When Love Hurts: Understanding violence in LGBT relationships

Wee Lee first got in touch with me an hour after I posted an online appeal for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Singapore to contribute their personal stories. We decided to meet over drinks in Holland Village; I was half-expecting him to share his coming out story, and was not ready for some of the things he was about to tell me.

As an average-looking guy with an athletic build and broad smile, he didn’t look too different from other young men. Yet what I heard from him that night was to change my understanding of human endurance. You see, Wee Lee is a survivor of violence inflicted upon him by his gay partner.

As a gay man and a social worker, I thought I had seen it all.  Before this, my experience of family violence had been the kind between straight couples, or when someone vulnerable, such as a child, or an elderly or disabled person, is being mistreated by a family member. I had heard from someone else about a friend who was being beaten up by her lesbian partner; I think they lived in the US. All these cases of domestic violence, although real and tragic, seemed somewhat remote from my own life.

Still, just because we don’t hear or talk about something doesn’t make it non-existent. International research has shown that rates of violence in same-sex (gay and lesbian) relationships is very similar to rates of violence against women by their male partners – around 25% to 30%. This can only mean that same-sex partner violence happens right here in Singapore: to our neighbours, friends, colleagues and family members. Wee Lee was in a four-year relationship with his abusive partner Carl while they lived together in a flat near Ghim Moh.

What is partner violence?

Partner violence is about power and control; it happens when one partner intentionally exerts that power through behaviours that seek to control the other. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their social class, educational level, profession, gender and sexual orientation.

It can take many forms: physical and sexual attacks, emotional and psychological abuse, even financial exploitation. For same-sex couples, there is the threat of outing someone’s sexual orientation to others, such as family members or work colleagues. In relationships where one partner is transgender, abuse can take the form of threatening to embarrass their gender identity in the presence of others.

What prevents people from seeking help?

Yet there are probably as many barriers to seeking help as there are lesbians and gay men. Bryan Choong is centre manager of Oogachaga Counselling and Support, a non-profit agency that provides a range of professional counselling and support services for the LGBT community. He offers some common reasons why so few LGBT people in Singapore are seeking help for partner violence.

“In the gay community, there are many who do not believe that someone will be abused or hurt by a same-sex partner. Many think that it is always easier to walk out or fight back.”

There are victims who are afraid that by revealing their abusive experience, they are also exposing their sexual orientation and same-sex relationship to others. This has much to do with a general lack of awareness about partner violence in the LGBT community, which may also explain why many victims do not see the need to seek help, are unaware of where to go for support, or feel embarrassed to reach out.

It is a common misconception that it needs to be physical for it to be considered as abuse. “Sometimes, even the victims get confused with whether abuse is an acceptable part of their relationship, or they are just being too sensitive. For example, in cases of sexual violence, the abused partner may think it is just part of role-playing in bed,” explains Choong.

Serene Tan, a senior social worker with Care Corner Project START (Stop Abusive Relationships Together) which works with victims and perpetrators of family violence, adds on to the list of obstacles facing LGBT victims.

“The LGBT community is relatively small, and couples usually have a  common circle of close friends. They may feel that even if they are experiencing violence from their partners, their friends would not believe them or would not take their side. Hence they would choose to keep quiet. Some of them may also be isolated and do not have a good support network.”

Unfortunately, the current legal system in Singapore is also not helping. Section 377A of the Penal Code continues to criminalise consensual sex between adult men, and the same level of protection for married heterosexual couples is not available to committed same-sex couples. While a married man or woman can apply for a personal protection order from the Family Court against their abusive spouse or ex-spouse, a gay man or lesbian is not able to do the same. Instead, they can only report the offence to the police or take out a private summons against the abusive partner through the Subordinate Courts, which is a tedious process and offers a lower level of protection.

All these reasons serve as very real barriers that prevent a victim of LGBT violence from seeking help. Sadly, as part of Oogachaga’s ongoing outreach services through the Internet, Choong has made observations about responses from within the LGBT community.

“The understanding of this issue is so low… it is common to read in local forums that one should not be too ‘drama’ by claiming their partner is violent; or maybe one must have done something ‘wrong’ to deserve a violent treatment.”

Tan, whose professional experience includes working with same-sex as well as heterosexual couples in abusive relationships, adds,

“No one starts out with the intention to hurt their partner. However, they may lack the appropriate coping skills or effective communication skills to convey their needs to their partner, resulting in them using violence to obtain power and exert control.”

