Saturday’s tragic murder-suicide in Westbrook underscores what many in the domestic-violence and gay-advocacy communities have been saying for years: Intimate-partner violence does not follow one universal narrative; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals experience such violence at rates similar to heterosexuals and therefore should have equal access to services.
According to news reports, 22-year-old Matthew Rairdon, a Mercy Hospital emergency room nurse, was shot twice early Saturday by Patrick Milliner, 30, who was training to be a state corrections officer. Milliner then shot himself. The two men apparently had an on-and-off relationship that ended shortly before Saturday’s shooting. Aside from a lengthy Facebook posting written by Milliner last week and partially excerpted in Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald, there doesn’t seem to have been much indication that things were about to go so terribly wrong.
The fact that this incident occurred between two men has shed an unfortunate and necessary spotlight on domestic violence in the gay community. But the core issues of power and control — not sexuality — are what’s really at hand.
“I see no difference between what happened to Matt and what could happen to my next-door neighbor,” says Lois Reckitt, executive director of Family Crisis Services in Portland. “The patterns are the same — people believe they have a right to have control over someone else.”
When they lose that control (like right after a break-up), “it’s a critical time,” she says. Milliner’s familiarity and comfort with firearms (as a result of his officer training) might have also been a factor, she notes.
Still, it’s important for service providers and the public to know that domestic-violence victims don’t all look the same. In October (nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month), the Massachusetts-based Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project publicized the findings of a state-issued report that showed sexual and domestic violence prevalence for GLBT individuals “at rates equal to or greater than the general population, with gay men and lesbians at rates ranging from equal to almost double that of heterosexuals, bisexuals at slightly higher rates and transgender individuals at significantly higher rates, almost double that of gay and lesbian individuals.”
Reckitt, along with members of her staff, recently attended a conference that addressed the question of how to better serve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals in domestic-violence situations. She and her agency had planned this week to launch a comprehensive review of Family Crisis Services’ policies and practices, “to ensure there’s no bias built into them.”
“I don’t think we do enough to make the LGBT community understand that they are welcome to our services,” she says. “Once we’re confident that we have not inadvertently put up institutional barriers, we want to make sure we do outreach.”
Earlier in 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time includes explicit protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender survivors of domestic violence. The law now contains an antidiscrimination clause and explicitly identifies LGBT people as an underserved population, allowing organizations serving LGBT victims of domestic violence to receive targeted grant funding.
The number for the statewide domestic-violence hotline is 866.834.HELP.