Significant challenges remain to achieving equitable policy recognition for lesbian, gay, bi + , trans and gender diverse, intersex, and queer identifying (LGBTIQ) people experiencing family violence in Australia. This translates to limited availability of government resources to develop safe, accessible, and affirming care that is genuinely LGBTIQ-inclusive, despite studies in Australia and overseas consistently demonstrating that LGBTIQ people experience high rates of family violence (Hill et al., 2020; Rollè et al., 2018).

These policy and resource gaps are sometimes qualified with the caveat that there remains limited evidence about the perpetration and impact of family violence in LGBTIQ communities. This claim is often extrapolated to imply that there is little consensus about which models of primary prevention, early intervention, perpetrator intervention and crisis support for LGBTIQ victim-survivors are optimal, and that without such consensus, significant service investment is inadvisable (Australian Government Department of Social Services, 2022; Lusby et al., 2022; Northern Territory Government, 2018).

This putative evidence deficit may appear particularly pronounced when available data from LGBTIQ populations is volumetrically compared against the extant evidence base regarding hetero-gendered violence and related interventions (Calton et al., 2016; Messinger, 2017; Our Watch, 2021; Yakubovich et al., 2018). This volumetric disparity is often cited by governments and other funding entities as a justification for political inaction, with the implied promise that investment into LGBTIQ-inclusive services will organically ensue once the severity and scope of LGBTIQ family violence is sufficiently demonstrated (Lusby et al., 2022). However, the threshold of what constitutes ‘sufficient’ evidence is frequently either nebulous or ill-defined. This then enables an argument of a perpetual evidence deficit that warrants further investigation instead of immediate investment. In turn, this creates a self-perpetuating quandary whereby underinvestment constrains service expansion, making opportunities to collect routine or administrative data to demonstrate the service needs of LGBTIQ victim-survivors scarce.

This paper highlights these tensions and articulates the ways that data and evidence are positioned in discourses about implementing LGBTIQ-inclusive family violence services. We look at the political contours of evidence-based policy and issues in positioning ‘evidence’ as ideologically neutral. In doing so, we draw attention to the ways that this terrain shapes the ways that different forms of knowledge are regarded as legitimate forms of evidence in political decision-making and the ways these are shaped by political and ideological imperatives. We consider the importance of being attentive to political processes other than the use and availability of evidence which come into play in efforts to change parameters for investment in social policy, and the ways that these articulate in the context of improving the inclusivity of family violence services for LGBTIQ people. We also explore the opacity of the threshold of ‘enough’ evidence and the cost to community of trying to meet that threshold in ways that will be accepted by those in power.

LGBTIQ Experiences of Family Violence

Family violenceFootnote 1 comprises patterned behaviour wherein the cumulative impact of tactics of abuse are coercion, control, and intimidation, regardless of the criminality of individual instances of abuse (Rathus, 2013; Stark & Hester, 2019). Thus, tactics used to perpetrate family violence are multitudinous and include emotional, verbal, psychological, financial, technological, and social abuses, as well as physical assault, property damage and threats of harm.

Evidence from the largest LGBTIQ health and wellbeing study in Australia, Private Lives 3 (Hill et al., 2020) found that 60.7% of study participants reported experiencing some form of intimate partner violence (IPV) and 43.2% reported experiencing some form of violence perpetrated by member/s of their family of origin. Further, only 28% of participants who indicated they had experienced family violence in their lifetime said that they reported their most recent experience of family violence to service providers. This contrasts with data from previous research which showed that 54% of Australian women reported seeking help, advice, or support in the context of current partner violence (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, 2023). Family violence services across all jurisdictions in Australia are broadly recognised as insufficient to meet demand and community need (Australian Government Department of Social Services, 2022; State Government of Victoria, 2016). Moreover, what services do exist cater predominantly to heterosexual cisgender women, presenting an additional barrier to service access and utilization for the majority of LGBTIQ persons (Amos et al., 2023).

There is a growing body of work examining the barriers to help-seeking faced by LGBTIQ victim-survivors (Carman et al., 2020; Lusby et al., 2022; Lim et al., 2023). Much of this literature considers service shortfalls from the perspective of victim-survivors, and the consequences of lacking inclusive and appropriate care (Calton et al., 2016; Donovan & Barnes, 2020; Kurdyla et al., 2021). There have also been important contributions which consider the invisibility of LGBTIQ people in population-level surveys and policy debates about family violence in Australia (Lyons et al., 2020; Seymour, 2019) and the implications of these gaps on resourcing and policy development. Across these studies, however, the perspectives of service providers and representatives of LGBTIQ community-controlled organisations are often missing. This paper foregrounds the expertise of practitioners and community advocates. We argue that their accounts and existing evidence show that the need for investment in more inclusive services is clear. Further, that such investment is in fact a critical element in facilitating continuous improvement in what is known and understood about LGBTIQ experiences of family violence, and the service needs of those communities.

What Constitutes ‘Enough’ Evidence in Evidence-Based Policy

‘Evidence-based policy’ broadly describes the idea that policy decisions should be primarily shaped by evidence rather than ideological or political interests (Parkhurst, 2017). It gained increased popularity as a philosophy of governance in the 1990s with the ‘New Labour’ movement in the United Kingdom (Coote et al., 2004; Prosser & Denniss, 2015) although as Kay (2011, p. 236) points out, ‘the ambition to base policy on evidence reaches back at least as far as the origins of the policy sciences,’ in the 1960s and 70 s. Since the mid-2000s, this same ambition has been central to Australian governments’ and public service agencies’ concept of best practice policy-making and implementation: finding out ‘what works’ and incorporating these findings into future initiatives (Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, 2010; Kay, 2011).

