LGBTQ Survivors of Identity Abuse
Intimate partner violence (IPV) and its substantial consequences remain widespread for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) individuals (Balsam, Rothblum, & Beauchaine, 2005; Walters, Chen, & Breidig, 2013). LGBTQ IPV survivors are particularly vulnerable to identity abuse: tactics leveraging heterosexism and cissexism (FORGE, 2014; NCDSV, 2014). Past research has documented the existence of LGBTQ-specific identity abuse as a unique dimension of victimization (Balsam & Szymanski, 2005; FORGE, 2014; NCDSV, 2014), with limited attention to those at greatest risk despite the diversity of the LGBTQ community. Participants who identified as LGBTQ (n = 734; 53% cisgender women; 39% queer or pansexual; 84% White; Mage = 33.48) completed surveys that assessed their exposure to identity abuse (7-items; α = .79), physical and sexual abuse (20-items; α= .89) and psychological abuse (14-items; α = .87), and other demographics. The data were analyzed to determine 1) whether there were demographic differences in exposure to identity abuse, 2) whether identity abuse contributed to variance in PTSD or depression scores; and, 3) whether the relationships between identity abuse and PTSD and depression scores were moderated by affirmative LGBTQ identity. Findings indicated that there were significant differences in identity abuse exposure by gender and sexual orientation. With regard to gender, ANOVA analyses revealed transgender or nonbinary-identified individuals reported higher rates of past year identity abuse exposure than cisgender males and cisgender females. Also, cisgender females were most likely to report adult exposure to identity abuse compared to transgender or nonbinary-identified individuals and cisgender males. Queer-identified individuals were most likely to report adult exposure to identity abuse compared to lesbian, bisexual, and gay-identified individuals. Identity abuse contributed to the variance in symptoms of PTSD and depression. This relationship remained significant even after accounting for exposure to other forms of violence (e.g., psychological abuse and physical abuse). Further, an affirmative LGBTQ identity indeed weakened the relationship between exposure to past year and adult identity abuse, respectively, and depressive symptoms. However, there was no moderating effect found for symptoms of PTSD. These results add to existing IPV literature by identifying particular subgroups within the LGBTQ community who are at greater risk of identity abuse exposure within intimate partner relationships, suggesting that exposure to identity abuse contributes to poorer mental health outcomes, and indicating that affirmative LGBTQ identity is a protective factor that could be utilized in intervention and prevention efforts. As a whole, these results highlight the need for increased awareness of identity abuse within the LGBTQ community, as well as routine and comprehensive assessment for identity abuse exposure by service providers.