Coming Out

Gay domestic violence is a dirty little secret that traps victims with nowhere to turn

When the couple argued, Lisa threatened to drown the dogs or snap the kittens' necks. A year after the verbal and mental abuse began, when it was clear that Nichole had nowhere to turn, Lisa made good on her threats. After an argument, a pet would disappear, and Lisa would shrug it off with a variety of excuses: the dog ran away, it was hit by a car, it was ill and put to sleep. In the five years Nichole and Lisa were together, Nichole lost six cats and two dogs.

Lisa wasn't content with hurting animals, though. She began slapping Nichole, saying it was for her own good, to calm her down. The open-palm slaps became fists. Then Lisa would strike out for any reason, because Nichole happened to walk by at the wrong moment or maybe because she had a bad day at work.

She thrashed Nichole after she refused to participate in a threesome involving one of Lisa's straight male friends, then granted him permission to rape Nichole.

Five years after Nichole split from Lisa, she began to receive junk mail in Lisa's name.
Steve Lowry
Five years after Nichole split from Lisa, she began to receive junk mail in Lisa's name.

After Lisa hit Nichole she'd apologize, say that it was just that Nichole made her so mad she had to hit her. It was only because she loved Nichole so much that she had to react so strongly.

It took five years for Nichole Gant to leave the abusive relationship. Thanks to the help of a therapist, she finally found the courage to get out. But she didn't leave town, and Lisa began relentlessly stalking her. Lisa broke down her door one time and attacked her -- choking her, giving her a bloody nose and a black eye. Nichole finally realized she had to leave Indianapolis, pretty much the only home she'd ever known, if she was to move on with her life. She landed a new job in Houston and moved by herself, not knowing anyone here. She found new friends, a new church and felt she could be safe.

Then in 1997, five years after Nichole split from Lisa and two years after she moved to Houston, her past came to her southwest Houston town home via a mail-order catalog addressed in her ex-partner's name. Nichole felt chills spread through her body with a paralyzing grip.

Even now, from 1,000 miles away, Lisa's name imposed panic. Nichole's heartbeat galloped; her mind whirled. She became afraid to check her mail. How did she get this address? Is she around the corner? Oh, God, please don't let her be here. Because she could be; Lisa was that possessive, that controlling. Any moment now she would pull up in her lipstick-red pickup and say smugly, "How dare you think you can live without me. Let's go. It's time to come home."

Please don't let it happen to me all over again. Nichole knew, based on her past experiences, there was little anyone was going to do to stop Lisa. Who cared about gay domestic violence anyway? Who even knew it existed?

It's hard to be a gay person in a straight world. And it's hard to be the victim of domestic abuse. Combine the two, and that was Nichole's life for five years. She didn't know where to turn. The straight world wasn't interested in intimate-partner abuse against a lesbian -- and still isn't -- even reacting with hostility: Police officers who responded to Nichole's calls belittled her. In the gay community, where there are enough problems already (HIV, hate crimes, discrimination), domestic violence remains a hidden, dirty secret. No one wants to hear about another issue, especially one so ugly as gays beating the partners who love them.

Last March the issue made headlines when a man gunned down his ex-boyfriend at a Montrose restaurant then turned the gun on himself. A month later Russ Robinett, a counselor at Bering United Methodist Church, joined forces with a man who had survived domestic abuse and started a support group for abused gay men. The group is the only one of its kind in Houston, yet it's hard to get the word out, Russ says. Sometimes it seems that not only is no one talking about it, but no one is listening, either. "I feel that we're ten to 15 years behind the heterosexual community in acknowledging that it happens," he says. "Our relationships aren't even recognized by society, so it makes sense that it's not discussed."

When Nichole was abused by Lisa, she couldn't find a single pair of sympathetic ears. The year 1987 was a harsh one for Nichole. The 17-year-old had grown up in a black Baptist family, traditional and conservative in its ways. Her father beat her mother for 13 years before they divorced. He also psychologically and physically terrorized the children. As soon as Nichole's older sister and brother turned 18, they refused to visit their father. Nichole was the youngest, the only one obligated to continue to see him, and the only one he sexually molested. That year, Nichole came out to her family members, who were appalled by her announcement. Living at home became a stressful nightmare. Lacking financial and emotional support, Nichole dropped out of college and snapped pictures in a Sears portrait studio to support herself.

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