During its 47 years of existence, the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) has served as innovators, empowering survivors to remove barriers through legislative advocacy and systems change, as well as the breadth of services provided for those who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Domestic and sexual violence, as well as sex trafficking, are social issues plaguing every population, and exponentially so in marginalized communities. According to WomenAgainstAbuse.com, 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women experience physical violence, sexual violence or stalking, compared to 35% of heterosexual women.

A 2016 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 44% of LGBTQIA+ survivors were denied shelter services when fleeing from domestic and sexual violence. HAWC provides emergency housing to lesbian, female bisexual survivors, and transwomen and serves them with reverence and dignity. As our transgender survivors make a temporary home at our residential campus, they are served by advocates who build trust, and collaborate with HAWC colleagues from each client service area to connect them with services designed to prevent the cycle of abuse they’ve endured. Survivors have returned to HAWC’s residential campus following a subsequent incident of harm, citing experiencing inclusivity and respect as they receive lifesaving services.

Economic empowerment serves as a powerful response to financial dependence overwhelmingly experienced by survivors. More frequently than not, those who have been harmed, including survivors of the LGBTQIA+ community, remain with or return to their abusers out of fear of the inability to financially support themselves and their children. While at HAWC, survivors’ resume building, job readiness and financial literacy skills are strengthened through direct work alongside case managers. Survivors get the support needed to transition into permanent housing they can sustain through financial self-sufficiency.

HAWC’s lifesaving services are critical to the trajectory of LGBTQIA+ survivors. We have worked alongside a transgender survivor as she traversed through critical counseling services that empowered her to flee her sex trafficker, obtain life-sustaining employment and, eventually, a safe place to live.

Emerging empowered, she sought criminal charges against him, and received further legal advocacy services through HAWC that helped her obtain lawful U.S. status. Another survivor received advocacy services at a local hospital after experiencing sexual violence and was grateful for the support she received including the provision of gender-confirming clothing. This continuum of wrap around services is critical to LGBTQIA+ survivors, as it sets the stage for the resource equity necessary for transformation to safe, healthy lives free from abuse and harm.

While HAWC serves and advocates for all, supports LGBTQIA+ survivors through community partnerships and events, and provides lifesaving services to all survivors, we realize that the work must continue to evolve. As we observe PRIDE month, Houston Area Women’s Center recognizes the specific challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ survivors and the significant need for equity in services. Although we realize that the domestic and sexual violence movement has made strides in how LGBTQIA+ survivors are regarded and served, we look to the future as we continue to put survivors’ voices first and revolutionize violence prevention for every community.

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