Photo Series Raises Awareness for LGBTQ+ Abuse

ADVISORY: The following post shares subject matter and details that could be sensitive to some readers.

Domestic abuse and sexual violence is a reality that plagues every community. The LGBTQ+ community is at higher risk because we face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalization. We also face greater rates of hate-motivated violence, which too often becomes sexual assault. Additionally, LGBTQ+ people and relationships are hypersexualized by society and within our own community which can lead to shame or internalized homophobia resulting in acts of hate or violence. Add highly restrictive stay-at-home orders during a pandemic into the mix, and you see a spike in domestic abuse. This is rarely talked about in the LGBTQ+ community. Little preventative information is out there and not enough resources are available to let survivors know they have support.

According to a survey by the Center for Disease Control, regarding intimate partner and sexual violence:

  • 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of straight women
  • 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29% of straight men
  • 46% of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians
  • 22% of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to 9% of straight women
  • 40% of gay men and 47% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21% of straight men

Furthermore, a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey demonstrates that transgender people, bisexual women, and people of color experience abuse at alarming rates, with abuse beginning as early as childhood.

  • 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.
  • Among people of color, American Indian (65%), multiracial (59%), Middle Eastern (58%) and Black (53%) respondents of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were most likely to have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of bisexual women who are rape survivors experienced their first rape between ages 11 and 17.

Stemming from the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence in LGBTQ+ relationships, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, in partnership with designer Bryan Thompson, has launched the SHINE project.

SHINE is a series of photographs shot by luminary photographers to raise awareness about domestic violence in the LGBTQ community.  The photos feature men and women in the LGBTQ community who have emerged from the darkness of domestic violence relationships and now shine their light from within – brighter and stronger than before. It amplifies the pervasive, yet often overlooked, issue of domestic violence in LGBTQ+ relationships and proceeds from the sale of the photos will benefit the Los Angeles LGBT Center.



Bryan Thompson, the founder of the SHINE Project, is a car designer by trade and a survivor of domestic violence. He has designed cars for Nissan, trailers for Airstream, and also private planes.  He is also a West Hollywood-based philanthropist, raising money for causes that benefit the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles. Thompson says, “As someone who has emerged from a physically abusive relationship, I am learning through SHINE that this issue is much more common and overlooked in the Gay community than we realize.”  

SHINE features the impactful work of the following photographers and their subjects:


Michael Arden | Model: Kevin

Ramon Christian | Model: Josh

Dusti Cunningham | Model: Sasha

Riad Edwards | Model: Rachel


Ben Fink | Models: Bryan & Chad

Gabriel Goldberg | Model: Shannon

Brian Thomas | Model: Cassidy

Jim Wilkinson | Model: Paul


David Zimmerman | Model: Matt

David Zimmerman was inspired by Matt Lee as his subject for the SHINE Project. Lee shares with Instinct his own story of survival and how the awareness created by SHINE is more vital than ever.


My experience with domestic violence is a little different than most as I was disrespected and and my trust betrayed by friends, not a partner or lover. After attending the Folsom Street Fair with a friend in 2009, he and I left the festival and went back to a friend’s place nearby. It was at this apartment where I was drugged, tied to a bed, and sexually assaulted by my two friends and another person who they invited over. It was during this episode that I contracted HIV. Years later I discovered that there was more to this than non-consensual sex. The man who had been invited over had targeted me as the subject of a “conversion video” which was subsequently shared online. I didn’t just contract HIV – It was given to me on purpose. My “friends” knew this was going to happen…they set me up. I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I told them what happened, let alone understand me. I kept it to myself because I was ashamed and embarrassed. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I wish I would have asked for help dealing with this issue sooner. 

Photo by David Zimmerman


When asked about why domestic abuse and sexual violence isn’t talked about in the LGBTQ+ community, Lee said:

I think the reason that domestic violence in our community isn’t talked about much is because we are still fighting hetero-centric social norms. Just like marriage and divorce, domestic violence is one of those things that hasn’t historically been associated with the GLBTQ+ community. There’s also the misconception that domestic violence is generally a man assaulting a woman, which obviously doesn’t hold true in our community, let alone the world in general.  

Photo by David Zimmerman

Lee continues by expressing his immense gratitude for the SHINE Project and its important mission:

I think where the SHINE project really excels at shedding light on domestic violence is that it shows the beauty that lies on the other side of such a dark issue. The luminaries in this project have put a lot of work into rebuilding themselves into stronger people. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we strive to inspire hope and give strength to others who are needlessly suffering. My light doesn’t shine down like a spotlight, rather it radiates out, beckoning others to find a way out of their darkness. I want others to know that they are not alone. Every time I tell my story I have people approach me privately and share with me that they too have lived through similar experiences. The one comment I hear almost universally is that we felt alone in our situations. 

Photo by David Zimmerman

Lee shares that for a long time it was difficult for him to value himself which is why he found himself in toxic relationships, be they platonic or romantic. He knows he has changed now and urges those who have experienced domestic or sexual abuse to find their worth and never accept anything less from anyone.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, there are some LGBTQ+-friendly resources listed below:

Let’s Talk About It: A Transgender Survivor’s Guide to Accessing Therapy

National Sexual Assault Hotline – can also refer you to a local rape crisis center


1-800-656-HOPE (4673) 24/7 or Online Counseling


Love is Respect Hotline

1-866-331-99474 (24/7) or Text “loveis” 22522



The Anti-Violence Project– serves people who are LGBTQ

Hotline 212-714-1141 Bilingual 24/7



LGBT National Help Center

National Hotline (1-888-843-4564)

National Youth Talkline (1-800-246-7743)

Online Peer Support Chat or Weekly Youth Chatrooms 



National Domestic Violence Hotline & Chat


Text LOVEIS to 22522



FORGE– serves transgender and gender nonconforming survivors of domestic and sexual violence; provides referrals to local counselors


The Network La Red– serves LGBTQ, poly, and kink/BDSM survivors of abuse; bilingual


Hotline – 617-742-4911


Northwest Network– serves LGBT survivors of abuse; can provide local referrals

Hotline– 206-568-7777

Source: Center for Disease Control, National Center for Transgender Equality

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