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Inclusion and diversity: The foundations of a more effective response to LGBTIQ domestic violence?

Sex Discrimination

Inclusion and diversity: The foundations of a more effective response to LGBTIQ domestic violence?

Speech by Elizabeth Broderick

Sex Discrimination Commissioner

Australian Human Rights Commission

Inclusion & Diversity: LGBTIQ Domestic Violence Conference

Rex Hotel, Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross

16 September 2011


Thank you for that generous introduction and thank you, Celia, for inviting me here today.

Let me begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who work tirelessly to reduce domestic violence.

I would also like to acknowledge the Honourable Pru Goward MP, New South Wales Minister for Women and Minister for Family and Community Services.

As many of you will know, domestic violence is an issue that is very close to my heart.

As I travel across Australia I often ask people to name countries where they consider domestic and family violence to be a problem. More often than not they reel off a list of other countries, but fail to recognise the high prevalence rates in their own country, Australia.

Everyone should be able to live their lives free from all forms of violence, including domestic violence. Yet, in my capacity as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, I am reminded all too often that domestic violence taints the lives of too many of our family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

Just last month, I met with Catherine, a woman who experienced more than three decades of abuse at the hands of her former husband, Kevin. Catherine’s story is a harrowing one. The violence she said she was subjected to by her former husband included being jabbed with a cattle prod, attempted choking with an electrical cord, having a gun fired at her and being forced to have sex through threats involving knives, guns and a burning fire poker.[1]

Catherine, like many survivors of domestic violence, believes she and her children will never be free until her partner is behind bars. The effects of the decades of abuse still permeate every aspect of Catherine’s life and those of her children.[2]

Experiences like Catherine’s are why I decided to make domestic violence a priority issue during my term as Commissioner, and why I continue to hope and strive for a world without such violence. No one, regardless of his or her sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, should have to experience what Catherine endured and what she continues to endure, even though the physical and mental violence have now stopped.

Specifically in relation to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people, the Australian Human Rights Commission has been working to strengthen protections against discrimination, harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation and sex or gender identity.[3] It has also been working to ensure greater legal recognition of people who are sex and gender diverse.[4]

Underpinning the Commission’s work is the notion that people of all sexual orientations and sex and gender identities deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and equality. The Commission’s view – and my own personal view – is that federal protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity would send a powerful message to our community regarding equality’[5]. The introduction of such laws, which the Government has committed to, would likely also have a profound impact on reducing discrimination, vilification and harassment against LGBTIQ people in Australia, and help in reducing LGBTIQ domestic violence.

So I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the third biennial conference on LGBTIQ domestic violence. It allows me to build on the work the Commission is already doing to protect and promote the rights of people who identify as LGBTIQ. It also provides an important platform to raise awareness of domestic violence in this community and support responses to domestic violence that are inclusive and accommodate diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

When I received the invitation to speak, I found myself reflecting on the inspired choice of themes – inclusion and diversity.

I realised, after a while, that I kept coming back to the same two questions about the relationship between inclusion and diversity and how we as a community respond to domestic violence.

The first question that struck me concerned whether responses to domestic violence in Australia have been hampered by a failure to effectively incorporate the experiences of LGBTIQ communities and more openly celebrate diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Thinking about this question another way, I wondered second how efforts to reduce rates of domestic violence in Australia could be strengthened by ensuring greater inclusion of these communities and by encouraging the regular celebration of the full spectrum of our identities.

I want to use the time I have today to share my preliminary views on these two questions, drawing on some of the experiences and insights I have gained during my term as Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

The importance of inclusivity and diversity

Much of my work as Commissioner has focused on women’s experiences of gender-based violence.

The evidence paints a stark and compelling picture.

Women in Australia, as in much of the rest of the world, are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence, including domestic violence. The perpetrators of this violence are overwhelmingly men.