So how can WE help?

According to Tan, it is important that concerned family members and friends adopt different approaches toward helping victims and perpetrators.

For the abused victim:

  • Assure them it is not their fault that their partner used violence on them
  • Offer a listening ear
  • Encourage them to talk to someone, such as a professional, to help with their issues
  • Check in on them with regard to their safety
  • Invite them to call you in case of an emergency
  • Offer to call the police for help when there is danger

For the abusive perpetrator:

  • Let them know that they should seek professional help with their issues
  • Encourage them to work on using other ways of resolving their issues
  • Provide a listening ear, but do not condone their abusive actions, or agree with what they are doing as being right.

In addition to Oogachaga’s hotline, email and counselling services for the LGBT community, those affected by partner violence can also contact Care Corner Family Service Centre (Queenstown) where Project START is based. However, according to its website, I noted that one of their key missions is “To base all activities on Christian values”. This statement may worry many in the LGBT community, since the traditional stand adopted by Christianity is to condemn homosexuality and transgenderism as “unnatural” and an “abomination”.

When I asked about this, Tan clarifies by saying,

“Although Care Corner is a Christian-based organization, we serve all clients in the community who are in need, regardless of their race, religion, socio-economic status or educational level, and provide the same level of service to people from all walks of life. We also follow the professional code of ethics and believe in seeing each person with their individual worth, regardless of their worldview, sexual orientation and the choices that they make. We also ensure that confidentiality is maintained, unless harm has been done to self or others.”

Additionally, Tan explains that at Project START, working with someone affected by partner violence means focussing on developing a safety plan together, so as to keep them safe, regardless of whether they wish to continue in the relationship. If a client chooses to stay in the relationship, they will invite the abusive partner to attend counselling sessions to work on using more effective ways of coping or communicating with one another.

To the wider LGBT community, Choong has this message:

“Under no circumstances should anyone have any reason to be emotionally, verbally, physically or sexually abusive to another person, even if they are in a relationship. If you are a victim, do not be afraid of seeking help or talking to someone who can support you.  If you are not in a violent relationship, arm yourself with knowledge on how and when to assist a friend who may need your help. “

We all know love can sometimes hurt, but it shouldn’t be in this way. LGBT partner violence is very real and occurring in Singapore. We need to keep talking about it so that it does not remain invisible.

*        *        *

What happened to Wee Lee?

Towards the end of my hour-long interview with Wee Lee, during which he also showed me the scar where he was stabbed by his partner’s knife, I was told that his relationship, and his ordeal, finally ended after four-and-a-half years.


Oogachaga will be organising a community talk on intimate partner violence, entitled “When Love Hurts: Understanding violence in LGBT relationships”, on 29 September 2012, Saturday afternoon. For more details and online registration before 27 September, visit their website.
You can read Wee Lee’s full story, along with others, in the ebook.

Violence in GLBT relationships

Violence in gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender relationships

Do you know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and caught in a violent relationship with their partner, like Wee Lee in his story “Let go of your fears”? Or maybe someone you know is being abusive towards their partner, girlfriend or boyfriend?

Domestic violence is:

* Any type of abusive behaviour used to gain and maintain control over another.

* When one partner or ex-partner consciously tries to manipulate and dominate the other.

* About the misuse of power and control.

Types of GLBT domestic violence

Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical violence, sexual assault, emotional abuse or social control. Abuse does not always have to be physical or sexual to become domestic violence.

Emotional or psychological abuse is any type of behaviour by one partner to make the other feel afraid, worthless or unsafe.

Examples of emotional and psychological abuse include:

* Putting the partner down eg, telling them that they are ugly, stupid or incompetent.

* Humiliating them in front of friends, family or in public.

* ‘Outing’ or threatening to out them to friends, family, at work or to their cultural community.

* Undermining the relationship between the partner and their loved ones.

* Threatening to self-harm or commit suicide

Social abuse is any behaviour by one partner to control the other’s social life. It can include:

* Stopping them from visiting their friends or family.

* Abusing or fighting with their friends or family so they stop visiting or calling.

* Locking them in the house, or preventing them from attending social events.

Physical abuse is any type of physical violence that an abusive partner inflicts on the other. It can include:

* Hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, strangling or burning.

* Breaking possessions or punching/kicking walls.

* Withholding or stopping their partner from getting medication or treatments.

