Emerging Issues

Part 2: IPV in 2SLGBTQIA+ Communities

April 30, 2023

In part one of this blog series IPV in 2SLGBTQIA+ Communities it was noted that while rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) are above 50% in 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, IPV prevention and survivor support programs are predominantly geared towards heterosexual, cisgender people (people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth). The lack of intentionality in supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ survivors result in services being unable to recognize and respond to 2SLGBTQIA+ targeted abuse tactics and to adequately support 2SLGBTQIA+ survivors without causing further gender-based violence (GBV).

Additionally, 2SLGBTQIA+ people face risks of further violence, incarceration, and deportation if they choose to report GBV, including hate crimes to police and this risk is further amplified when intersecting identities are present. For example, those who are 2SLGBTQIA+ and Indigenous, racialized, newcomers or refugees are highly susceptible to state violence from police, especially if they have precarious status.

2SLGBTQIA+ populations in Canada and around the world have a long history of experiencing violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, whether from individuals, service providers or the state.

For example, targeting of gender and sexually diverse populations began when Europeans colonized, they brought and enforced very specific ideas about gender and sexuality. Colonization led to the eraser of Two-Spirit identities and many Indigenous folks have been working hard to reclaim stolen identities.

Also, from the 1950s to the 1990s the Canadian military targeted those suspected of being gay in what has been coined “Canada’s gay purge”. In a special project titled “The Fruit Machine”, using bogus tests, the military attempted to identify and fire gay and lesbian people from its ranks. Filmmaker, Sarah Fodey, created a documentary about the injustice and noted that for many losing jobs was the least of the damage caused by the project. Fodey noted other consequences experienced including poverty, homelessness, having to go back in the closet, substance abuse, gay aversion therapy, sexual assaults, and for some — suicide. The consequences of the campaign were captured in the film by a survivor, who noted that it was like a scenario from a horror story.

This horror story wasn’t the only one 2SLGBTQIA+ populations faced at the hands of the state in Canada. For example, bathhouse raids by police targeted gays and lesbians from the 1980’s with “Operation Soap” and onwards. Spaces like bathhouses were formed by 2SLGBTQIA+ communities to create spaces where individuals were able to explore their sexuality, take risks, find themselves and discover who they are in a safer space.

Over the years the Canadian government has apologised for some of these injustices and in March of 2023 announced that under the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act, people convicted under the Criminal Code for abortion-related, bawdy house and indecency-based offences would be eligible for expungement.

This means that those convicted of offenses related to being in “bawdy houses”, which included bathhouses, nightclubs and swingers’ clubs, and venues that were considered safe spaces for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities can get their records expunged. The Historically Unjust Convictions Act aims to correct some historical injustices. The federal government notes that:

  • There is no fee to apply for an expungement order.
  • Applicants need to provide evidence that the conviction meets certain criteria. Given the historical nature of the offences, sworn statements or solemn declarations may be accepted as evidence if applicants have demonstrated that court and police records are not available.
  • If the person is deceased, an appropriate representative, such as a family member or a trustee, can apply on their behalf.

While this is great news, some charged for being in bawdy houses point out flaws, stating that gay men were systematically accused of accepting money in exchange for sex, even without supporting evidence. This left them with charges related to commercial sex work, which are not covered by the Historically Unjust Convictions Act.

In the early 1980s HIV/AIDS became prevalent. It was first called the “gay plague” and then “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID). In 1982 it was renamed “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” (AIDS) after doctors learned of the people contracting AIDS from blood transfusions. A lot of fear and stigma was created around AIDS and many doctors refused to treat patients. Religious leaders said that those living with HIV/AIDS deserved their disease, publicly declaring those with HIV/AIDS as leading unhealthy lifestyles and families disowned their children. Children were discriminated against for their own or parents’ HIV status. Gay men were watching their partners, friends and chosen families die all around them with no treatment and very little, if any support by doctors or the state. Some described the early to mid 1980’s as living in a ghost town, stating that people just disappeared. It took 2SLGBTQIA+ people organizing and taking political action to make change and even still, with medical advancements that assist those living with HIV to live long healthy lives, there is still a lot of stigma and misinformation surrounding HIV/AIDS.

In 2016, just six months after formally apologizing for the bathhouse raids, Toronto Police went undercover in Project Marie, targeting gay men who frequented a park. They hung around, waiting to be solicited for sex and arrested those who were seeking sex. They laid a total of 89 charges against 72 people who were mostly men and many of the charges were since dismissed. While Toronto Police claimed that Project Marie was not homophobic, there was public outrage, and many compared the incident to the bathhouse raids. Following Project Marie, Toronto Police launched Project Prism in 2017, which aimed to arrest serial killer Bruce McArthur, who between 2010 and 2017, murdered eight racialized gay men, many of whom were homeless. For many years there had been talk of men going missing and even of there being a serial killer in the village and many community members felt that their concerns were not taken seriously. McArthur was arrested in 2018 but the police handling of these cases further amplified the already existing distrust of state power and specifically policing within 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

While the above noted injustices are systematic in nature (meaning they involve procedures, routines, and organizational culture that exclude and discriminate against 2SLGBTQIA+ populations), there are countless other examples across the country, from people including teachers and professors losing their jobs for being 2SLGBTQIA+, being denied equitable access to medical care and social services, 2SLGBTQIA+-phobic attacks, to the every day microaggressions faced for simply being oneself. 

Whether systematic injustices are experienced first-hand or 2SLGBTQIA+ people have knowledge of the history, they are felt and carried. They weigh heavy on hearts and minds, particularly when discrimination of any form is experienced, as reminders that 2SLGBTQIA+ people do not fit the mold or norms of the “ideal citizen” (cis-gender – meaning identifying as the gender assigned at birth/heterosexual), and that when things get difficult, 2SLBGTQIA+ populations are not typically supported, but rather, are targeted.

 This history of violence perpetrated against, and trauma experienced by 2SLGBTQIA+ populations affect how these populations engage with police and other services. For example, for 2SLGBTQIA+ populations calling the police after an experience of violence may not feel like or even be the safest option. Likewise, engaging with services related to GBV may not feel like a safe option due to past or perceived negative experiences with GBV services that were not knowledgeable about or inclusive of 2SLGBTQIA+ populations.

Given the history and ongoing systematic injustices experienced by 2SLGBTQIA+ populations in Canada, and the lack of equitable access to services including GBV services, it is important to use a trauma informed approach when supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ survivors of intimate partner violence. The need for a trauma informed approach will be discussed in the next blog in this series.

(if you would like to view this blog with citations, please email us at nff@uwo.ca)