Making Change Fall 2008, Volume 9, Number 1

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people face unique challenges in dealing with domestic violence..."

by Susan Bonne

My Girlfriend Did It:

Considering the effects of domestic violence within lesbian relationships



y Girlfriend Did It, a documentary originally released in 1995 by Casa de Esperanza, explores the dynamics of violence in lesbian relationships and examines the impact of the oppression that victims typically experience. This year, Casa de Esperanza has issued an updated version of the film, with a new forward and afterward delivered by singer/songwriter Ellis.

According to Amy Sánchez, Chief Executive for External Relations, the film’s message - describing and validating lesbian victims’ experiences in dealing with partner abuse—hasn’t changed, but the new material adds a strong call to action to viewers, particularly the lesbian community itself: This is real. Talk about it. Bring it out into the open.


"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people face unique challenges in dealing with domestic violence. There is a deep belief in our culture that domestic violence stems from gender issues between men and women—and therefore doesn’t take place in GLBT relationships," says Sanchez.

The reality is, intimate partner violence occurs in approximately 25% to 33% of GLBT relationships, the same rate as for heterosexuals. Yet many police departments, human services workers and even shelters don’t take victims seriously or are unprepared to handle GLBT participants for reasons that include institutional homophobia, a culture of heterosexism, or lack of training.

The courageous women profiled in the film tell us that lesbian abusers use the same tactics that men use to intimidate their partners, including isolation, control, emotional threats and physical violence.

Additional fears keep victims from seeking help

But lesbian victims also must face fears related to their sexual orientation in deciding how and when to seek help. In addition to the shame and self-blame many survivors feel, lesbians may also feel internalized shame about their sexual identity; fears of being outed to the community or in their workplace; of abandonment by disapproving families; and even of losing their children.

There is resistance inside the GLBT community as well. The film points out that the lesbian community has traditionally held an “us against them” philosophy, of the lesbian world as a refuge for women—a place where men, and therefore sexual violence, are not part of the landscape. To admit that intimate partner violence exists within lesbian relationships is to shatter the myth of a lesbian utopia. Many in the GLBT community fear that raising the issue of domestic violence will result in increased fear and gay-bashing from the culture at large.

Yet the women who chose to share their stories of abuse at the hands of other women remind viewers that silence is a more devastating, and more dangerous, course—intensifying their sense of isolation, despair and vulnerability.  Bias and prejudice within systems reinforce such feelings.

This powerful film, which also highlights these women’s resilience and strength, is often used to help train advocates, police departments and social services staffers. For a copy, contact Casa de Esperanza at 651-646-5553, or at under Products. The cost is $150 plus shipping and handling.

Casa de Esperanza is a nationally recognized Latina organization that exists to mobilize Latinas and Latino communities to end domestic violence, and served more than 10,000 individuals, families, and organizations nationwide in 2007.


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