Lavina Tomer created the Wingspan Domestic Violence Program (WDVP) in 1993, just one year after leaving an abusive lesbian relationship. The counselors she worked with during her recovery did not understand lesbian domestic violence, and were unwilling to recognize that it was just as serious and traumatizing as in heterosexual relationships.
Lavina began speaking out in the community about lesbian and gay domestic violence, bravely telling her own story and talking about the need for services. She published several articles in local magazines and newspapers, and solicited stories from other battered lesbians and gays. Soon the organization had an advisory committee, a working board and a fiscal sponsor. It began fundraising, and hired a domestic violence advocate to carry a beeper and answer crisis calls 24 hours a day.
Lavina had to face many obstacles. For example, the City of Tucson Domestic Violence Commission repeatedly refused to include in their brochures information specific to gays and lesbians, and when the Arizona Daily Star ran an informational page about domestic violence, it refused to list WDVP along with the two mainstream shelters. In addition, the project had to overcome denial of the problem within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Through constant publicity, community dialogue and involvement, Lavina built a network of allies within the existing domestic violence support structure in Tucson. Eventually, she gained enough support on the City Domestic Violence Commission, and they began to print WDVP's phone number on their brochure. Similarly, Lavina got the Project's number added to the cards that policemen hand out to crisis victims. The project gained access to local shelters' staff members and provided them with training on LGBT domestic violence, and began forming relationships with these organizations that have grown into solid collaborations.
Now, nearly 10 years later, thanks to Lavina's hard work and vision, WDVP is a thriving project with two full-time staff members that is recognized as a model for other communities. It received the Arizona State Attorney General's Office's 2000 Distinguished Service Award as well as the 2000 Victim Witness Award. Lavina's efforts have changed the lives of thousands of LGBT victims of domestic violence over the years. Additionally, the advocacy efforts that she began have profoundly influenced governmental and institutional policies, including expanding the state law regarding domestic violence so the LGBT victims can receive orders of protection and other rights.