With the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality and Caitlyn Jenner’s iconic Vanity Fair cover, issues faced by the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community dominated headlines this summer.

As we celebrate these victories and the headlines fade, activists continue to rightfully point out the work that remains.

We know that sexual violence is the most underreported violent crime in the United States, and that there are often barriers to victims and survivors who want to report to law enforcement and seek services. We also know that the rates at which LGBTQ people experience sexual violence are alarming survivors face even more barriers when seeking help.

These barriers include: previous homophobic or transphobic experiences with services providers and law enforcement; concern the services available don’t have the expertise to affirm and support someone; a lack of understanding by the victim that what happened was sexual violence; a fear of being outed; service providers making false assumptions about someone’s gender identify or sexual orientation; or worse still, discriminate against someone who has come to them for help.

There is also additional shame, fear and apprehension about accessing services if someone is the victim of a hate or bias-related crime of sexual violence if the victim’s perceived gender or sexual orientation was the reason they were assaulted.

Sexual assault support centers in Maine go beyond not discriminating against someone based on their identity. We go beyond accepting that people may have a different gender identity or sexual orientation and that they may present that differently from you or what you’re accustomed to seeing. We provide affirming and healing sexual assault support services to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Culturally competent and appropriate services mean affirming people in their identity and expression. It means not making assumptions about someone’s experiences or their needs. It means understanding the position of power a law enforcement officer or service provider holds over someone seeking their help. It means understanding and acknowledging the levels of persecution and discrimination many LGBTQ people still face – even in 2015.

This Sunday, October 11 marks the 27th annual National Coming Out Day. National Coming Out Day is meant to acknowledge the power and importance of coming out – and to recognize that for many people, coming out is still not safe. To mark that day we are committing to continued partnership with our LGBTQ serving partner agencies and building our capacity to support LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence. We invite you to create your own commitment. For more information on our efforts, visit our website.

Effectively responding to sexual violence in the LGBTQ+ community is an important step toward true equality, safety, and affirmation and will help reduce violence in Maine.

Thank you to our partners in these efforts:

Downeast AIDS Network and Health Equity Alliance
Maine Family Planning
Maine Trans Net
Outright LA
SAGE Maine
Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (SARSSM)
Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine (SASSMM)
University of Southern Maine Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity
Maine’s Sexual Assault Support Centers

Cross-posted on Maine Family Planning’s blog as well! 

Cara Courchesne

Cara Courchesne is the Communications and Outreach Coordinator at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault and focuses her work on statewide communications, trainings, and outreach regarding sexual violence...