Few would argue against policy-making predicated upon the best available evidence. Indeed, critiques of evidence-based policy stem not from precepts, nor its use as a normative framework for prioritising key issues and guiding decision-making processes, but rather from its application in political discourse. Within these contexts, ‘evidence’ is implicitly positioned as a politically neutral category of knowledge; that once built, an evidence-base naturalistically elicits policy change and government investment through simply demonstrating a need.

What Makes Evidence Matter?

To understand the issues inherent in this proposition, first we must interrogate the epistemic dimensions of ‘evidence’ as a category of knowledge. More pointedly, what kinds of information are admissible as evidence by decision-makers, and at what threshold is evidence deemed ‘sufficient’ for generating political will, policy attention and investment? Critics of evidence-based policy argue that these determinations are often opaque, and subject to considerable variance even among individual decision-makers. Ultimately, the definitions of actionable evidence within these contexts are often value-driven and political. By extension, application of evidence to policy cannot be claimed as neutral interpretation of data: definitions are shaped by the policy problem being considered, its scope, potential impact, and the likely political implications of action or inaction (Botterill & Hindmoor, 2012). Academic research and population-level data collection (e.g., census data or other large surveys) have historically constituted two important sources of evidence. These also sit alongside monitoring and evaluation data and consultations with impacted communities or interest groups and with ‘experts’ appointed by governments or public service departments (Nutley & Homel, 2006). A variety of political and relational factors in the process of policy-making shape the ways in which the findings and recommendations of these sources are weighted, interpreted and their relative legitimacy assessed (Prosser & Denniss, 2015). As Nutley and Homel (2006, p. 8) point out, ‘The aim of an evidence-informed process is to try to increase the relative prominence given to evidence during the policy process, with due acknowledgement that other factors, such as ideology, personal experience, media interest and politics, will remain influential.’

Evidence as Credibility Currency

For issues affecting marginalised social groups, one of the first steps in moving towards improved visibility in policy and funding is for community representatives to advocate to government about community needs. This is done in a variety of ways, including by amplifying the core work of community groups and non-government organisations (NGOs), and by sharing what these organisations hear from their communities about the issues they face and the additional support that is needed. These lessons need to be presented in ways that policy audiences will see as credible and legitimate. As such, LGBTIQ organisations, like many other community sector organisations, are increasingly required to dedicate significant resources towards research to build a case for improved support for their work (Grundy & Smith, 2007; Kothari, 2005).

Seeking to justify or encourage increased government policy recognition and resourcing is of course not the only, or even primary, reason that LGBTIQ organisations may seek to improve what is known and understood about the issues facing their communities. Research, monitoring and evaluation, and knowledge dissemination, particularly that which is done by and for communities, is important for generating and improving approaches to community supports, from activism to service provision. However, Grundy and Smith (2007) point to a trend where knowledge production by LGBTIQ organisations is increasingly positioned as a means to convince policy-makers and government funders of the legitimacy of community causes. Making LGBTIQ lives and concerns visible in public policy can be critically important for furthering rights and access to services for these communities.

At the same time, the onus on LGBTIQ communities and organisations to generate much of the evidence required to have these issues considered in policy raises two intertwined issues. Firstly, creating these kinds of knowledge outputs requires significant resourcing. This is often challenging for smaller or less ‘professionalised’ groups or organisations and may necessitate diverting resources away from community facing activities (Kothari, 2005). Additionally, moving towards models of organization that are conducive to the demands of evidence production can mean fundamental reorientations toward more professionalised organizational structures. These changes may be designed to increase organisational capacity to attract more stable funding and accommodate necessary growth to dedicate resources to this area of work. Such seismic reorientations of strategy and purpose can create distance and even tacit hierarchies between those organisations able to reliably participate in knowledge production considered as ‘legitimate’ by government and smaller organisations or representatives of more marginalised groups (Beam, 2018).

Second, Grundy and Smith note that this produces tensions in the framing of these issues, writing that, ‘research and knowledge production is inevitably bound up with struggles over which kinds of queer realities are to be made real within policy deliberation’ (2007, p. 296). That is, the kinds of knowledge produced with and for community need to be read as credible enough to also be the kind of evidence that backs evidence-based policy. As such, those producing knowledge for advocacy may be required to make choices about what aspects of LGBTIQ lives and concerns are foregrounded, and how these are positioned against hegemonic understandings of an issue. In the context of family violence, these might include mapping LGBTIQ experiences against the prevailing cisnormative and heteronormative understandings how abuse is perpetrated, the gender of who is most likely to perpetrate or experience violence, the relationship between perpetrator and victim-survivor, the impacts of family violence on affected individuals, as well as appropriate approaches to crisis response and intervention. Using a common lexicon to frame these issues is often crucial to building awareness of and fostering literacy around such issues. However, there is also risk that the unique permutations of service access needs, impacts of violence and the ways violence transpires may be obfuscated or deprioritised through the processes of policy development and implementation.

