces and online.
It is this social context of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, intersexism, and heteronormativity that drives all forms of violence, including family violence, against LGBTIQ people. Within this social context we see our nation’s leader take to social media to dismiss those working to support trans kids in schools and the politicisation of LGBTIQ people’s relationships, exposing these families to hate-filled commentary. These actions create social context which makes it permissible to tolerate, condone or even perpetuate violence against LGBTIQ people. It is within this context that forms of violence experienced by LGBTIQ people are diminished or made invisible, which in turn influences how family violence services are provided to LGBTIQ people who are brave enough to seek support and assistance.
System responses to family violence against LGBTIQ people in Victoria
Victoria’s family violence system has primarily been designed and implemented to respond to cisgender heterosexual men’s violence against cisgender heterosexual women, usually in the context of current or former intimate partner relationships. This indeed reflects the known prevalence rates of violence against cisgender heterosexual women; approximately one quarter of women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by an intimate partner. What has been lacking in responses to family violence is the recognition that services designed for white, English-speaking, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual women living in major cities are not appropriate, nor do they accommodate those who do not fit neatly into such arbitrary identity-based categories.
These system deficits were highlighted across the hundreds of submissions and numerous witness testimonies presented to the Royal Commission. Many individuals, community groups, and organisations who serve on behalf of Victoria’s diverse population identified the various barriers that confront victim survivors when seeking family violence assistance and support. For example, the Royal Commission reported that LGBTI people are less likely to report violence, to seek support or to even identify experiences of family violence “partly because of a fear of ‘outing’, as well as actual or perceived discrimination and harassment”. Barriers for those seeking support to stop their violent behaviour were also identified.
The Royal Commission’s consultation with LGBTI workers heard that “within both mainstream and LGBTI services, training in relation to family violence within LGBTI communities is largely non-existent”. In effect LGBTIQ people’s experiences of family violence have been rendered invisible by services across the sectors. This, in and of itself, acts as a barrier to reporting. This is not to say that organisations are oblivious to the issue. Rather, the failure to address and adequately meet the needs of LGBTIQ victim survivors of family violence is largely due to the systemic rigid adherence to a binary and heteronormative understanding of family violence. For example, public policies such as Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Children, have an “implicit heteronormativity and focus on the binary of man/woman and masculine/feminine”, and fail to recognise and validate experiences of violence outside of the male/female binary relationship. The centralising of binary sex and gender constructs within the overarching framework of heteronormativity is what has largely determined the establishment of our family violence service system and the sectors within it, simultaneously excluding LGBTIQ people from these services.
It has been suggested that a more expansive heterogendered model “comprising the interactions and intersections of dominant constructions of biological sex, gender and sexuality would be more inclusive of family violence” perpetrated against LGBTIQ people. Without expanding our understanding of family violence we will only continue to force LGBTIQ victim survivors to navigate a system that has not been designed for them or their needs.
Faith-based family violence services moving towards LGBTIQ inclusivity
In handing down its report, the Royal Commission recommended that “the Victorian Government require all funded family violence services to achieve Rainbow Tick accreditation”. The Rainbow Tick Standards were developed in 2012 by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria and the Standards are nationally recognised for LGBTI-inclusive practices in services. The Government has adopted this recommendation and the accreditation journey for many services is well underway.
In implementing this specific recommendation, government-funded family violence services send representatives to How2 Program training, designed to help organisations develop their practices in order to provide a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTIQ people. There are six standards which services are formally accredited against to demonstrate LGBTI-inclusive practice and service delivery:
LGBTI cultural safety
Disclosure and documentation
Professional development, and
Access and intake.
A number of specialist family violence services have already commenced How2 training and are on their way to be Rainbow Tick accredited. A small number have already received their Rainbow Tick, demonstrating that they provide safe and inclusive services to LGBTIQ people.
The Royal Commission also reported that while faith-based organisations play an important role in delivering government-funded family violence services, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that such organisations have intentionally excluded LGBTIQ victim survivors.
There is no denying that faith-based organisations have collectively discriminated against and perpetuated harm against LGBTIQ people. This has occurred in multiple ways, from lack of knowledge and skills in working with LGBTIQ people through to deliberate exclusion. Faith-based social service organisations, like other organisations and workplaces, are microcosms of the world we live in.
In response, and in line with recommendation 169 made by the Royal Commission, in early 2017 Good Shepherd joined with nine other organisations to form a voluntary faith-based service provider network with the goal of “ensuring that all LGBTI people are able to safely access faith-based services and be open about their sex, sexuality and/or gender identity without fear of discrimination”.
The work of the faith-based service provider network recently culminated in a public show of commitment with each of the organisations signing a public statement of support and making a public pledge to ensure LGBTIQ inclusivity within the respective services. The statement reads:
We welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, gender diverse and intersex (LGBTIQ) people at our services. We pledge to provide inclusive and non-discriminatory services to LGBTIQ clients.
