February 28, 2013 – Earlier today, the US House of Representatives passed a GLBT-inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides critical funds for programs that serve survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The legislation already passed the Senate and now heads to President Obama, who has pledged to sign the bill into law.
The bill explicitly includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals and represents the first Federal GLBT non-discrimination provisions. The House passed the bill just three weeks after the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention release a report that GLB individuals experience rates of domestic and sexual violence equal to or greater than their heterosexual counterparts.
The unprecedented legislative achievement is the product of years of continuous advocacy by many GLBTQ organizations. The GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project (GLBTQ-DVP) has been an active member of the LGBT subcommittee of the VAWA Steering Committee and has worked hard to protect funding for GLBTQ services and to dismantle exclusive provisions of the previous version of VAWA.
“The new legislation is an important advancement in expanding the nation’s understanding of domestic violence to be inclusive of GLBTQ victims and survivors,” said Curt Rogers, Executive Director of GLBTQ-DVP. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin stated that “it’s tremendous that both Republican and Democratic leaders came together to ensure that all domestic violence victims, including those who are LGBT, will not face discrimination when they seek services.”
While the new legislation does explicitly include GLBTQ survivors and opens new funding streams for services to these populations, the legislation also disqualifies GLBTQ organizations from accessing other VAWA funding sources that were previously available and are currently funding GLBTQ programs, such as VAWA’s “Culturally-Specific” grant programs.
While it is hoped that the new legislation will mean a net gain in service dollars for GLBTQ victims and survivors, the immediate impact is unclear. It is imperative that the newly funded GLBT-inclusive “Underserved Populations” grant program is initiated immediately and begins funding GLBTQ programs before those that are currently funded through the “Culturally-Specific” grant programs lose access to funding due to new exclusive language. Massachusetts currently has two “Culturally-Specific” VAWA grants for GLBTQ victims representing $600,000 in service dollars that could be in jeopardy.
The reauthorization of VAWA represents a significant step toward recognizing the experience of GLBTQ victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Although there is still much work to be done to ensure continuity of service for GLBTQ survivors, the bill marks a historical achievement for GLBTQ communities.