Bounded Rationalities and Epistemic Hierarchies

These processes are further shaped by the ways in which governments solicit evidence to inform policy-making decisions. Evidence produced in this manner is subject to time and resourcing constraints that make it generally unfeasible to canvas all evidence relating to complex social issues. This then necessitates the balancing and prioritization of needs across highly diverse constituencies. Parameters for how a policy review will take place, or what kinds of information needs to be considered are set according to Ministerial or departmental priorities in a process referred to as ‘bounded rationalities’ (Botterill & Hindmoor, 2012; Kay, 2011; Prosser & Denniss, 2015). As such, even before accepted evidence is recruited into the inherently political processes of policy development and resource allocation, both the ways that the issues are investigated, as well as the procurement of evidence is already shaped by particular values and ontological hierarchies.

Seymour (2019) demonstrates how heteronormative and cisnormative framings of family violence are positioned as parameters for evidence building and subsequently, policymaking, in the Australian context. She focuses particularly on the first National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women (Australian Government Department of Social Services, 2011) which discussed the gendered drivers and impacts of family violence almost exclusively in terms of presumptively cisgendered, heterosexual men’s violence against presumptively cisgendered, heterosexual women. This means that what Donovan and Hester (2010) have described as the ‘public story’ of family violence remains unexamined and the experiences of trans and gender diverse people or people in same-gender relationships remain invisible in official narratives. The second National Plan includes a much more comprehensive consideration of the ways that family violence affects LGBTIQ people (Australian Government Department of Social Services, 2022. However, observations from Seymour (2019) that a lack of evidence about the drivers and impacts of violence for these communities is the key reason for a predominant focus on men’s violence against women remain relevant.

Seymour (2019) attributes the insufficient consideration of LGBTIQ family violence to a purported lack of ‘evidence’ for support programs, noting the comparative abundance of available evidence for such support in relation to men’s violence against women. She further links this to the fact that the national Census of Population and Housing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not include questions about same-gender relationships and invites limited detail about gender diverse lives and identities from respondents. Lyons et al. (2020) analyse the same issue and the ways it is replicated across several large and prominent studies in Australia, surmising that this propagates a pattern that significantly limits present understandings about the facilitating factors of LGBTIQ health and wellbeing and service needs.

This is observable in the Census and the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) surveys, where respondents are asked to provide their sex rather than gender, with options limited to man, woman or ‘other’. This is also the case in the national Personal Safety Survey administered by the ABS and, despite considerable advocacy from LGBTIQ community and human rights organisations, was replicated in the 2021 Census (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022). This means surveys, ‘are unlikely to adequately capture the identities that many people have, thus potentially resulting in respondents either misclassifying their identity or discontinuing the survey’ (Lyons et al., 2020, p. 25). Policy decisions to not collect these data means that it remains possible to argue that the evidence is not available to inform future proposals about service design and delivery for LGBTIQ communities.

Carol Bacchi proposes a model for critically interrogating these dynamics through the application of her feminist framework for policy analysis ‘what is the problem represented to be?’ (Bacchi, 1999, 2009). She demonstrates that in describing proposed solutions, ‘policies and policy proposals contain implicit representations of what is considered to be the “problem” (“problem representations”)’ (Bacchi, 2012, p. 21). To adapt an example given by Bacchi in this same chapter, if building an evidence base to inform future intervention is the primary recommendation for improving LGBTIQ family violence responses, this implies that existing knowledge about community service needs from research or LGBTIQ community advocates is insufficient to justify comprehensive action or investment. After establishing what the problem is represented to be in a policy proposal, ‘what is the problem represented to be?’ sets out a further four questions to help critically examine the assumptions that underpin representation of a problem: how this representation came about; what is left unproblematic or silent in the representation of the ‘problem’; the effects produced by this representation; and how and where this representation of the ‘problem’ has been produced and defended (Bacchi, 2012). In the second part of this paper, we use these prompts as a means to consider stakeholder perspectives on how LGBTIQ family violence responses are positioned in mainstream policy discussions. We then consider contexts where more inclusive policy has been implemented, its effects and possible future directions for government investment and policy development.


Participant Recruitment

Between November 2020 and January 2021, 19 semi-structured interviews were conducted over video-conferencing software with 21 stakeholders from specialist family violence services, sexual violence services and LGBTIQ community-led services.

Several participants were recruited by directly approaching key stakeholders who were known by the research team to be working on LGBTIQ-inclusive family violence service provision in different areas of Australia. The research team also emailed service provider organisations inviting their participation in the study and requesting that any of their staff who would like to participate in an interview contact the research team. At the end of their interview, participants were asked whether there were other key stakeholders in their local context who we should invite for interview, thus snowballing the sample.

Data Collection

Interviews were between 25 and 60 min in length. Most interviews (n = 17) were conducted one-on-one with n = 2 interviews conducted with two present at the same time. These interviews took place as part of a multiphase study, Opening Doors: ensuring LGBTIQ-inclusive family, domestic and sexual violence services (Lusby et al., 2022).

Participants were offered the choice as to whether they used their cameras or not during the interview and informed that every effort would be made to anonymise their identity in any outputs from the study. For those participants who had been invited to participate as a result of research team contact with their employer, they were reminded that the research team could not ensure anonymity within their workplace. In these instances, we discussed ways of approaching the interview to ensure that they could speak frankly but in ways that did not compromise their security in their workplace. Participants were provided the opportunity to ask questions prior to the start of the interview and told that they could withdraw at any time, and only answer questions in as much detail as felt comfortable for them. Participants were also informed that they were free to withdraw comments from the study if they did not want them included.

