Sonja* felt like she didn’t have anyone to talk to about the abuse in her relationship with another woman. Her parents saw signs of trouble, but they did not want to appear homophobic by saying something inappropriate. So, both Sonja and her family stayed silent, until she reached out to the NW Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse (the NW Network). Knowing that isolation can impact victims’ decisions to stay in abusive situations, the NW Network gave Sonja and her family the tools to create a safety net of real, personal support.
“By and for” is a key principle of the NW Network’s mission and services. Started by lesbian survivors of abuse in 1987, the community-based agency brings on staff members, leaders, and volunteers who are also survivors who identify as part of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) communities. The resulting diversity and understanding of the issues has helped the NW Network be good “stewards” of their community, says Executive Director Connie Burk, while creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQ survivors and their families. Indeed, many individuals seeking safety and support after abusive relationships find people and resources they can rely on through the NW Network. So do their loved ones.
Supporting individuals has led to another facet of the NW Network’s work—helping communities understand the unique needs of LGBTQ survivors. The struggle to create more inclusive services can be challenging, especially when the behind-the-scenes education is hard to quantify in a report or funding request. However, the NW Network focuses on “what they are trying to build, not just what they are trying to end,” Burk says. As a result, the agency is committed to providing training and technical assistance through personalized support as well as workshops and webinars offered locally and nationally.
The NW Network also believes strongly in community engagement and education, offering relationships skills classes, community programs for survivors and their allies, and a regular dinner for LGBTQ parents and others involved in the life of a child. They’ve even created a youth speakers’ bureau to empower young people to speak up in their schools and beyond.
Additionally, staff members have created tools designed for LGBTQ survivors and those who care about them. The “It Takes a Village, People” toolkit, for example, gives friends, family, and advocates specific ways to support LGBTQ survivors through easy- to-use worksheets. Similarly, the award-winning “Friends Help Friends Survive” awareness campaign gives friends and family simple tips on how to start conversations to help LGBTQ survivors. The organization has even developed a nuanced, fact-based tool to help service providers identify LGBTQ survivors of abuse.
With support from the Family and Youth Services Bureau, the NW Network is collaborating with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) to develop the National LGBTQ Domestic Violence Capacity Building Learning Center. This project will create a one-stop resource for practice, policy, research, training, and technical assistance related to domestic violence in the LGBTQ community.
Whether engaging their local communities or providing expertise on the national stage, the NW Network is an agent of positive change in the LGBTQ community.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality