Surviving Sexual Assault in the LGBTQ+ community— One person’s story
Forward by: Rebecca Sward
As we prepare to end Sexual Assault Awareness Month, ACTS Sexual Assault Services is honored to publish a guest blog post by Evelyn BruMar, Executive Director and Founder of Casa BruMar, a local non-profit that is dedicated to working with LGBTQ+ youth. As allies, ACTS strives to elevate all voices, especially when considering the staggering statistics of sexual violence towards the LGBTQ+ community. We thank Evelyn for sharing her story and experiences and recognize the vulnerability and courage that it takes to do so.
As you read Evelyn’s story please be aware that some content may be triggering, especially for sexual assault survivors. Personal stories of sexual assault and violence are, by their very nature, real and raw. Some readers may find the content graphic. The blog below is Evelyn’s personal story and has not been edited to censor her trauma, experiences, or feelings.
Lastly, ACTS provides services to our neighbors experiencing crisis. If you are in our community, you are our neighbor. We welcome every race, ethnicity, color, religious belief, status, sexual identity, gender identity, and gender expression. Crisis doesn’t discriminate and neither do we. Diversity and inclusion are vital to our mission, and we affirm and respect the equality of ALL members of our community.
Having a variety of backgrounds and perspectives help communities thrive and we celebrate those differences. We proudly support the removal of all barriers that negatively impact our community, particularly when it impedes the ability to find and receive crisis services. We are committed to creating a community where no one goes without or suffers alone.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or abused, please know that help is available when you are ready. You can call ACTS Sexual Assault Services (M-F, 9am-5pm) at 703-497-1192 or the 24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline at 703-368-4141
It wasn't that long ago that LGBTQ+ people started to gain some protections in American society. In 2003 The U.S. Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality, 2011 “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was removed from the Military Code of Conduct and in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all bans on same sex marriages. But it wasn’t until 2020 that Virginia included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in their Hate Crime Laws and in 2021 that Virginia repealed the Gay Panic Defense. But we still don't have a national law protecting LGBTQ+ American lives in all 50 states.
Living in a world that allows LGBTQ+ lives to be hurt without consequences to the abuser adds another barrier when dealing with the legal system, when trying to protect ones queer life or seek justice or resources when we have been assaulted. So here is my story, how I was violated/assaulted many times over, once by my abusers and then by the legal system that failed to protect me.
Back in the late 1990’s I found myself without family or a community. I came out to my family and subsequently I was disowned, I didn’t have the ability to find resources (due to it being illegal to be gay) to help me. I ended up in a relationship with a woman that was more broken than I, who was struggling to support herself and her two young boys while in recovery. We ended up getting a place and we quickly became dependent on each other, so I thought. I started to lose what little friends I had left after coming out. My whole paycheck (or whatever money I could raise) started going to her wants and needs. And whatever affection or what I believed to be love I was getting was quickly becoming my addiction. My physical, financial and mental well-being was in my partner's hands at that time. I didn’t recognize that the relationship I was in was an abusive one. I was 100 percent dependent on her, and out of fear I stayed until it became clear I might end up dead.
During a fight, I ended up on the floor. My work apron and my backpack were knocked down exposing my cell phone. At that moment is when I finally called 911 for help, giving me my first interaction with law enforcement as a lesbian. Being a first generation Mexican-American, growing up in a poor neighborhood, I got to see the best and the worst law enforcement gave us, which is why it took so long to get law enforcement involved.
Two officers that came to my home, they were heterosexual, white, and male with no experience in assisting a queer person in this kind of situation. They made me tell my side of the story in front of my partner, abuser. It felt like we were in a trial setting, the officers being our judge and jury. They kept trying to relate this situation to a heterosexual one, interjecting with their gender biases to try and identify the male in our lesbian relationship. They kept insulting both of us. In the end they left me with a choice, go with them and spend a night in jail or stay with my abuser. I stayed with my abuser, I needed to work in the morning, I needed to find a way to build up escape money so that I don’t end up on the streets, so that I don't lose my job, my only source of hope.
That night was the first time I didn’t want her love, that night was the first time I was raped by her. She knew that at one point I craved intimacy from her, she didn’t know at that point I no longer did. What strikes me at this moment is that I feel compelled to make excuses for her. I find myself trying to diminish the violence I experience to you, the reader, even though I have time traveled to that moment, intensely feeling the fear and pain, the rawness and heartbreak 20 years later it is still hard to deal with. This is a trauma that is no longer surface level, not usually seen, but is always with me.