The semi-structured interviews aimed to investigate expert opinion about how family violence services can support LGBTIQ communities. Participants discussed the policy, funding, community and service level barriers and enablers to LGBTIQ-inclusive family violence service provision. They also discussed their hopes for future improvements in their service and in the sectors that they worked within.

Participant Characteristics

Some participants noted multiple organizational affiliations and others singular; their roles spanned direct family violence or other social service practice (n = 11), policy advocacy and sector coordination (n = 8), management and leadership (n = 8). Respondents worked across mainstream family violence (n = 11) and LGBTIQ community-led sectors (n = 12). All Australian states and territories were represented in the sample. Of those working in women’s or general population specialist family violence services, some described organisations that had made significant progress towards developing LGBTIQ-inclusive practice and others described organisations where this work was nascent or not yet in scope for their service.

Participants’ occupational experiences spanned refuge accommodation, counselling, primary prevention, advocacy, homelessness support, mental health and alcohol or other drug use services. All participants and their workplaces are referred to using pseudonyms.

Data Analysis

Audio recordings of interviews were transcribed and coded by the first, second and fourth authors using qualitative research analysis software. The analytical approach was grounded in thematic analysis. A preliminary coding framework was developed through collaborative discussion among the research team and drew upon interview notes, extant literature, and the authors’ prior research experience and experience working in family violence and LGBTIQ community-led health sectors. This was refined and expanded as first and second authors engaged in line-by-line coding using this framework. The finalized coding framework comprised 13 parent codes and 27 sub-codes.

The positioning of evidence in LGBTIQ family violence policy, funding and practice emerged as a theme through this analysis. Carol Bacchi’s feminist policy analysis framework, ‘what is the problem represented to be’ was used as the organising principle for further analysis of data coded under this theme by the authors.


Institutional ethics approval was granted for this study by the La Trobe University Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) (Project ID: HEC20360). Quotes in the following section are presented alongside a participant pseudonym, their occupational role, and a description of the organisation they worked within.

Analysis and Discussion

What is the Problem Represented to Be? Insufficient Evidence

As previously stated, the abiding ‘problem’ is framed as an insufficiency of evidence about the drivers, perpetration, impacts and appropriate service responses of LGBTIQ family violence, such that comprehensive investment in service delivery across prevention, early intervention and response sectors cannot be reasonably justified. Hence, when the experiences of LGBTIQ and other minority populations in relation to family violence fail to be captured by government-led data collection efforts, these issues become functionally invisibilized:

If you’re not in the dataset, you don’t exist and so therefore there is no compelling reasons to change policy or service response.

  • Genevieve, senior manager, LGBTIQ peer-led health organisation

As Genevieve’s quote suggests, the implicit expectation that all sufficiently pressing problems will invariably become self-evident further underscored a subsequent inertia to re-evaluating or revising these determinations. The primacy afforded to visibility within evidence-based paradigms is further underscored by low rates of identity self-disclosure amongst LGBTIQ victim-survivors. Hence, it was not uncommon for LGBTIQ victim-survivors to be nominally absent from intake data, presumably due to fears of ill-treatment from service workers (see: Lim et al., 2023). As one participant stated:

We have some anecdotal evidence that there are members of the LGBTIQ [community] that come through our services, but we don’t have the data … we think that it probably works out about the same [as rates among heterosexual cisgender women], but then we don’t actually have any evidence that we can say here’s where we need to improve this service or even have this service

  • Jane, senior manager, mainstream specialist family violence service

Several participants expressed frustration towards perceived demands on LGBTIQ victim-survivors to essentially perform vulnerability. That is, being required not only to demonstrate the validity and legitimacy of their experiences of abuse, but also to convince policy-makers that these experiences are of equivalent or greater significance and gravity as those of cisgender, heterosexual women and their children. Ava, a senior staff member with an LGBTIQ community-controlled family violence referral service, explained that policy-makers and colleagues working to address men’s violence against women in the family violence sector seemingly needed to be convinced that there was enough harm to justify action:

The data stuff is really hard, isn’t it, because that’s exactly, you know, that’s what the mainstream wants from us, from us as a specialist sector, is they want us to tell them the data of harm caused to people before they act on something. You know, it’s like we have to remind ourselves that the Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria was built on the murder of Luke Batty; it was prompted by his murder.Footnote 2 And if we, do we have to wait for that to happen? I mean, I don’t know, I find that such an offensive idea. But I think that they want – it’s like, show us the bodies. That’s what they want us to do; show us the bodies and we will act differently.

  • Ava, practice manager, LGBTIQ community-controlled family violence program

Ava’s allusion to the role of Luke Batty’s death in galvanizing political will and action points to a particularly troubling dimension of admissible, anecdotal evidence that policy audiences are accustomed to. Hence, because the stories and experiences of LGBTIQ victim-survivors of family violence have to date not generated similarly politically charged and highly publicised public outcry, Ava suggests that LGBTIQ family violence is not treated with the same gravity and urgency.

