The Mythical Rainbow Family

by Moo Baulch

Rarely does a week go by without some level of debate raging in the Australian media on queer themes as diverse as whether girls should be allowed to marry girls, homophobes should be given airtime and if Penny Wong’s Kitchen Cabinet appearance helped or hindered the cause.

Regardless of where you sit on the gay marriage/civil partnership spectrum and whether you think “It Gets Better” speaks to lesbians in Lakemba or not, it looks as if we’re closer than ever to achieving complete equal same-sex rights in Australia. So, as the queer ‘lifestyle’ becomes more mainstream, and Mardi Gras drops the “gay and lesbian”, it’s time to start having some honest conversations about the way that we treat each other within the mythical rainbow family.

It’s not easy to begin talking about the not-so-fabulous things that occur in our communities and relationships—domestic violence (DV) for example. How do we contextualise it in a queer framework? Let’s begin with an important statement. Most queer relationships are loving and respectful. Some are about power and control. Just as some men abuse women, so some of us also abuse one another. Research suggests that DV in same-sex relationships occurs at rates comparable to the wider population. The effects on the victim are similar—isolation, fear, intimidation and the cycles of explosion, remorse, pursuit and honeymoon before the violence recommences.

There are precious few prominent models of healthy LGBTIQ relationships. Those new to the queer world may therefore find it difficult to picture what a healthy relationship looks or feels like. Sometimes it can be hard to decide whether what’s being experienced is abuse or just the usual conflict that occurs periodically in most relationships.
DV can be packaged in a number of different ways—it can be financial, emotional, psychological, physical, social, sexual or cultural. It may involve overt threats of violence or feature a subtle controlling of how someone might make decisions about their daily life. An absence of physical violence doesn’t mean that a relationship is not abusive. Ultimately DV is the exercise of power by one partner over another with the intent to control.

But there are some fundamental differences in the dynamics of queer DV. Abusers may manipulate their victim into believing that this is the way all queer relationships are, that the rules are different, that no-one else will want them or support services will not believe them if they ask for help. Abusers may threaten to ‘out’ their partner or disclose their HIV status. They may also threaten to withhold medications or control finances to limit a partner’s movements. They may use regular put downs in public or private which target a person’s expression of gender, appearance or sexuality. They may isolate their partner from their friends or family or they could threaten to harm pets. They may also threaten self harm or suicide or blame their partner for their own anger, health, condition or behaviour.

Discussing the existence of bullying, sexual racism, misogyny, DV and the prejudice in our own communities is challenging, especially when we live in a society or culture that sometimes may seem to only just accept us. But it’s the measure of a maturing LGBTIQ community if we are able to create space and nurture a culture of diversity that fosters open, honest dialogues on these sticky subjects. We have a responsibility as friends, ethical bystanders and as part of the alphabet-soup family to speak up and ask if someone is ok or let them know we are there. It’s not an easy thing to do but it could help someone who really needs it.

There are a number of LGBTIQ-friendly places to get help if you’re in an abusive relationship. If have experienced DV or want to support a friend, visit
In an emergency call the Police 000

The Safe Relationships Project provides statewide LGBTIQ domestic violence legal support. Ph: 02 9332 1966/1800 244 481
ACON’s Anti-Violence Project supports LGBTI people who have experienced DV. Ph: 9206 2116 or 1800 063 060
The Transgender Anti-Violence Project supports gender diverse people in NSW who have experienced violence. Ph: 9569 2366 or 1800 069 115
DV Line is free, confidential and staffed 24/7. Ph: 1800 65 64 63

Moo Baulch was the LGBTI Domestic and Family Violence Project Officer at ACON’s Anti-Violence Project.

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