House Excludes LGBT Victims from VAWA
May 16, 2012 by Ty Cobb, Senior Legislative Counsel
In a highly partisan vote, the House of Representatives just passed a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Unlike the inclusive Senate version, the House bill fails to address discrimination faced by LGBT victims of domestic violence. The bill passed 222-205, with 23 Republicans opposing it.
The House bill greatly contrasts with the Senate legislation, which passed the Senate by a strong bipartisan vote of 68-31. The Senate bill reflected the needs expressed by more than 2,000 law enforcement, court, prosecution, legal services, and victim services professionals from across the country and was supported by both victim advocates and senators from both sides of the aisle.
During the process of soliciting information to draft the Senate bill, it became clear that LGBT victims of domestic violence were not receiving the services they needed – even though they experience domestic violence at roughly the same rate as all other victims. LGBT victims faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity when they sought refuge from abuse. They were turned away from service providers, laughed at by law enforcement, and struggled to get protective orders from judges. Often they were left without any option but to return to their abuser.
The Senate bill takes into account the lessons learned from VAWA stakeholders. It includes three important provisions that ensure LGBT victims of domestic violence are included in the bill. The bill explicitly includes LGBT victims in two key VAWA grant programs. It also prohibits any program or activity funded by the bill from discriminating against a victim based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The House bill eliminates these provisions, as well as many other critical provisions in the Senate bill.
Reauthorizing VAWA need not have been a partisan fight. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) wanted to offer an amendment to the bill that would have increased protections for LGBT victims, but the House Republican leadership blocked her from even offering the amendment.
Now that the House and Senate have passed remarkably different bills, they will come together to resolve their differences with a conference committee. HRC will continue to work with our allies as they enter into conference committee negotiations.
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