How did This Representation Come About? The Public Story of Family Violence

The broader history of activism for policy change around family violence has shaped the public narrative represented in contemporary policy frameworks. Feminist activism, in particular, the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s, provided the foundations of current scholarship, legislation, policy and action around family violence in contemporary Australia (Arrow, 2018; Ramsay, 2007; VicHealth, 2015).

The early focus of family violence practice and advocacy on heterosexual women and their children, and concurrent emphasis on physical assault in discussions of family violence is reflected in early terminology such as ‘wife battering’ (Groves & Thomas, 2013). This was successful in bringing to public attention a vast epidemic of otherwise unrecognised violence in Australian communities. For decades, feminist practitioners and advocates working collaboratively with victim-survivors have understood the multifaceted ways that family violence is perpetrated (Rathus, 2013). However, study participants reflected on the ways that these early framings of family violence, simplified to capture attention of policymakers and the general public, formed the ‘public story’ of how family violence is thought of in wider Australian society. This inadvertently constrained broader understandings of the demographic groups that experience violence, and their service needs.

When we have a narrative that’s existed for a long period of time – and rightfully so – that violence is primarily men’s violence against women and children, there is no space for that story for people that fit outside that sort of cultural narrative. So, I think for a long time LGBTIQ people who live in different family dynamics or have different kind of relationship structures haven’t seen themselves in the story.

  • Genevieve, senior manager, LGBTIQ peer-led health organisation

Despite increased attention in Australian media and policy discussions over recent years, family violence services across the country remain chronically under-resourced (Fitz-Gibbon et al., 2022). These issues are compounded in less populous states and territories, and outside of urban centres. In Victoria, a state where considerable family violence service reform and attendant increases in funding and service expansion have transpired, women experiencing family violence are still likely to encounter long waiting periods for services, including crisis accommodation, legal assistance and psychosocial support (Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor, 2021). Participants reported that these wait times are exacerbated for LGBTIQ victim-survivors. Moreover, specific subgroups (e.g., trans women) often found themselves nebulously or tenuously positioned in relation to mainstream women’s services. While legally prohibited from discriminating against clients on the basis of sexual or gender identity (Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013), non-discrimination may not equate to appropriate and affirming care (Lusby et al., 2022).

Study participants reported that some of the apparent reticence towards broadening the scope of family violence services encountered from colleagues stemmed from apprehensions that implementing LGBTIQ-inclusive services would further strain already-insufficient resources. This is underscored by a tension in the ways that LGBTIQ family violence is understood. While sexual and gender minority individuals’ experiences of violence can be genuinely distinct from those of heterosexual women, participants observed that the absence of a shared, normative framework for understanding LGBTIQ family violence means that in many contexts, it is considered as a wholly separate issue from family violence perpetrated against women and their children. This siloing ultimately enables the perception of attending to the violence experienced by LGBTIQ populations as additional, rather than core, to the scope of existing services.

Participants discussed how this is reflected in the oftentimes imprecise way that LGBTIQ people are represented in family violence policy. As one participant cites:

[Policies are] all a bit confusing in the sense that it keeps going prevention of violence against women or support for violence against women, [but] then it’ll say that LGBTIQ people are priority populations

  • Erin, LGBTIQ Family Violence Consultant

Other participants suggested that this is tied to efforts by policy-makers to ensure that understandings of much family violence as gendered violence and correlated to broader patterns of violence against women were not lost. This ultimately relates to a perceived dichotomy held by some in the family violence sector between LGBTIQ-inclusive service implementation and an understanding of the gendered violence of violence against women. Recent work which examines family violence experienced by LGBTIQ people challenges this assumption and demonstrates that homophobia and transphobia are also inherently gendered, and likewise inform expressions of family violence (Carman et al., 2020; Our Watch, 2021). Study participants articulated their frustration towards being asked to nuance discussion of gender in the context of family violence so as to make policy more LGBTIQ-inclusive, only to find the prevailing focus on violence against (presumptively cis) women difficult to shift. Erin expounded on their experience with various government bodies and leaders from the family violence sector:

They’ve said, ‘can you make sure [our policy or practice guidelines are] inclusive?’ I’ve written back and said it’s actually not at all inclusive, here’s a couple of options of how you can make it inclusive […] I won't hear a response and then they’ll release it in exactly the way that it was before […] sometimes it would be 20 emails back and forth and two or three meetings and [there will be no change].

  • Erin, LGBTIQ family violence consultant

Collectively, these quotes demonstrate how heteronormative and cisnormative conceptualizations of family violence erroneously frame LGBTIQ victim-survivors’ experiences as wholly distinct from those of their heterosexual counterparts. Service providers and stakeholders may consequently perceive that they are effectively required to demonstrate the urgency and gravity of LGBTIQ individuals’ experiences as a phenomenon or ‘problem’ discrete from violence against women.