You’ve probably all heard the sobering statistics by now. One in three women in Australia over the age of 15 has experienced violence.[6] Over 40 per cent of these women – approximately 1.2 million women – have experienced that violence at the hands of a current or former partner.[7]

However, often missing from the data and mainstream depictions of domestic violence are the experiences of individuals who identify as LGBTIQ and who also experience violence in the domestic sphere.

Domestic violence knows no barriers, as you will no doubt be reminded many times today. Domestic violence is not limited to any one type or types of relationships. It can, and does, occur in all relationships, regardless of the individuals’ sex, sexual orientation or sex or gender identity.

Yet, rarely do we hear the stories of LGBTIQ domestic violence – stories like those portrayed so vividly in resources such as Tales from Another Closet[8] and Coming Forward,[9] which are all too scarce. Stories of people like Kent, who recalled:

[My partner] was smashing my head repeatedly into the gravel, only stopping to punch me in the chest. He then started strangling me. [When I came to he said] “Now look what you’ve made me do, you piece of shit.”[10]

Or stories like the following one from the first published research focused solely on the domestic violence experiences of transgender people in the United Kingdom.

She knew about my transgender status. At first she was okay about it, but then she started using it against me. She was happy when she thought I was more like a transvestite ..., but as it carried on, she wasn’t happy about it. She started threatening to tell my friends about it if I didn’t do what she wanted.... I trusted her, but she abused that... After we broke up, she went around my friends and told them I was transgender.[11]

The voices and personal stories of people such as Kent and the trans person from the U.K. too often continue to go unheard. LGBTIQ domestic violence, consequently, remains largely invisible in Australia.

The limited evidence that is available suggests that there are varied reasons why LGBTIQ domestic violence remains hidden. As the work of many of you in this room has shown, they include:

  • limited community awareness of the issue
  • underreporting for reasons such as fear of homophobia or transphobia, or ‘outing’ oneself
  • inadequate access to inclusive and culturally acceptable services and information.[12]

It is also seems likely that there is a correlation between the invisibility of LGBTIQ domestic violence and the limited recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ persons in Australia.[13]

Individuals who identify as LGBTIQ and who also experience domestic violence can become isolated by the invisibility of the issue and are conditioned to think of such abuse as a ‘normal’ part of relationships that should be tolerated. It can make victims and survivors of LGBTIQ domestic violence less likely to seek help, with devastating consequences for their security, health and wellbeing.

Conversely, when LGBTIQ people are accepted in the broader community and their rights, including their rights to live a life free of discrimination, harassment and domestic violence, are recognised, people experiencing LGBTIQ domestic violence are more likely to feel empowered and to come forward for assistance.

And most importantly, efforts to reduce all forms of domestic violence are undermined when the evidence used to render the picture of domestic violence in Australia excludes the experiences of victims and survivors of LGBTIQ domestic violence and fails to take the full spectrum of relationships into account.

The invisibility of LGBTIQ domestic violence and the attempts, including by conferences such as this, to raise awareness of the problem and seek solutions have many parallels with the global campaign to eradicate gender-based violence against women.

If we cast our minds back just over 30 years, gender-based violence against women was largely invisible and its harms went unrecognised. Women were expected to suffer in silence because domestic violence was viewed as a private issue, not one that the state should be concerned with. Not a single mention was made of gender-based violence in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the dedicated women’s human rights treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.

Fast-forward to today when gender-based violence against women is prohibited in numerous international, regional and domestic legal instruments, including CEDAW, and is frequently named and condemned by courts and other decision-making bodies around the world. This year, in Australia, we have even seen the adoption of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children.

Significant progress has been achieved in addressing gender-based violence against women over the past thirty years, though as stories like Catherine’s show, we clearly still have some way to go.

Standing here today, I am hopeful that there will be occasion at future national LGBTIQ domestic violence conferences to reflect on the progress that has been made in achieving broad recognition, and a reduction in rates, of LGBTIQ domestic violence.