More than words
This pledge is significant in a number of ways. Not only does it publicly commit to providing LGBTIQ inclusive services, it also declares that irrespective of current politicking in relation to religious exemptions, we will not enact such discriminatory exemptions. In essence, we will not discriminate against current or future LGBTIQ employees or volunteers, and nor will we discriminate against any LGBTIQ person seeking to engage our services and programs.
Such changes are critical to ensure that all people who require support and assistance for family violence-related matters have their needs met. Whilst we all participate in bringing about these changes from within our own organisations or fields of work, we need to recognise that merely ticking off actions to fulfil recommendations or standards can only go so far in addressing the legacy of harm and distrust we, as a collective system, have caused LGBTIQ people. Such changes must be transformative in nature and with that bring about attitudinal and behaviour change. Similar to the work and effort required to bring about cultural change in organisations like Victoria Police and the justice system in relation to women who are victim survivors of family violence, we must do the same with respect to LGBTIQ people.
Unless we succeed in transforming our sector’s response to family violence, nothing will change. This will take time and a concerted effort, particularly in the exercise of critical self-reflection. Without such reflection we will remain ignorant to our personally-held biases and prejudices – which directly impact on effective and safe service delivery, and a healthy workplace culture. As part of Good Shepherd’s first steps on the Rainbow Tick journey we distributed anonymous surveys to all staff seeking to gauge current awareness and understanding of issues facing LGBTIQ people. The organisation also took the opportunity to see whether or not Good Shepherd is currently perceived to be an LGBTIQ-inclusive organisation. An overwhelming majority of those who completed the survey rated the organisation as ‘fully accepting and inclusive’ or ‘somewhat accepting’ of LGBTIQ people. However, a further analysis of responses revealed that for self-identified LGBTIQ employees, this is not the case. Clearly, we have some work ahead of us.
As an organisation we are well aware of the significance of achieving the Rainbow Tick not only as a family violence service provider, but also as an employer. We embrace this opportunity to not only obtain Rainbow Tick accreditation, but also achieve organisational transformation. This work must intrinsically include efforts to address all forms of discrimination including but not limited to racism, sexism and ableism. Whilst the Rainbow Tick signifies success against key core competencies, genuine progress rests with how we, as an organisation, treat and engage with our LGBTIQ staff, volunteers and service participants. No amount of Rainbow Tick stickers on our front door guarantees us success. LGBTIQ people vote with their feet and so without placing an additional burden on our LGBTIQ employees, volunteers and service participants, it is only they who can indicate to us whether or not we are ‘walking the talk’. The responsibility to transform our practice lies with us to ensure culturally safe and appropriate service delivery for our LGBTIQ clients. Faith-based services are at a crossroads; we now have a unique opportunity to provide genuine client-centred support for every member of the communities we serve.
Notes and references
 When referring to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, its report and recommendation, this article will use the ‘LGBTI’ acronym as this is the acronym used by the Royal Commission.
 The term LGBTIQ people will be used throughout this article unless citing or paraphrasing from external sources. Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand uses the ‘LGBTIQ’ acronym to refer to people who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or gender diverse, intersex and/or queer. We recognise that under the ‘LGBTIQ’ umbrella there are several distinct but sometimes overlapping cohorts, each with their own distinct histories, experiences and needs. Good Shepherd also uses the ‘LGBTIQ’ acronym to include people who may not identify exclusively as LGBTIQ but who may have relationships that are same-sex, bisexual, pansexual, or with someone who is trans or gender diverse, or someone with intersex variations. Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand acknowledges that there may be people who do not identify with any of these categorisations or who prefer not to use such labels.
 It must be noted that there are significant gaps in research examining family violence including intimate partner violence against trans, gender diverse and intersex people.
 Brown, N., 2011, Holding tensions of victimization and perpetration: partner abuse in trans communities, in J.L. Ristock (eds), 2011, Intimate partner violence in LGBTQ lives, New York & Oxford, UK: Routledge.
 State Government of Victoria, 2016, Royal Commission into Family Violence. Report and recommendations. Vol V, Parl Paper No 132, Melbourne. State Government of Victoria, p. 145.
 Ibid., p. 153.
 The term ‘heterogendered’ was contributed to Our Watch, 2017, Primary prevention of family violence against people from LGBTI communities. An analysis of existing research, Melbourne: Our Watch by William Leonard (GLHV@ARCSHS, La Trobe University). The term is used to highlight that male violence against women is not only gendered but is also sexualised. The term also highlights that a focus on gender alone hides or invisibilises same-sex intimate partner violence, whilst simultaneously masking the ways in which male violence against women relies on gendered constructions of heterosexuality.