What is Left Silent or Unproblematic in the Framing of the Problem? The Necessity of Action

A crucial but unspoken issue associated with this framing relates to how determinations of what constitutes ‘enough’ evidence to warrant LGBTIQ-inclusive family violence policy and programming are often nebulous or undefined. This plays out in the situations described above wherein LGBTIQ populations are mentioned in policy, without their needs being adequately accommodated. Participants presented nuanced interpretations of this apparent reluctance to include genuinely inclusive recognition of LGBTIQ family violence in policy that would precipitate material change. Although discriminatory attitudes exist among isolated individuals working in the family violence sector, including those in positions to influence policy, participants suggested that overall, there was notable intent to improve services for LGBTIQ people. However, this was tempered by a perceived lack of sufficient evidence to inform policy or programmatic recommendations across family violence prevention and response, causing participants to perceive policymakers as overly-conservative about what can be said or included in concrete terms. The unspoken implication often suggested was that once more was known about the drivers, aetiology, and effects of LGBTIQ family violence, more comprehensive support would be provided. However, what ‘enough’ would look like, and how government decision-makers would be able to judge that that threshold was attained often remained opaque and/or highly subjective.

One reason that that governments and services may insist on the accrual of sufficient quantities of evidence before acting is to feel confident in responding to backlash they may receive as a result of, for instance, expanding victim-survivor support services for cisgender, heterosexual women to include or be made safer for trans or gender diverse people, or to cisgender men who have experienced family violence (Carman et al., 2022). Prosser and Dennis (2015, p. 75) refer to this as ‘analysis paralysis…where decision-makers postpone making hard decisions until “all the evidence is in.”’ That is, governments considering policy changes that are likely to be politically contentious may instead opt for incremental or slow progress to provide opportunity to canvass all available evidence before making a decision. In the context of LGBTIQ family violence policy, this framing begs two follow-on questions from that of how much evidence is enough: what knowledge and data is viewed as legitimate and worthy of inclusion in policy deliberations? And how are gaps in knowledge or evidence being addressed?

In the introduction to this paper, we discussed the silence that can surround LGBTIQ family violence (and health and wellbeing more generally) in most population-level surveys in Australia (Lyons et al., 2020; Seymour, 2019). Participants of our study expressed their frustrations with these gaps and what it meant for being able to effectively advocate for better services. This frustration was further exacerbated as participants discussed knowing, from community feedback, internal project and service monitoring, small-scale studies, and practice experience, that family violence is a significant problem for LGBTIQ people but that this level of evidence did not seem to be sufficient to create comprehensive change. For example, Ava spoke about how, in her professional networks, family violence practitioners working with LGBTIQ clients observed a significant correlation between suicidality and self-harm and LGBTIQ people’s experience of family violence. However, data around the relationship between LGBTIQ mental health, suicidality and family violence was seldom collected in ways that would make it coherent to a policy audience:

I think that we’ve started to identify the shocking stats around suicide as family violence […] about the harm experienced by LGBTIQA+ people as they experience family and intimate partner violence, we talk about the suicide rates, we talk about the suicidal ideation in the community as our marker of the harm that people are experiencing, in the way that the cis-het community or gendered lens would refer to the violence and homicide rates violence perpetrated against cis-het women […] we need accurate data from coroners, we need, around suicide, around homicide, around you know all of those things, absolutely we need data that tells a story.

  • Ava, practice manager, LGBTIQ community-controlled family violence program

Similarly, Erin talked about how existing small-scale studies that have been conducted by LGBTIQ organisations, while useful in many ways, were seemingly not enough to provide the comprehensive picture that is needed for effective advocacy:

So [the gaps are] are data collection and meaningful, accurate data collection and meaningful inclusion in our larger scale studies and surveys…all of our evidence and data is relying on smaller sample community driven surveys, which have not necessarily been adequate.

  • Erin, LGBTIQ family violence consultant

In addition, participants discussed how much of the data necessary for informing policy and program development could only be captured at the service level. This practice-informed approach to policy development has been foundational throughout the history of family violence services in Australia, as discussed by Jane, a leader of a state-wide mixed-gender family violence service who has spent decades working in frontline service provision:

One of the things I say when I’m doing some training is when women’s refuges started 45, 50 years ago in [inner-city Sydney] […] well the women that started those refuges then didn’t wait until there was like 10 women all saying you need to find us a refuge, they actually started the refuge first and you know made its location known so that the women then came.

  • Jane, senior manager, mainstream specialist family violence service

Without services where LGBTIQ people feel safe to access and to self-disclose their gender or sexuality, participants described the impossibility of evidencing service need.

It's a bit of a catch-22 I think, because we don’t collect data to know what the demand is, our community you know doesn’t, for a whole bunch of reasons, really reach out to mainstream [family violence] services when they might need a service like that. People aren’t going to reach out and go into mainstream services and disclose and advocate for better responses because it's hard enough just surviving. And if they don’t do that, then services are going to say well there's no demand.

  • Lydia, policy specialist, family violence interagency group

Hence, these circumstances ultimately engender a self-perpetuating paucity of evidence surrounding LGBTIQ family violence. By failing to invest in inclusive service provision for these groups, the needs of LGBTIQ populations invariably become obfuscated and illegible to policymakers as LGBTIQ victim-survivors either abstain from utilizing professionalised services or strategically conceal their sexual or gender identities in the absence of inclusive services.

What are the Effects Produced by this Representation? Limited Resourcing for Inclusive Services

The implication contained in representing the ‘problem’ as there being insufficient evidence about LGBTIQ family violence is that there is not a strong enough basis to provide comprehensive and ongoing resourcing to inclusive services. Here, we consider the effects of the resulting resourcing patterns on service provision and operation. Evaluations from pilot projects are often positioned as critical sources of data to inform evidence-based policy-making (Botterill & Hindmoor, 2012; Nutley & Homel, 2006; Parkhurst, 2017). The nature of ‘piloting’ an initiative is that such undertakings are limited in both time-scale and service scope, considered novel in aspect, and are not guaranteed for expansion or continuation.