Progress in this area is, however, dependent on the adoption of domestic violence responses as well as broader laws, policies and practices that are founded on the principles of inclusivity and diversity.

Strengthening domestic violence responses through inclusivity and diversity

The good news is that ensuring greater inclusion of people who identify as LGBTIQ and celebrating sexual and gender diversity are realistic goals that we can achieve – provided there is a strong commitment from government, civil society and LGBTIQ advocates, backed by adequate and ongoing funding and resources. There is also a role for domestic violence services providers.

A number of people who will be speaking later today are already working to ensure that responses to domestic violence are underpinned by the principles of inclusivity and diversity. Together, you have begun to map practical and achievable steps to raise awareness of LGBTIQ domestic violence. You have also provided practical guidance to domestic violence service providers and others on how to incorporate the principles of inclusivity and diversity into their day-to-day work.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the recommendations that have already been made by some of the people here today. They include:

  • cultivating meaningful relationships between domestic violence service providers and LGBTIQ organisations
  • using neutral and inclusive language
  • ensuring information about domestic violence is inclusive of LGBTIQ communities
  • ensuring domestic violence services providers receive training on LGBTIQ domestic violence.[14]

I look forward to this discussion continuing, both here today and after the conference.

In the time I have left, I want to focus on three areas where we can and must do better – community education, adequate resourcing, and the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children

Community education

Firstly, there needs to be a focus on better educating the general community about domestic violence in LGBTIQ relationships.

People need to know that domestic violence occurs in LGBTIQ relationships, just as it occurs in other types of relationships. They need to know about the specific barriers that persons who identify as LGBTIQ face when seeking to access domestic violence services, including homophobia and transphobia.

Raising consciousness of LGBTIQ domestic violence through initiatives such as the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and the White Ribbon campaign are important first steps. The challenge is to ensure that LGBTIQ domestic violence features in broader education initiatives as much as possible.

Related to the need for greater community education, is the need for targeted education in LGBTIQ communities. People who identify as LGBTIQ need to understand that domestic violence is something that can happen to them, even if their relationships do not reflect the picture of domestic violence that is so often depicted in this country. They need to know where they can go for help and that non-discriminatory and culturally acceptable services are available to them.

Community education about domestic violence in LGBTIQ relationships must be grounded in broader community education on LGBTIQ issues. There is a pressing need for greater awareness about the serious harms of a lack of acceptance and recognition of people who identify as LGBTIQ. Our politicians, colleagues, friends, families and neighbours need to understand the real life consequences of homophobia and transphobia and the failure to recognise diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.


Secondly, there must be adequate and ongoing funding and resources to ensure that responses to domestic violence are inclusive of LGBTIQ communities.

Over the past year, I have had the privilege of visiting many domestic violence services across the country. I am in awe and am inspired every day by what I see – the services provided, the dedication and compassion of those individuals providing services and their ability to create change.

But lack of funding has taken its toll.

Telling, I think, is the finding of the One Size Does Not Fit All report that lack of funding and access to resources are among the major barriers preventing mainstream domestic violence service providers from undertaking strategies to engage victims and survivors of LGBTIQ domestic violence.[15]

Domestic violence service providers need to be supported in their efforts to be inclusive of LGBTIQ communities.

National Plan

Finally, I would like to say something about The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children.

The adoption of the National Plan earlier this year is a major step forward in achieving a real and sustained reduction in the levels of violence against women; it is something to be celebrated.

Importantly and relevantly for today, inclusivity and diversity feature in several places throughout the Plan. For instance, the Plan notes early on that it “recognises and acknowledges the diverse experiences of women and their children, and the need to ensure responses meet their specific circumstances”.[16] Yet, a closer look reveals that there are only few express references to sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity.

The Plan’s focus on primary prevention, building respectful relationships and working to increase gender equality is a great first step. But this is just the beginning; the Plan must now be implemented. To ensure strong implementation, the Plan must also be properly resourced and independently monitored and evaluated.

The implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the National Plan present a unique opportunity for greater LGBTIQ inclusion and to celebrate our diverse identities.

But it’s important to consider what steps can be taken to ensure that the Plan is implemented in an inclusive, rather than an exclusionary, way. It’s also important to consider the ways the Plan can be implemented to celebrate and promote the diverse sexual and gender identities that make our society so vibrant.

And of course the plan focuses on women, and does not include a focus on men and their experience of domestic violence, particularly men in same sex relationships who may find it even more difficult to speak out about these issues.


So I finish as I started with the story of Catherine.

In July this year, her husband was found guilty on 17 charges, including multiple counts of attempted murder, rape and assault. When the matter progressed to court last month Catherine’s ex-husband represented himself and was permitted to cross-examine his own daughter, who had witnessed many of the violent incidents.

For those of you who are particularly interested, Australian story will screen Catherine’s story on Monday night. She is a woman of great courage.

Just as there are many obstacles to achieving justice for people living in rural areas – there are also many challenges for the LGBTIQ community in exposing the horror of domestic and family violence.

But you are on your way.

I understand that this is the very first national conference on LGBTIQ domestic violence in Australia. A million congratulations – pulling together an event like this is a great achievement and the starting point for significant change.

I want to congratulate the New South Wales LGBTIQ Domestic Violence Interagency Working Group for bringing us all together and for organising a very rich and rewarding day of discussion.

Conferences like this can give fresh impetus to, and bring new perspectives to our work on LGBTIQ domestic violence.

I wish you all the best for what I am sure will be a day full of productive and engaging conversations. I hope you come away from the conference re-invigorated and with new information (or perhaps a friendly reminder) about how ensuring greater inclusion of LGBTIQ people and celebrating sexual and gender diversity can strengthen current responses to domestic violence.

Thank you

[1] Paul Bibby, ‘30 years of hell: woman tells of torture and rape by former husband’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August 2011. At: (viewed 16 August 2011).

[2] Above.

[3] See Australian Human Rights Commission, Addressing sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity discrimination: Consultation report (2011). At: (viewed 16 August 2011).

[4] See Australian Human Rights Commission, Sex files: The legal recognition of sex in documents and government records, The sex and gender diversity project (2009). At: (viewed 16 August 2011).

[5] See Australian Human Rights Commission, note 3, p. 43.

[6] See Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue), Catalogue No. 4906.0 (2006), p 7. At: (viewed 16 August 2011). Note: The ABS defines physical violence to include “any incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of physical assault;” Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue), Catalogue No. 4906.0 (2006), unpublished. 

[7] See Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue), Catalogue No. 4906.0 (2006), p 10; Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue), Catalogue No. 4906.0 (2006), unpublished.

[8] ACON’s Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, Tales from another closet: personal stories of domestic violence in same-sex relationships (2009). At: (viewed 16 August 2011). 

[9] William Leonard et al., Coming forward: The underreporting of heterosexist violence and same sex partner abuse in Victoria, Monograph Series Number 69 (2008). At: (viewed 16 August 2011).  

[10] ACON’s Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, note 7, p 13.

[11] LGBT Domestic Abuse Project and the Scottish Transgender Alliance, Out of sight, out of mind? Transgender People’s Experiences of Domestic Abuse (2010), p 15. At: (viewed 16 August 2011).

[12] See generally ACON Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, One Size Does Not Fit All: Gap Analysis of NSW domestic violence support services in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities’ needs (2011), pp 30-31; Leonard et al, note 9. 

[13] See generally Australian Human Rights Commission, note 3. 

[14] See generally ACON Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, note 12, pp 30-31; ACON Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, Is your service GLBTI friendly? (2010). At: (viewed 16 August 2011).

[15] One Size Does Not Fit All, above, pp 16-17.

[16] See The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children, p 12.