Defining the line

Pride Fest workshop sheds light on abuse

Outing abuse:
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Go to to learn more about Chico Pride Fest.

Despite being hit with graffiti in the form of homophobic slurs and spray-painted pink parking meters that appeared at City Plaza over Friday night, the fourth annual Chico Pride Festival was largely successful, bringing in the biggest attendance and greatest amount of donations in the event’s history.

The bulk of Stonewall Alliance’s LGBTQ-centric weekend of events took place on Saturday (Aug. 25), beginning with the Chico AIDS Walk/Run at Bidwell Park’s One-Mile. Most of the festivities were located at City Plaza, which was transformed into a colorful landscape with bright balloon arches, artwork and music.

There, students and families mingled among the drag queens and Mardi Gras-beads-wearing, face-painted attendees checking out the festivities, which included music, food and other vendors as well as speakers throughout the day on the busy back-to-school weekend.

Away from the bustling downtown square, workshops were held at Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, with which Stonewall Alliance partnered in an attempt to make the festival more inclusive to the Chico community, said Ange Bledsoe, Stonewall’s program coordinator.

One speaker was Alex Brown, a self-described lesbian and feminist and an LGBTQ program outreach specialist who began working with Catalyst in February. Dressed in a button-up shirt and tie for her youth-focused workshop titled “Defining the Line,” Brown talked about the cyclical nature of unhealthy relationships as well certain tell-tale signs of abuse.

She wasn’t fazed by the small turnout, speaking eloquently and noting that she chose this topic because she witnessed her mom and friends go through a series of toxic relationships when she was growing up.

“Once you learn [these things], you open your eyes and you don’t forget,” Brown said. “And going over it helps me be a better person and partner.”

Brown explained that in abusive relationships there’s a pattern of both healthful and unhealthful behavior. She described the first stage as the honeymoon “hearts and flowers” phase, during which each person shows his or her best side. In an abusive relationship this escalates quickly, with the more dominant person saying “I love you” or wanting to move in together, and perhaps talking about marriage and having kids.

There’s a subsequent build-up of abuse and tension leading to intimidation and fear.

Typically, in the beginning, when that tension is released, the couple will return to the honeymoon phase. However, over time that phase will be eliminated completely, and the relationship will go back and forth between tension and abuse. The abuser often will give something Brown calls an “if” apology: “I’d never have done this if you hadn’t done that,” she said.

Abusers don’t take responsibility for the abuse, instead blaming it on the victim.

“Abuse is intentional,” Brown said. “Power and control are the intent. They may say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know better,’ but they know what they did isn’t OK.”

Brown went over the red flags of abusive relationships, such as temper tantrums, mood swings and isolation of the victim from family and friends. She also relayed the importance of friends and loved ones addressing their worries about the victim.

“If we don’t ask to hear the good and bad, we won’t hear any of it,” she said.

Catalyst provides support to victims, as well as legal assistance, temporary restraining orders, free counseling and emergency housing.

Brown’s focus at the organization is on youth outreach, and she encourages people in the same age group to talk to one another. She does high school presentations, and Catalyst as a whole is looking to provide more workshops and other tools to help the public identify healthy relationships.

The abuse rate for LGBTQ couples is one in four, the same as for heterosexual couples, but Brown noted that there are some controlling and manipulating tactics exclusive to LGBTQ relationships. For example, because of some stigmas, isolation of the victim is easier. Abusers may also threaten to “out them” to certain people in their life, such as family or people from work, to force them to stay in the relationship.

“Abuse knows no bounds,” Brown said.