Growing up as a first generation Latina in Long Beach CA, I knew that coming from an abusive home was not unique to me.
After all, I could hear the fights coming from the neighbors’ houses. When the head of household got too drunk and began beating his wife. I was familiar with the sound of glass breaking and pleas for help. Even when I tried to pick up the phone and call the police, my mom yelled at me to not get into the neighbors’ drama. Or even when I tried to muster up the courage to call the police because my dad was going off on my mom, I could clearly hear her cries of “no le digas a nadie, por que las cosas de las casa no se dicen”.
Since in my home “we don’t air our dirty laundry”, I learned that domestic violence was something we all knew existed, but we were never going to talk about it. When things went horribly wrong and became abusive in my first teenage relationship, I didn’t talk about it. Who was going to believe me? Who would care about what I had to say? Even if someone would seek help for me, would I get in trouble because “las cosas de la casa no se dicen”.
So I never told anyone about my family or my first relationship. Ironically in my 13 years of being a Domestic Violence advocate, I have done the opposite. I have dedicated my life to help give a voice to those who didn’t feel like they had one. In recent years I find myself as a DV advocate for our LGBTQ community.
Maybe it was because the agency I work for recognizes the need for DV services to the LGBTQ community. They incorporated trainings from LGBTQ specific agencies such as, The Gay and Lesbian Center in LA, we began working with their STOP DV program, their Domestic Violence Legal Services team and The LA County DV Council LBGT Issues subcommittee.
Through these partnerships, collaborations and friendships I learned how within my LGBTQ community, DV was as prevalent as in straight relationships. I heard stories of victims who were brutally abused by their partners and were afraid to talk about it. They felt that society would not accept their relationship and that the abuse was somehow caused by them. Or that they would be considered the abuser because they were the more masculine one.
I have worked with teens that were not “out” to their families but were caught in cycle of violence with their boyfriend or girlfriend. They felt like they couldn’t tell anyone. Or that no one was going to take them seriously because they were LGBTQ, ideas that their own partners feed them.
I recognize the need to bring awareness to our community. During our partnership with The Center LA, we began presenting to different community events such as: Models of Pride, Queer People of Color Conference, Peace over Violence Conference and any agency that would hear us out.
Every presentation brought forward new stories of survival, new referrals for services and even people who came forward about their abusive past. I heard them say things like “I grew up in an abusive home as well, and I never thought my partner would be abusive to me. I thought it was a straight thing”.
These conversations make me proud, because we are slowly giving a voice to our queer community and as a latina lesbian it gives me pride to be able to say “DV happened to me, it can happen in our community as well and there is help for you”.
WomenShelter of Long Beach