WASHINGTON – The U.S. House today voted 286-138 to approve the LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill.
The Senate has already passed the bill, 78-22, and President Barack Obama will sign it.
Republicans had stonewalled the bill for weeks, trying to remove protections for LGBT Americans and immigrants, among others.
But as public pressure mounted, the GOP relented. In the end, 87 Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.
The bill specifically provides protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, a major concession to the equality for all.
Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52), who represents the San Diego area, praised the passage of the bill.
“San Diegans have been waiting for a reauthorization to the Violence Against Women Act that is all inclusive and non-discriminatory,” Peters said.
“Today, I am proud to have helped pass the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act. Both Democrats and Republicans, in both houses, came together to show the American people that all victims, regardless of their heritage or sexual orientation, deserve to be protected from domestic violence.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, hailed the vote.
“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,” Griffin said. “There need not be a partisan divide on LGBT issues and this vote shows that we can come together to find common sense solutions to issues facing our community.”
Sharon Stapel of the New York City Anti-Violence Project emailed supporters:
Congratulations and thank you! Today Congress passed S. 47, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is our nation's response to domestic and sexual violence. For the first time ever, this law will explicitly include LGBT survivors of violence. This bill represents two years of continuous work of AVP’s National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and is a huge victory for not just survivors of violence but also all LGBT communities.
The Act, which President Obama has made clear he will sign into law, includes LGBT people in three significant ways:
It names LGBT people as underserved populations in need of specific attention to address the unique issues they face as survivors of intimate partner or sexual violence.
It prohibits VAWA grantee from discriminating against survivors of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity when providing services.
It establishes a specific purpose area to address LGBT violence at the state level.
The legislation also increases protections for Native Americans, immigrants, communities of color and students.
This historic legislation came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control released a national prevalence survey showing that lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience violence at the same or higher rates as heterosexual people. It comes a year after the New York City Anti-Violence Project's National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that transgender people experience sexual violence at twice the rate of non-transgender people.
NCAVP has been working with members of Congress to highlight the real and urgent need that LGBT survivors of violence have, and the ways in which an LGBT inclusive VAWA will have a significant impact on that need. We thanks the bill's sponsors Senators Leahy and Crapo, leaders in the House of Representative including Congress Members Moore, Cole and Conyers and House Minority Leader Pelosi, each Congress person who voted for the inclusive bill, and Vice President Biden, for their tireless work to include LGBT survivors in the bill.
NCAVP has been working with national advocacy groups on this legislation and we thank our incredible national partners, the National LGBT Bar Association, National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Through our work with these friends and allies we were able to demonstrate the severe and harrowing impact that violence has on LGBT people every day.
This legislation will make a real difference in the lives of tens of thousands LGBT people each year. As importantly, our work has fundamentally shifted our nation's response to violence to include and acknowledge the LGBT survivors who experience the terrifying isolation, fear and danger of domestic and sexual violence. This legislation ends the silence and isolation that so many LGBT survivors have felt, makes LGBT survivors visible and central to our national response to domestic and sexual violence, and says to all survivors of violence: you matter and there is support for you.
It is critical in our work to end violence to explicitly name, understand and address how violence impacts different communities. The VAWA passed by the 113th Congress does this for LGBT people and for Native Americans, immigrants, students and for those who hold more than one of those identities. This VAWA does not pick and choose survivors - it responds to the needs of everyone.
There is more work to be done, both for LGBT equality and for LGBT survivors of violence. At AVP we will continue the urgent and life-saving work we do and will now have the new and better resource of an inclusive federal law.
This victory shows what all of us, together, can do to create safety and equality for LGBT people. Thank you for your tremendous support these past two years. Together, we can end this violence.
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, National Black Justice Coalition executive director and CEO, said the bill's passage was encouraging.
"I am encouraged that our Members of Congress were able to come together despite the polarized political climate we live in," Lettman-Hicks said. "Protecting women, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is bigger than political agendas and party line divides. It's about fairness."
Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, weighed in.
"We're pleased to see that the LGBT-inclusive bi-partisan version of the Violence Against Women Act passed by the United States Senate has also passed in the House with bi-partisan support, including the votes of 87 Republicans. Codifying law to acknowledge the reality that gay and lesbians can be the unfortunate victims of domestic abuse just as their straight counterparts is an issue of basic fairness, and we applaud those Republicans in the House who demonstrated the importance of equal protection under the law with their votes today," Angelo said.
Mara Keisling, executive director of National Center for Transgender Equality, commended the bill's passage.
"We are pleased that the House passed a strong Violence Against Women Act ensuring key protections for all survivors of violence. This is so important to the many transgender people who experience violence and abuse almost daily. VAWA will give all of our communities-LGBT, immigrant, and Native American-the access we need to services that protect us from abuse," Keisling said.
She noted a 2011 survey of 6,500 transgender and gender non-conforming people found that nearly a fifth of respondents (19%) have experienced domestic violence from a family member because of their gender identity. 10% of respondents faced denial of equal treatment or harassment and disrespect in domestic violence or shelter programs because of their gender identity. An additional 1% said they were physically assaulted in a domestic violence or shelter program because of their gender identity.
"Transgender victims of violence can be victimized again by a discriminatory system that's supposed to help them," Keisling said, noting that the VAWA extends crucial nondiscrimination protections to ensure that transgender people can access federally-funded programs for survivors of violence. VAWA also provides key protections for immigrants and Native Americans.
"Importantly, after President Barack Obama's signature, the Violence Against Women Act will become our nation's second fully LGBT-inclusive federal law after the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act," Keisling said.