House Approves LGBT-Inclusive Violence Against Women Act

AVP's Sharon Stapel. | GAY CITY NEWS

AVP's Sharon Stapel. | GAY CITY NEWS

In a win both for advocates working to end anti-LGBT violence and for President Barack Obama, the House of Representatives has approved reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

The House action came in a 286 to 138 vote on February 28. Eighty-seven Republicans joined 199 of the 200 Democrats in approving the measure. The Senate had earlier passed VAWA by a 78 to 22 vote, also bipartisan.

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“Today’s House vote explicitly includes LGBTQ survivors of violence in VAWA, our nation’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking,” said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “This legislation ends the silence and isolation that so many LGBTQ 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.”

Stapel appeared before congressional committees during the two-year effort to reauthorize VAWA to document the difficulties LGBT victims have accessing domestic violence services, including court orders of protection.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama said, “Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.”

The effort to reauthorize VAWA, first enacted in 1994 and renewed several times since then, foundered last year on House Republican resistance to certain elements in the Senate bill, including the protections for LGBT domestic violence survivors. According to a February White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill Republicans hoped to pass this week, the president objected to the omission not only of the LGBT protections but also of provisions regarding date violence and sexual assault education on college campuses, prosecution of domestic violence on Native American tribal lands, and sexual slave trafficking.

Last May, the House approved a stripped down bill eliminating these provisions by a vote of 222-205. The Senate and House were unable at that time to reconcile differences between their two bills.

The Republicans appeared resistant again this year, but when it became clear the version the president objected to could not be passed, the House leadership allowed a vote on the Senate version.

The measure now goes to Obama for his signature.

Sean Patrick Maloney, New York State’s freshman out gay congressman representing the Hudson Valley, hailed the VAWA vote in a written statement, saying, “This Congress accomplished what the last Congress couldn’t –– pass basic protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. After waiting for Congress to act for over 500 days, women and children will finally receive access to critical protections.”