The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) has found that a gay male domestic violence survivor has probable cause in his discrimination complaint against the R.O.S.E. Fund.
The complainant (whose name is being withheld to protect his privacy) is in need of facial reconstructive surgery to repair broken facial bones and teeth suffered during an abusive relationship. The complainant attempted to apply for The R.O.S.E. Fund’s facial reconstructive surgery program but was told that he could not apply due to his sex. The R.O.S.E. Fund routinely provides free access to facial reconstructive surgery to female victims of domestic violence.
GMDVP’s Legal Assistance for Victims program is funded to provide holistic legal services around a survivor’s experience with domestic violence. Often our legal work is specifically focused on overcoming GLBTQ-based discrimination for the survivors we represent (such as with the police and criminal justice system). This time, the survivor came to GMDVP requesting assistance in overcoming discrimination from another domestic violence organization, The R.O.S.E. Fund.
GMDVP worked to encourage The R.O.S.E. Fund to respond appropriately to the survivor before finally moving forward with the MCAD complaint — which alleged discrimination on the basis of sex in a place of public accommodation and in the provision of services. 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.
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 non-discriminatory determination that female domestic violence survivors suffer unique self-esteem issues that male domestic violence survivors do not.
The State of Massachusetts is clear in its messaging to contractors and grant recipients that state-funded domestic violence 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. GLBTQ advocates have argued that denying services based on gender and/or sexual orientation is discrimination.
Curt Rogers, GMDVP’s Executive Director, 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. “As a victim who was denied services, it is clear to me that denying access based on gender or sexual orientation is straight-forward discrimination. It is also devastating to GLBTQ victims who are then re-traumatized, left without support and, in many cases, more likely to experience continued and escalating abuse.”
Pierre Berastain, Co-Chair of the GLBT Domestic Violence Coalition, stated “GLBTQ individuals experience domestic violence at rates equal to or higher than heterosexual women. I hope the MCAD probable cause finding helps programs see that blocking GLBTQ survivors’ access to services is not only wrong, but also illegal.” Wayne Thomas, GMDVP’s 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.”
GMDVP is aware that this case may be controversial for some in the domestic violence and sexual assault community and that it may set legal precedent with implications for some domestic violence programs. At the end of the day, GMDVP is providing legal services to a survivor who is requesting equal access to facial reconstructive surgery and we trust the community will stand with us in support of this survivor.
GMDVP has advocated to increase access to services for GLBTQ victims of domestic violence since its inception in 1994. In the past 5 years, the organization has provided technical assistance to mainstream domestic violence programs that are transitioning into fully inclusive programs.