This summer, CORA extended our Mental Health Services team with the newly created role of LGBTQ Clinical Victim Advocate. This position provides individual and group therapy to survivors and engages in community outreach and education with a special emphasis on working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) survivors. Angie Hermes stepped into this new role. Angie comes to CORA with an MSW from San Jose State University, B.A. in French and Economics from the University of Southern California, and a strong commitment to providing quality services to trauma survivors.
Welcome, Angie! First, tell us a little about what brought you to CORA.
Angie: My interest in trauma grew from my own healing journey. After facing gender-based violence and dealing with PTSD in my life and seeing it affect the lives of many dear friends, I became interested in how individuals and communities heal and reclaim power, health, and wellness. As an undergrad, I organized with others against campus sexual violence, years before it was a national headline issue. For me this transformative and empowering work always happened within my community of queer folks, feminists, anti-racist and social justice student organizers. A few years later, when I volunteered as a peer counselor on a rape crisis hotline, I knew I wanted to make my life’s work providing support and witness for people on a path to heal from trauma. One social work degree later, I’m getting to do just that at CORA.
What excited you most about the LGBTQ Clinical Victim Advocate position?
Angie: In addition to being a survivor, I’ve been an advocate for LGBTQ rights since middle school. It took me a few more years to realize loud-mouthed passion for equal treatment was also a hunger for belonging, community, and justice for myself as a bisexual and queer woman. I never imagined I would have the opportunity to merge my passion supporting my own community of LGBTQ folks with my trauma work. I am thrilled to live and work in a time when our view of “domestic violence” has expanded from an issue of men abusing women to acknowledge that people of all genders, sexual orientations, and relationship types are dealing with abuse in intimate relationships. Yet I know many barriers still exist for LGBTQ individuals who are trying to access services. I am so excited to work at an organization that recognizes the unique needs of LGBTQ survivors, and honored to be entrusted with working to meet those needs.
What kinds of support do LGBTQ survivors in particular need?
Angie: First, organizations need to send a clear message that our services are here, available and ready to work with LGBTQ people. CORA has long been at the forefront of creating a welcoming environment and appropriate services for LGBTQ people. One of our organization’s first leaders was an out lesbian woman and CORA was one of the first shelters in the area to house men fleeing domestic violence in the 90’s. Yet LGBTQ people have heard a lot of “no’s” from domestic violence agencies in the past; providers have denied that abuse can happen between two women, shelters have refused to house trans women, trans men, or cis men, and crisis services have referred anyone with a “male sounding voice” to batterers intervention. Thankfully the domestic violence and victim’s services world are moving past these mistakes and building programming that is not only non-discriminatory, but actively welcoming and supportive.
Second, LGBTQ people face discrimination in society. That creates a barrier to coming forward about abuse. Some survivors may feel they have to hide the abuse in their relationship in order to not “damage” public perception of LGBQ relationships or of trans people. It is never ok for a society to isolate survivors this way. We must end the stigma, oppression, and marginalization LGBTQ people face. Until we do, we are forcing LGBTQ survivors to pick between closets, either hiding their relationship abuse or hiding their identity.
Third, and most importantly, we need to center those LGBTQ people who most often experience violence, discrimination, and exclusion in society. This includes poor and homeless LGBTQ people. It includes black and indigenous LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people of color. It includes LGBTQ sex workers. Trans people, in particular trans women of color, experience much higher rates of interpersonal violence, including being killed by strangers, intimate partners, and acquaintances. We must center and include LGBTQ people living with HIV/AIDS, those with addiction or mental health needs. LGBTQ youth and elders both are at higher risk for partner abuse and must be included. Our services and work with LGBTQ communities are only as strong as our work with the most excluded and underserved.
How can readers support LGBTQ survivors?
Angie: Same as with any survivors, listen, believe them, and follow their lead on what, if anything, they want to do. Know that relationship abuse affects LGBTQ people, and include them in discussions about partner abuse. When you’re not sure, use gender neutral worlds like “ex” “spouse” “partner” to refer to people’s significant others, don’t just automatically assume the person is straight or cis, or the abuser is a man. Open up and learn about LGBTQ issues, culture, needs and strengths—take the initiative to educate yourself and you’ll find your world infinitely richer for it. And, if you are really passionate, volunteer at CORA and ask about opportunities to support LGBTQ communities and individuals. We need all the hands, heads, and hearts we can in the work to make sure all relationships are based on love and respect.