Study participants described how in some Australian jurisdictions, recognition of LGBTIQ people as ‘priority populations’ vulnerable to family violence in government policy meant that there was some funding available for pilot or short-term initiatives. However, the undefined threshold of how much evidence is enough to support on-going or longer-term investment meant that, even where practitioners felt that the value of a programmatic or service approach was well-established, any work that addressed LGBTIQ family violence was considered as ‘innovative’.

Funding needs to be [a] long-term political investment. The awareness is there, but it’s still like we’re still tacked on as that ‘other’ box, you know? It’s, like, ‘Men’s violence against women is a really serious issue and we really, really care about it’ – which I do believe that they do – ‘Oh, and then there’s LGBTIQ communities’, so they don’t quite know how to integrate that within the core frame of thinking. It’s still like, ‘Oh, and then we better give $100,000 in innovation funding to the queer organisation, yeah.’ I find nobody told them that we make up, like, 15% of the population; I just feel like, yeah, we’re still that box and that parade once a year.

  • Erin, LGBTIQ family violence consultant

In other Australian jurisdictions, there has historically been little or no resourcing for family violence services delivered by LGBTIQ community-controlled organisations. Participants described how what little funding that is available has been allocated for these organisations to provide training and capacity building for women’s or other mainstream family violence services to improve LGBTIQ-inclusive practice. The intent of such funding—to ensure safe and appropriate service provision across the family violence sector—is largely sound. However, participants described how constrained resources often meant that it could be difficult to provide the robust support needed to facilitate requisite cultural, practice and infrastructural development in services. It is only this level of change that will support service uptake by LGBTIQ people which, as well as health and safety benefits, might also improve data collection and reporting.

Deb, a senior manager of a large, mainstream specialist family violence response organisation, drew parallels between expanding services for LGBTIQ people and the implementation of other forms of cultural safety and inclusion across the sector. She discussed the unintended harm of inclusivity training being used as a proxy for capability development when it is not backed by comprehensive efforts towards organisational change.

We talk about the microaggressions that people experience on a daily basis; like, you know, you have to have at least your 101 understanding of … how one is participating with homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, understanding the privileges of heterosexuality. So, you know, that needs to sit in the mix if you look at safety. Because, you know, people, and people – with no necessary ill intent – but [they] will just throw things like, ‘Oh God, I’ll be so glad when this training is over; we’re about to do training for LGBTIQ’, and say this happily to me, and I go, ‘Oh, OK, will my life stop after that?’ […] It’s just, people sit very much in their very cisgender space, firmly anchored, and it’s a stretch; yeah, it’s a stretch.

  • Deb, senior manager, specialist family violence service

Further, these kinds of initiatives do little to buttress existing direct practise supports for LGBTIQ people experiencing family violence implemented by LGBTIQ community-controlled organisations. Study participants told us that even where policy recognition and resourcing was insufficient, despite community demand for inclusive services remaining persistently high across many years. LGBTIQ community-controlled organisations do their best to meet service needs, scraping together funding from other projects and allocating staff time wherever it is available.

Participants described how their services do not want to leave demand for family violence supports completely unmet but are aware that, without dedicated funding, they are not able to fully meet community need. Further, other areas of funding normally have minimal (if any) underspend available to be reallocated, so moving or sharing resources to cater to the needs of people experiencing family violence makes it difficult for those existing programs to reach their full potential. Lastly, services do not want to give funders the impression that they are able to do all that is needed with limited or no direct resourcing when increased and longer-term funding is very much needed. As a participant from an organisation with no funded family violence program stated:

There’s a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul, you know; it addresses immediate need, but it’s problematic in that it doesn’t kind of allow real funding needs to kind of rise up. It’s patchy, you know, and you want to kind of meet the community need, but you don’t want a funder to think that that need is being fully satisfied or fully addressed, because you’ve got part of a solution over here with this.

  • Michael, senior manager, LGBTIQ community-controlled health organisation

Michael’s quote illustrates the agility and resourcefulness of LGBTIQ community-controlled organisations, and indeed, there are similar dynamics present across many community service sectors where organisations are reliant on short term, project-based funding (Farnsworth et al., 2014; Fletcher et al., 2016). Here, Michael also highlights the deficits in funding and lack of attention to the need for specialist services that in large part stem from inadequate policy consideration about what appropriate LGBTIQ service provision entails. This piecemeal approach to resourcing is not part of a strategic approach that also seeks to grow the evidence base about LGBTIQ family violence. It makes it difficult to collect information about experiences of family violence in a uniform way, or effectively evaluate supports that are integrated into and across multiple programs. Erin described this issue in the context of recording clients so that they could be visible in funded program monitoring and evaluations in a larger LGBTIQ community-controlled health organisation when there was no family violence service funding:

I don’t know long we’d been doing [family violence support] before, because we just have been recording them as HIV or, you know, yeah, sexuality, just so that we can see them; does that make sense? So, it’s only in the last couple of years I’ll ask to properly record and to take case studies so we can put a case together to say, ‘This is the work we’re doing for free – pay us.’ Sometimes funders go, ‘Well, you’re doing it for free; why would we pay you?’

