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Ensuring Culturally-Responsive Legal Representation for LGBTQ+ Survivors of Domestic Violence

/ Blog Post

By Joey Carrillo, 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Discover Financial Services and Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Joey is hosted by Legal Aid Chicago.

Photo of Joey Carrillo
Photo of Joey Carrillo

Our collective understanding, research, and response to domestic and gender-based violence has come a long way in the last 40 years, however, there are still many gaps in our social service, healthcare, and justice systems.

After spending three semesters representing survivors of domestic violence in order of protection cases and taking a research seminar on Intimate Partner Violence Law and Policy at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, I found that most service providers focus their programs, resources, and training on hetero- and cis– normative dynamics. This leaves many organizations unresponsive and ill-equipped to handle the needs and nuances of domestic violence in the trans and queer community. This is incredibly concerning, given the research that repeatedly confirms the prevalence of gender-based violence in the LGBTQ+ community. According to a 2017 University of California Publication, gender-expansive minorities and those with a history of same-sex relationships are at a higher risk of psychological, physical, and sexual IPV relative to heterosexual and cisgender people.

My identity as a gay cisgender latinx man, my passion for LGBTQ+ rights, coupled with this jarring evidence inspired the creation of my fellowship project, LGBTQ+ Anti-Violence and Safety Project (LASP) at Legal Aid Chicago. LASP provides culturally-responsive legal services, outreach, and education for LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic, sexual, and dating violence. LASP focuses on two intersectional queer populations—low-income and young survivors—both groups being statistically overrepresented in IPV prevalence research.

Through identity-affirming representation, LASP utilizes the protections of Illinois Anti-Abuse laws to secure civil protective orders and other legal remedies to close the justice gap and increase access to life-saving protections for the LGBTQ+ community. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reported in 2016, that 64% of LGBTQ+ survivors did not seek a protective order out of fear of further stigmatization by either legal service providers, courts, or law enforcement. In 2017 the NCAVP reported that, 44% of LGBTQ+ survivors who attempted to access services like emergency shelters, were denied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In effect, LGBTQ+ survivors are either too afraid to seek help or are turned away when they do. It’s clear that having culturally-responsive legal representation is imperative for queer survivors navigating systems not designed by nor for them. For public interest lawyers working with survivors of domestic violence, it’s important to stay educated and vigilant to the ways in which a person’s identity can adversely affect their personal relationships and their experience interacting with our inflexible justice system. The barriers experienced by queer and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities can vary greatly. The reality is that law enforcement officers, judges, and court personnel often do not understand these dynamics and it’s up to us to educate the people working in these systems through advocacy and community education. It’s going to take the conscious commitment, culturally- responsive training, and unified advocacy to make our system truly equitable for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and I am so thrilled to join so many in this critical work.

To learn more about Joey’s work advocating for LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, visit his Fellow profile.

It’s going to take the conscious commitment, culturally- responsive training, and unified advocacy to make our system truly equitable for all, regardless sexual orientation or gender identity and I am so thrilled to join so many in this critical work.

Joey Carrillo /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow