Twenty-six percent of gay men and 54 percent of transgender individuals will experience domestic partner violence at some point in their lifetimes. While healthcare professionals have strategies to identify victims of violence in the medical setting, violence impacting minority populations often goes unnoticed. This may be due to existing stigmas suggesting that intimate partner violence (IPV) predominately impacts women, making it more difficult for male-identifying and non-binary individuals to ask for help.

V-Day is a globally-organized response against violence towards all women. Each year on V-Day, events take place worldwide to raise awareness about marginalized communities experiencing IPV. This year, the Brigham Medicine Grand Rounds examined IPV experienced by people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Survivors and advocates were invited to share their stories and discuss how healthcare professionals can better identify and care for victims of IPV in medical settings.

Christopher AhnAllen, PhD, the director of the Gender Diversity Clinic in the Department of Psychiatry, shared that providers must be attentive to increased rates of violence in LGBTQ+ communities to proactively identify those experiencing IPV in a clinic or hospital.

Trever Boylston, Racial Equity Action Committee chair of Fenway Health, founder of the Grafton MA LGBTQ+ community organization and a transgender man, shared his experiences to educate medical providers on how to better protect and advocate for LGBTQ+ patients impacted by IPV.

Spreading Awareness Across the Care Team

Boylston grew up in Salem, MA with his grandparents. As a child, he didn’t always have the language or resources to talk about his sexual orientation and gender identity. Before his transition, he was the victim of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. His trauma and early struggles with his gender identity made him vulnerable and took a toll on his self-esteem.

“What I was trying to do was find a community that fit, to find a home and something outside that would make me feel whole inside,” explained Boylston.

After transitioning, Boylston shared that health care professionals didn’t always take his experiences with IPV seriously. These challenges motivated him to advocate for other LGBTQ+ survivors of IPV. Boylston now works with various community organizations, helping individuals effectively tell their personal stories to create positive change.

At this event, he addressed Brigham medical providers on how to advocate for individuals who’ve experienced IPV.

“It starts with building trusting relationships with your patients,” said Boylston. “They need to feel comfortable enough around you to disclose abuse.”

Providers often ask patients about their relationships and their experiences with intimate partner violence. Boylston, however, emphasizes that it’s not only what they say, but how they say it.

“It’s important that providers have the right vocabulary when working with LGBTQ+ patients. If we come in, and we don’t hear providers using correct pronouns or language, we’re probably not going to come back for follow-up care,” said Boylston. “Language is critical to creating a safe environment.”

Finally, this work can’t happen in isolation.

We must support continuous efforts to spread knowledge and resources regarding IPV in the medical community and ensure that these efforts are collaborative across medical disciplines. This includes hospital administrative staff.

“It starts with the first time the patient walks into the office—at the reception desk, with the nurses and medical assistants. So many patients will spend more time in a clinic’s waiting room than they will speaking with their physician,” said Boylston. “The entire care team must have that level of sensitivity and awareness.”