10/27/2012 12:55 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Gay Man Sues Domestic Violence Program for Discrimination

This piece was co-written with Curt Rogers

After being denied access to facial reconstructive surgery by the R.O.S.E. Fund, a free service routinely afforded to female victims of domestic violence, a gay male victim of domestic violence (whose name is being withheld to protect his privacy) filed suit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The complainant is not seeking monetary damages, only that he be provided the requested facial reconstructive surgery and that the R.O.S.E. Fund change its policy and stop discriminating in the provision of services on the basis of an applicant's sex. On July 10, 2012, MCAD issued a finding of Probable Cause against the R.O.S.E. Fund. The case moves to Conciliation in January 2013.

The complainant is a gay male survivor of domestic violence in need of facial reconstructive surgery to repair broken facial bones and teeth suffered during an abusive relationship. In 2008 the complainant attempted to apply for the R.O.S.E. Fund's facial reconstructive surgery program but was told that he cannot apply due to his sex. In 2009 the complainant filed a complaint with MCAD alleging discrimination on the basis of his sex in a place of public accommodation and in the provision of services.

The R.O.S.E. Fund has defended its policy to limit services to female survivors of domestic violence, arguing that "including men it its programs would detract from its purpose, and discourage volunteer and financial supporters." MCAD rejected the R.O.S.E. Fund argument that exclusion of males is based on a legitimate and nondiscriminatory determination that female domestic violence survivors suffer unique self-esteem issues that male domestic violence survivors do not.

Historically, there has been disagreement within the domestic violence community as to whether programs must provide services to male victims. Many funders of domestic violence services, especially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, are clear in their message to grant recipients that services must be available to all survivors. However, some domestic violence programs, such as the R.O.S.E. Fund, have argued that it is appropriate to deny services to victims based on gender, as many domestic programs were initially set up to serve women. LGBTQ advocates have argued that denying services based on gender and/or sexual orientation is discrimination.

Curt Rogers, Executive Director of the Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project, is a gay male survivor who was repeatedly denied access to domestic violence shelters when he was fleeing an attempted murder at the hands of his abusive partner. He said:

As a victim who was denied services, it is clear to me that denying access based on gender or sexual orientation is straightforward discrimination. It is also devastating to GLBTQ victims who are then retraumatized, left without support and, in many cases, more likely to experience continued and escalating abuse.

In fact, LGBTQ individuals experience domestic violence at rates equal to or higher than heterosexual women. Blocking LGBTQ survivors' access to services is not only wrong but illegal. Wayne Thomas, the Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project attorney representing the complainant, indicated that "the case could set a clear precedent about access to domestic violence services and that it is especially important for traditionally marginalized GLBTQ victims."

The Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project has advocated to increase access to services for LGBTQ victims of domestic violence since its inception in 1994. In the past five years the organization has provided technical assistance to mainstream domestic violence programs that transitioned into fully inclusive programs.