Sexual abuse is any behaviour where one partner forces the other to perform sexual acts against their will. It can include:

* Pressuring them to have sex when they don’t want to.

* Pressuring, forcing or tricking them into non-consensual or unsafe sex.

* Forcing them to have sex with other people.

* Sexually assaulting or raping them.

Stalking is any behaviour by which one partner (or ex-partner) tries to intimidate or harass the other. It can include:

Following them when they go to work, home or out.

Constantly watching them, their home or workplace.

Calling, texting or e-mailing them or their family, friends or work colleagues more often than is appropriate or when asked not to.


Are you struggling with GLBT violence issues in your relationship, or know someone who is in need of help and support?

 Although we might not have a comprehensive programme in Singapore for people involved in and affected by GLBT relationship violence, we do hope you can talk to someone about it, stay safe and work out a solution.

Oogachaga Counselling & Support

Promoting Alternatives to Violence (PAVe)

Action for Women and Research (AWARE)

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)

If there is any immediate danger or imminent threat to life, please call the Police emergency hotline 999.


Another Closet: Domestic violence in gay & lesbian relationships.

This is an edited version of the original article entitled Violence in a gay relationship written by Bryan Choong, Centre Manager, Oogachaga, first posted on Blowing Wind.

Hard to talk about issues

The personal, real-life stories in the book I Will Survive have raised issues that many of us may either have some experience with, or encountered in our friends or family members.

If you’d like some additional support or information, here are some local services based in Singapore (highlighted in red), as well as international resources, organised alphabetically by issue.

For a more extensive list of Singapore-based resources, please refer to the Resources tab. Please contact the Editor to let us know if you have any amendments to the listings, or suggestions for inclusion.


National Addictions Management Service (NAMS)

We Care Community Services

BBC Health – Sex addiction


The Bisexual Index

I think I might be bisexual, now what do I do?

What is bisexuality? (Psychology Today, 11 July 2010)


Bully-free Campaign

More students call for help against bullies (Channel News Asia, 8 May 2007)

1 in 4 secondary school students bullied (Sunday Times, 16 July 2006)

Schools take serious view against bullying (Ministry of Education, 21 October 2005)

Befrienders Worldwide – About bullying


What if I’m gay? A coming out guide

Coming Out, Coming Home (Psychology Today, 23 July, 2010)

Support in coming out helps LGB well-being (Health.com, 20 June 2010)

National Coming Out Day


Action for AIDS, Singapore


DSC Clinic

BBC News – The HIV/ AIDS Debate

NAM AIDSmap – Sharing knowledge, changing lives

The Body – The complete HIV/ AIDS resource


Married Gay

Married Male – Resource centre for the bi-married male

Gay Husbands, Straight Wives

Millions of women married to gay men in China (Fridae, 3 Feb 2012)


Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT)

Institute of Mental Health (IMH)

Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)

Health Promotion Board (HPB)

BBC Mental Health

Befrienders Worldwide – About depression


SAFE Singapore (Supporting, Affirming, & Empowering our LGBTQ friends & family)

My Child is Gay (book by Bryce McDougall, 2007)

What to do when your child says “I’m gay!” (Psychology Today, 18 April, 2011)


Promoting Alternatives to Violence (PAVe)

Another Closet (Australia)


As Salam – online group for queer Muslims

Free Community Church (FCC) – a diverse Christian congregation

Heartland – gay Buddhist fellowship

What does the Bible actually say about being gay? (BBC News, 23 October 2003)

To be gay & Muslim (AlterNet, 9 April, 2002)

Gay Muslims (Channel 4 documentary, 2006)


Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)

Befrienders Worldwide – About self-harm

Youth Suicide – Gay/ bisexual men


Sg Butterfly – Singapore’s 1st transgender community portal



Association of Women for Action & Research (AWARE)

RedQueen! – for queer women in Singapore

Sayoni – to empower Asian queer women

Women’s Nite – a safe space in Singapore lesbian & bisexual women to gather & discuss

Women who love women (documentary, 2006)

Disclaimer The information provided here is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as (or be a substitute for) medical, personal or professional advice, or services. Any medical or other significant life decisions should be made in conjunction with a qualified professional, a list of which can be found under “Professional Resources”. The editor and any other companies or persons associated with the production of this website assume no responsibility for any omissions or errors contained herein and will not be liable for any complications, injuries or other accidents arising from or in connection with, the use of or reliance upon any information in this website.