Sparkt Bridges

Thanks To Her Dedication, Victims Who Felt Left Out Before Now Have A Voice

She's making sure people in the LGBTQ+ community know there's help and hope if they're victims of domestic violence.

This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

When Avi Diamond started her new job at Women's Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh last fall, she wasn't sure what to expect. One thing she knew for sure: she would be a trailblazer.

As the first outreach advocate in the region focused on intimate partner violence among people in the LGBTQ+ community, she recognized there would be challenges. But she also recognized a great need. "It's been great to connect with clients who are in that community and I've heard from them 'wow I'm so happy you're here and this exists'," she said.

A banner at the entrance to the shelter welcomes women of all ethnic backgrounds. A new effort aims to make sure people of all gender identities feel welcome too.Sparkt

Welcoming the LGBTQ+ community is just one way this organization is building bridges to make sure traditionally underserved victims get the support they need.

WC&S President and CEO Nicole Molinaro says their effort to make sure underserved communities are getting the help they need started with making their services more welcoming to PIttsburgh's growing immigrant population.

"None of our material was in anything other than English," said Molinaro. Translators weren't available either. That's all changed, and staff are now trained to be sensitive to a wide range of cultural norms. The results have been astounding. Three years ago WC&S had almost no immigrant clients; today they have more than 500.

All domestic violence literature at WC&C is now printed in a wide range of languages.Sparkt

WC&S recognized that the LGBTQ+ community was another group that needed specially focused outreach. The blurred lines between male and female in a society that often judges, makes this group more vulnerable to partner abuse -- and potentially more isolated.

"Intimate partner violence, unfortunately, there's a lot of shame attached to it," explained Molinaro. "So you heap the shame of being in an abusive relationship on top of other things people say you're wrong about. Being able to say we're here for you, and it doesn't matter who you are or how you identify," was a crucial first step she said.

A handmade quilt hangs in the shelter with an inspirational message of inclusion for everyone.

Diamond feels inspired to encourage victims of all gender identities to feel welcome and the get help they need. "I think the biggest challenge I'm facing is how to present these services in a way that's not only inclusive to women who are queer, but also people who are non-binary, people who are transgender, gender non-conforming, that these services are here for them too."

But it's a challenge she's excited to take on. "The domestic violence movement as a whole is going to have to evolve and change with the times."

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life Changing Medicine.

How can you start something good?

If you feel inspired about the work that Women's Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh is doing to make sure all victims of intimate partner violence get the help they need, click here to find out how get involved. You can donate, volunteer, shop for items on their wish list, even organize a fundraiser.

If you believe you're a victim of domestic violence and need help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great place to start. They have a 24/7 hotline and live chat function. This link on their website allows you to find your state advocacy group, where you can get information about organizations in your community that are ready to help.

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