"If you two girls don't get along, you should just stay away from each other." That's what a male judge told Emely Ortiz in 2001 when she petitioned the court for a restraining order against her ex-girlfriend.
Over the course of their relationship, Ortiz's girlfriend had gone from a possessiveness that at first felt "cute" to escalating demands that isolated Ortiz and kept her too intimidated to fight back. "You're ugly. You're selfish," the woman would scream--untrue accusations but insidious nonetheless. It took the support of other women at Boston's the Network/La Red--one of very few programs in the United States that deals with same-sex domestic violence--to help Ortiz leave her batterer.
Thanks to a legal system that couldn't see how women could be a threat to one another, Ortiz was stalked for 10 months. "It's like, no matter where you go or what you do, there's this invisible thread," Ortiz remembers. "Her voice on my voice mail, an e-mail, letters coming in the mail, finding her in places she knew I went. What was scary was how benign it was to other people."
Ortiz eventually chose a desperate solution for a desperate problem: "I moved. I disappeared."
Domestic violence sometimes appears to be a dirty secret that the gay community would rather not address in a time of assimilation and fighting for gay marriage. Though Los Angeles, Boston, and a handful of other large cities have programs that specifically address the problem, nationwide services geared toward the particular needs of same-sex couples are rare, even in places with visible LGBT neighborhoods. That's partly because, with HIV as the first priority, most cities don't have enough resources to go around.
Now at least one state is kicking in to help. The California legislature recently passed--and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed--a law that will add a $23 surcharge to each domestic-partner registration. Proceeds will fund same-sex domestic-violence programs.
In practice, the program is modest. It stands to provide no more than $10,000 in seed money to individual LGBT programs. Susan Holt of the Stop Partner Abuse/Domestic Violence Program at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center cautions: "It's a very, very tiny first step."
John is a sweet, earnest young man who wants to be with just one special guy. But his boyfriend repeatedly called John a "whore" and inflicted levels of physical violence previously unimaginable to the 23-year-old, who looks 16.
When John moved to Los Angeles from his Texas hometown of 4,000 people, he was open to a broad range of possibilities. Attending the University of California, Los Angeles, and working at Abercrombie & Fitch, he entered urban gay life in the typical way: He went to a bar. At Rage in West Hollywood, Calif., John met the man who would become his first love--and his abuser.
"I was 21, and he was 24," says John. "The first six months were wonderful. It was nice being held by somebody for the first time." Then his boyfriend began to rage with jealousy. "He would throw things," John says. "But I never saw it as abuse because he wasn't hitting me with them."
The first time John's boyfriend hit him was after a party where another man had paid attention to John. On the way home John's boyfriend punched him in the face. "I didn't have any other options, so I got in the car," he says. "All I could really do was cry, and he was crying with me. The idea of leaving crossed my mind, but he just kept on apologizing."
Blackened eyes, destroyed furniture, and isolation quickly became the hallmarks of John's life, which was also interspersed with what therapists call "honeymoon" periods, when the violence subsides and the abuser draws the victim back in. Young, disconnected from other gay people living in a town 40 miles north of Los Angeles, and unaware of domestic-violence programs, John never sought help.
Even when he ended up in the emergency room with a shard of glass embedded in his bloodied neck, John continued to defend his attacker. …