Safer Harbors

Fox Valley LGBTQ Anti-Violence Project and Governance Committee member Kathy Flores interviews Domestic Abuse Intervention Services Executive Director Shannon Barry about the work they’re doing to support LGBTQ survivors of domestic abuse.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community is an issue that often remains in the closet. Among the many barriers for LGBTQ survivors, a common one is lack of access to services. There is also a lack of awareness within the LGBTQ community itself about IPV. And sometimes there is fear of bringing negative attention to the LGBTQ community when there is already so much hatred and vitriol toward its people. This fear is multiplied when LGBTQ friends minimize or downplay intimate partner violence or discourage an individual from seeking help.

However, we experience violence in our relationships at similar rates to the heterosexual community, yet there are fewer services designed to support us when we have been hurt by IPV.

As this article goes to press, we will be receiving the newest national report on LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which can be found at ncavp.org. Last year, NCAVP reported 76% of IPV LGBTQ homicide victims were gay men. Gay men, LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities of color, LGBTQ and HIV-affected youth and young adults, bisexual survivors, and transgender individuals
were most impacted by IPV within the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of violence rarely go to the police, the courts, or domestic violence shelters for support.

Many Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence programs are hoping to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ survivors seeking services.

In September, I interviewed Shannon Barry from Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) in Madison to ask about the services and outreach they offer. Shannon has been with DAIS since 1999, serving as its executive director since 2007.

 How is your organization serving LGBTQ survivors?  

Everyone who experiences IPV deserves a safe space for reporting and receiving needed services. With any survivor who reaches out to DAIS, we tailor all services, including safety planning, support, and community resource referrals to each individual’s specific needs and circumstances. If an individual chooses to disclose how they identify themselves, we will tailor our support services accordingly, while keeping in mind some of the unique barriers that LGBTQ survivors may face.

 Did DAIS have to go through any changes to serve LGBTQ people?  

DAIS strives to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to accessing services. Last April, DAIS held a mandatory, daylong staff in-service on the topic of inclusivity of services for LGBTQ survivors. Additionally, DAIS directors and all staff who have client contact were required to participate in three LGBTQ-focused webinars sponsored by the State Department of Children and Families to be more mindful of how we can tailor our services to be more inclusive. In addition to the in-service and webinar based trainings, all DAIS staff and advocate volunteers are also required to complete a training session tailored to supporting those impacted by domestic violence in the LGBT community during their New Advocate Training. As a result, DAIS has made the following adjustments:

• DAIS reminds ourselves that when collecting demographics, we should always ask an individual how they identify their gender identity and sexual orientation rather than assume their identity or limiting their answers. DAIS thinks this question should remain open-ended so that we are leaving the decision to share and self-define in the survivor’s hands.

• DAIS’ new emergency shelter, which opened in August 2014, accommodates more private spaces and includes single bedrooms as well as single user bathrooms.

• DAIS changed its assessment/screening language for support groups.

• Help Line Advocates are trained to talk with callers about the violence they may be experiencing by their partners rather than assuming the caller is in a heterosexual relationship.

  What local resources can LGBTQ  survivors reach out to for support?  

DAIS offers a wide array of crisis intervention including a 24-hour Help Line, programming for children from violent homes, legal advocacy, support groups, emergency safety planning, and the only domestic violence shelter for all of Dane County. DAIS also partners with a wide variety of other organizations throughout the community. Additional resources can be found at:

• OutReach LGBT Community Center: lgbtoutreach.org/.

• Briarpatch Youth Services, Inc. has a
weekly group called Teens Like Us, which provides support and education for LGBTQ youth (13-18 years old): youthsos.org/programs/teens-like-us.

• The Salvation Army also has some funding for transgender individuals seeking shelter who may not feel comfortable residing
in the Salvation Army shelter as it
currently stands.

  What input/advice can you give friends of LGBTQ survivors of violence who want to help?   

Each of us has the power to reach out to someone we love or care about and tell them that abuse is not their fault. Be open, listen, don’t judge or give advice. Provide support to this person and let them know that you are there for them. Be mindful of how identifying as LGBTQ may increase their barriers and/or impact their safety.

• The DAIS Help Line is available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Help Line can be reached at 608-251-4445 or 800-747-4045. We receive many calls each year from concerned friends and family members seeking information about strategies to be an effective support person to a survivor in their life.

• For additional information on how to help a friend or family member experiencing domestic abuse, visit abuseintervention.org/help/friend-family/.

  What services can you offer male survivors?  

We offer all of our services to male survivors. Male victims are sheltered through the use of hotel vouchers. They are assigned a case manager to meet with them and help advocate for and with them. We also work with OutReach who facilitates the local survivor support group for men. We provide technical assistance for that group and have a memorandum of understanding between our agencies.

  Do you actively recruit board members who identify as part of the LGBTQ community?  

It is very important to us to recruit board, volunteers, and staff who represent diverse experiences including sexual orientation and gender identity. It is important to DAIS to reflect the victims and survivors in the community that we serve. A member of our DAIS executive team identifies as part of the LGBTQ community and works very hard to ensure our services are inclusive by keeping these issues at the forefront for all of us.

  What advice do you have for programs seeking to be more inclusive?  

Be very open to having a conversation, but more importantly, be open to listening. Sometimes I think it can be scary because we want to do things correctly for any survivor of domestic violence, especially LGBTQ survivors. We won’t always do things perfectly, but being open to feedback, listening, and evolving are key to our work.

As advocates, we are trained on these skills already. We already know that being present and following the lead of the survivor means that we really need to listen to their stories. It’s not different for LGBTQ survivors. Let’s challenge ourselves to be present and to listen. Each person has an individual story and should have an individual safety plan created for their needs.


Kathy Flores leads the Fox Valley LGBTQ Anti-Violence Project and is the City of Appleton’s full-time Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator. Kathy also serves on the Governance Committee of National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.