My dark companion, the voice that tells me I asked for this because I am a lesbian, because I didn’t chose jail, a reminder of years of opportunities lost. My assertions and direct declarations of not wanting to be intimate were dismissed. I quickly became confused when I was being reminded how much I wanted this in the past and how my body was reacting to her violations of my body. In the end my eyes ran with tears, and my vagina leaked blood from it ripping. It took a year before I was able to leave. The abuse increased, but after that night intimacy/sex stopped, she didn’t have to do that to me anymore, she already accomplished draining my worth, autonomy and independence from my soul. I was mentally unable to escape even though I was able to physically a year later.
Two years later I was still working with the same company, I was promoted to management, earning a livable wage, in a relationship again and found an LGBTQ+ community. I became a leader in my queer community. I helped to organize San Diego’s Pride Festival, marched in its parade and helped fundraise for HIV/AID awareness and testing and other queer community services. I felt strong, I gained a lot of the self-worth I lost two years before. We still didn’t have LGBTQ+ laws that protected us, in fact, the county and state laws were being proposed to limit what little freedoms we had. We learned to work, shop, socialize and play in Hillcrest because that was the only part of San Diego where if we were attacked and couldn't count on the police we had ‘Family” that looked out and protected each other. Unfortunately for me, to keep the great job, I had to work at a different location.
I worked at a grocery store, I worked the meat and fish counter, and I worked the closing shift. I was sexually harassed by other employees, males, but they didn’t touch me. I present femme but didn’t hide the fact I am a lesbian. I would be repeatedly asked out on dates, propositioned for a night of drinking, drugs and/or sex or just told the dirtiest jokes about women. I was constantly bombarded from coworkers, merchandisers or customers. I needed this job so I usually downplayed the offenses or smiled and said no thank you to the attacks. One day after turning down a customer who asked me out on a date for the fourth time I told him that I will never date you, not because you are not a nice man but because I am a lesbian. I saw how offended he was and then the anger well up in his eyes. He left my counter and I thought I would never see him again … I was wrong.
As I was leaving work that night walking through the parking lot of the shopping mall to the back row where my truck was parked in an unlit area, I heard a man call out to me. I turned in the direction of the man's voice and recognized it was the same man, a few hours earlier, I turned down for a date. I stopped walking as he continued to walk closer to me. Then he began the quick conversation with “I didn’t know you are a lesbian, you should have told me that when we first met.” Right there I knew my safety was in jeopardy, people in the LGBT+ community don't just “come out” because someone wants them to, they do it when it's safe or when they are forced to. I tried flashing him a smile and asked if he would like to get a coffee in the store I work at. I didn’t want to be alone with him, I didn't want him to know which vehicle was mine and I didn’t want to be in a position where I would not be found for hours if something happened. But what I quickly found out is what he wanted to do was much worse.
He walked within three feet of my personal space. Enough to make me feel uncomfortable but not enough to feel totally threatened. He then asked me “How do I know if you are a lesbian?” I didn’t reply. He then told me “Maybe you haven't been with the right man, or haven’t experienced an orgasm from a man.” I stopped smiling and made a quick scan to see if there was anyone else in the parking lot. He then said to me in a lower more calm voice “Maybe you just need to be raped straight.” and he lunged for me.
I took a step back on my right foot, pulled back my right arm, the arm he was reaching for, started to lower the center of my body to the ground by bending my knees. I open-palm pushed him off his center with my left hand on his shoulder while I closed my right fist that was ready to fly in his direction. I made eye contact with him, I felt this heat ignite from my core rush my lungs and feed my muscles. My next movement was instinctual, it was like my body decided it wasn't going to be hurt again. I fought back.
I came at him with a downward right cross to the left side of his jaw. His mouth was open and my knuckles ended up splitting his lips and knocking out two of his teeth. I was left in complete shock of what I just did with a bloody right hand from where the skin ripped away from my knuckle due to the force of impact to his face. I ran back into the store and yelled for help. Word got out at work of what happened and that was the last time any of my coworkers sexually harassed me.
In both situations I had no control, fear and trauma took over so that I could survive these moments. It has impacted how I interact with the world. Some days I feel in control and can accomplish so much, be an asset to my community, help others. On other days I might drink a little too much and not pick up my phone or leave the house. I never had access to resources to help me manage what I went through, how to recognize the trauma rising. I managed to spend the last twenty years teaching myself coping skills, social skills and de-escalation skills when others become aggressive and violent towards me.
I know that I am fortunate in that I was able to learn this without professional help so that I can continue to have a productive life. I know that this is not the case for many others, especially for the people in the LGBTQ+ community. We have a higher suicide rate, a higher murder or assault rate, higher rate of being sex-trafficked, higher rate of being discriminated against, higher rate of being abused by people we know or family, a higher rate of being bullied at school and at work. I know I am fortunate because I am still alive and with every new day of life there is a possibility I can help a member of my community save their life.