  • Erin, LGBTIQ family violence consultant

This dynamic also makes it difficult to cultivate and retain in-house specialist skills and knowledge related to family violence supports, grow organisational knowledge, or develop relationships and safe referral networks with specialist family violence services and related sectors.

How and Where is this Representation of the Problem Reproduced? Concerns about Diluting the ‘Gendered Lens’ on Family Violence

The idea that there is not enough evidence to better progress LGBTIQ-inclusive service delivery is reproduced at a service and community level which influences and informs the position of those making policy decisions. As discussed above, participants attributed some of the trepidation around women’s services and some parts of government accepting existing evidence as sufficient to progress resourcing for LGBTIQ inclusive services to not wanting to erode the important gendered lens on family violence or sideline the work of feminist family violence services. From this perspective, the problem might be understood to be, ‘do we have enough evidence about preventing and responding to LGBTIQ family violence alongside violence against women to protect us from backlash that might undermine decades of progress and work from the feminist family violence sector?’.

Participants were cognisant of and sympathetic to the considerable funding, infrastructural and staffing shortages faced by women’s and mainstream mixed-gender services. They were also aware and supportive of the continued need for advocacy around resourcing for all family violence services, and the importance of a continued focus on preventing and responding to violence against women. However, participants concurrently expressed frustration at the ways in which expanding family violence service options for LGBTIQ communities were sometimes posited as diluting these aims, rather than being part of shared objectives to address family violence.

Several participants spoke about the ongoing relational work undertaken in helping women’s services to see that issues of LGBTIQ safety and women’s safety are shared rather than incommensurate. This includes helping practitioners to make sense of maintaining a focus on the gendered dimensions of family violence while making them LGBTIQ inclusive as well as addressing their concerns about work being diluted or co-opted by broadening their focus.

This work often demanded a significant investment in time and internal organisational resources by LGBTIQ community-led services. Genevieve described the tensions in wanting to prioritize these relationship-building and advocacy opportunities while also needing to meet the service delivery needs of LGBTIQ community-controlled organisations:

You actually have to spend the time and the energy to sit with people who might feel really reactive or really hostile or really defensive about that change […]. But that's often just something that's a burden on top of all the regular work […] government, rightfully want individual smaller diversities and organizations to be part of the process. And there has to be some investment in the capacity to do that, whilst running all the important work for community on the grounds. And I think we haven't got the balance quite right yet.

  • Genevieve, senior manager, LGBTIQ community-controlled health organisation

Representing the Problem Differently: What Progress has Been Made?

Considerable progress has been made in some parts of Australia in positioning what is already known about LGBTIQ-inclusive family violence needs and responses as at least sufficient to justify policy investment, even while more investment in research and evidence-building is required. In Victoria for example, findings from the 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence generated four recommendations that directly target the needs of LGBTIQ communities (State Government of Victoria, 2016). This has resulted in some LGBTIQ community-controlled organisations receiving on-going or longer-term funding to support the expanded operations of their family violence services. One staff member told us that being able to better meet community need has thrown the extent of demand for services into sharper relief:

It is that sort of cliche around ‘build it and they will come’. And we certainly have never struggled for clients into the service. Indeed, we have waiting lists for programs, and […] the significant investment does continue to need to grow, in order to meet the demand and the expectations that people now rightfully have about receiving an appropriate response when they reach out for support.

  • Clara, senior manager, LGBTIQ community-controlled health organisation

Participants described how partnered advocacy and evidence building efforts across LGBTIQ community-controlled agencies and allies or LGBTIQ identified workers in other parts of the family violence sector have made significant gains in recent years in terms of building legitimacy for what is already known about LGBTIQ service needs. As a result of interagency committees, partnered research and knowledge translation initiatives with universities or through forums convened by different government agencies, it has been possible to share data and practice findings in more robust ways, which has resulted in stronger advocacy and progress towards policy change.


Our findings should not be interpreted to suggest that there is not a need for more research into family violence support needs of people in LGBTIQ communities. While the scope and severity of LGBTIQ family violence is well-established, there remains a need for more research that explores promising practice, as well as more nuanced and specified information around the particular needs and experiences of different LGBTIQ subgroups. What we instead contend is that framing these gaps in extant knowledge as an issue that demands addressing prior to increasing policy recognition and investment in inclusive service delivery is, we argue, a fundamental misrepresentation of ‘the problem’.

Our study indicates that there is enough evidence to support better investment in service inclusivity, including infrastructure and training to support the expansion of existing family violence services so that they can better cater to more of the LGBTIQ population. This evidence has been collected and curated over many years of sustained efforts to support LGBTIQ people experiencing violence by community-led organisations and initiatives, often in spite of under-resourcing. Moreover, such improvements are critical to generate better data and knowledge about service demand and useful implementation. Study participants were clear that we know enough about the significant ill-effects of family violence on the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ people that there is considerable danger in waiting to progress this work. Further, that it is difficult to ignore the political and ideological dimensions in the apparent higher threshold of evidence that are seemingly required to justify government attention to and investment in efforts to support family violence services that are LGBTIQ-inclusive.

It is clear from these findings that practice implementation and evidence gathering should not be positioned as mutually exclusive or linear. These need to be concurrent and focused on continuous improvement based on monitoring, evaluation and reflexive learning.