The Sexist

Protecting LGBT Victims of Domestic Violence

Tomorrow, the D.C. Council will hold a public hearing [PDF] on the "Protecting Victims of Crime Amendment Act of 2010." The legislation would amend the D.C. Human Rights Act to "protect victims and family members of victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and stalking against discrimination by employers." Tomorrow, Rainbow Response Coalition co-chair Amy Loudermilk will testify in support of the legislation, and how it will help victims of intimate partner violence in the LGBT community in particular. Here's an excerpt of Loudermilk's planned testimony:

Research shows that intimate partner violence occurs at the same rate in the LGBTQ communities as in the heterosexual community. Last year, Rainbow Response released a groundbreaking report on IPV in the District, which confirmed that DC’s LGBTQ communities experience IPV at the same rate as the heterosexual community. However, for a variety of reasons, survivors of IPV in the LGBTQ communities do not have equal access to services to help them escape; therefore it’s critical that our community be afforded as many protections and resources as possible.

Although there is no federal law outlawing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the workplace, the District has outlawed this type of discrimination for many years. Unfortunately, it remains perfectly legal to terminate an LGBTQ employee who happens to be a victim of IPV, simply for reasons related to the abuse. For example, three years ago one of my good friends, who is a lesbian and was out to her employer, found herself in an abusive relationship and was forced to miss work periodically because she was either in court seeking a protection order, or was at home waiting for the bruises on her face to disappear. Noticing that she had been taking time off from work, her employer threatened to fire her even after my friend disclosed the reasons for her absence. Fortunately, this talk happened just as her abusive partner finally decided to leave the relationship, and the District, for good. However, if my friend’s employer had fired her, she would have had no recourse available. Not only would she have been abused by her partner, she would have become abused by the system too.

. . . Much has been discussed about the comprehensive provisions in the bill, including requiring employers to post notice of these protections, develop workplace violence policies, and provide training for staff on domestic violence. Many questions and concerns have been raised about these provisions that are important and valid. I have tremendous respect for both the business and domestic violence community, and have no doubt that we can all work together with Committee staff to revise the bill where necessary to ensure it moves forward. But please let me remind us what the core issue of this bill is about at the end of the day: discrimination. If we as a society are committed to creating a safe and healthy District of Columbia, then we must help those who are in need, and protect them while they heal, not unravel the fragile threads that are supporting them.

  • Kit-Kat

    Just curious--is there a law on the books protecting straight victims of domestic violence from workplace discrimination? Because if not, and this law offers that protection to all victims of DV regardless of sexual orientation, rather than merely expanding it to LGBT persons, then I'm not sure how this is an LGBT issue, as opposed to a DV issue more generally.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    The law will protect all domestic violence victims from discrimination, but understanding how this type of discrimination specifically affects LGBT victims is important.

    Loudermilk makes a great point: Workplace discrimination based on a person's LGBT status is prohibited in D.C., but workplaces can still discriminate against LGBT workers on a variety of other factors, and an employer's bias against LGBT workers can be expressed through these other avenues. For example, an employer may be under the false assumption that "real" domestic violence only affects straight women, and will dismiss a gay man's claims of DV for that reason. (This is an extremely common assumption). Loudermilk will not, of course, be the only person testifying in regards to the legislation, but her testimony is very much worth highlighting.

  • kza

    Are they really saying you get to stay home from work because of a black eye though?

  • Keith B

    I'm with Amanda on this (whaaat)... I've DV in gay relationships, and the "victim must be straight woman" thing is very, very common. A friend of mine was regularly being abused by an alcoholic live-in partner (they both had issues w/ drinking). He'd go to work and school with cuts and black eyes, making excuses. Because of this stigma, he'd actually tell people he was drunk and fell or got in a bar fight because those were more acceptable "excuses". He wasn't in danger of getting fired; the boss actually reacted with a "haha, these things happen--boys!" response. He wound up missing most of a semester as things got worse. I don't think he told the school why he was missing so much class.

    What bothers me looking back is that we didn't step in forcefully enough, like I imagine we would have for a battered woman. No one believes the "I fell down the stairs" from a woman with two black eyes, but for a man with a history of drinking problems? Well... maybe he did. He'd ask for help if he needed it.

    Their landlord eventually threw them both out, the abuser left town after beating up his ladyfriend (complicated) and my friend finally told his sister what was really going on.

    If this act passes, in cases like the Loudermilk's example, bosses will at least be forced to consider that even though not all victims look like the victims on COPS they must be treated the same.

  • Kit-Kat

    Interesting idea, thanks for explaining. It's not clear from the story, though, if the employer was prejudiced against the lesbian employee and was just looking for a reason to fire her, or if the employer was just annoyed that the employee was missing so many days of work.

    The difference is that while one's sexual orientation has no relation to one's ability to perform one's job duties, not showing up for work does. We might have very good reasons for wanting employers to accommodate victims of DV, just as we want employers to accommodate employees who miss work because they are called for jury duty, or because they are caring for a seriously ill family member, but I think the analysis has to be a little different. Wanting to fire someone because they miss a lot of work is not the same as wanting to fire someone because they are black or gay or Jewish. Absent the DV, we would probably think it is perfectly rational to want to fire someone who misses a lot of work and whose absences occur at random times or on short/no notice, as such absences tend to be the most disruptive and cause the most inconvenience. I can't locate the text of the proposed bill, but I would be interested to know how it balances the legitimate needs of employers against the desire to protect victims of DV from unwarranted adverse consequences at work and the desire to ensure that victims of DV are allowed the necessary time to access the courts for protective orders and criminal proceedings.

    It's also not clear from the story if the employer was annoyed because the employee was taking a lot of leave, but that leave was part of the employee's sick leave or annual leave as provided by company policy, or because the leave was in excess of the leave provided by the company.

    I can't speak for all the police, of course, but I can say that when I prosecuted DV, cases involving male victims were charged routinely, although they were not the majority of cases, I never saw a case downplayed because the victim was LGBT, and I certainly didn't treat those cases any differently. I can't say whether LGBT victims are perhaps less likely to call the police than straight victims, however. Certain subgroups are less likely, for different reasons, and I've no doubt that shame and stigma felt by "non-traditional" victims (men in particular) plays a part.

    I'm not trying to make pronouncements on this subject, and I'm absolutely in favor of laws that will facilitate the victims of violence in obtaining justice and necessary services, but I just think it's not a simple area.

  • Charlie

    @ Kit-Kat
    The text of the bill, as introduced, it at
    http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/images/00001/20100506112929.pdf
    The bill was introduced by Yvette Alexander and has 12 cosponsors, so some form of the bill will be enacted IMO.

    What Amanda Hess published focuses on people losing employment due missing work. The bill also covers a requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodation to prevent domestic violence in the workplace and training requires. The portion covering training requirements is below:

    "Employers shall provide domestic violence, sexual abuse, and stalking training to employees, as well as receive training, in how to recognize, approach, and assist employees experiencing domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking, including both victims and batterers."

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    You can have ALL the studies and ALL the legislation, but if the police and the courts don't care like in this town, what do you do!

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