By Brody Levesque | WASHINGTON -- In a bipartisan 68-31 vote Thursday, the U. S. Senate passed the first LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act, in a reauthorisation bill which will now provide explicit protections for LGBT survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
"To be the target of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking is terrifying and traumatic," National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey said in a press statement issued after the bill passed. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not immune from this violence, and their distress should not be further heightened by a lack of proper response from service providers or law enforcement. Imagine being assaulted, scared and in pain — and then being turned away from receiving basic services and care. No one should ever be subjected to such inhumane treatment."
The Violence Against Women Act- originally enacted in 1994- provides federal funding to ensure proper investigation and prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault and provides funds for victim service programs. Until today's action by the Senate, the act never had LGBT-inclusive provisions. This reauthorisation ensures that all people are able to access services regardless of his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Senators defeated an amendment, in a 36-63 vote, that would have rewritten the bill and excluded protections for LGBT violence victims.
Studies indicate that LGBT people experience domestic violence at roughly the same rate as the general population. Unfortunately, many LGBT victims have not been receiving the services they need because service providers and law enforcement are not engaged in outreach to the LGBT community, lack the cultural competency to effectively work with LGBT victims or do not have access to funding for appropriate services.
The Human Rights Campaign noted that the VAWA reauthorisation bill passed by the Senate strengthens essential services for LGBT victims of domestic violence in three key ways. First, the bill ensures that all programs or activities receiving funding from VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Second, it explicitly includes the LGBT community in the largest VAWA grant program, the “STOP Grant Program,” which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence. Finally, the bill establishes a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including those who face obstacles to care based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Senators from both sides of the aisle came together today to ensure that all domestic violence victims, including those who are LGBT, will not face discrimination when they seek victim services,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “We applaud the Senate for recognizing the importance of this bill and taking bipartisan action, and we call on the House to do the same.”
The GOP majority controlled House of Representatives has yet to act on the reauthorisation bill, but is expected to vote on it as early as May.
Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement shortly after the Senate's vote urging House colleagues to reauthorise VAWA.
"House Democrats, led by Congresswoman Gwen Moore, have proposed legislation that mirrors the bill passed by the Senate," she said. "Both bills extend defense against domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking; include provisions to expand the classes of victims who would be protected – including Native Americans and the LGBT community; and ensure protections for immigrants affected by domestic violence."