Protections for LGBT Survivors of Violence

This October, the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) will implement the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is our nation's main response to domestic and sexual violence. This law, passed in February and signed by President Obama in March, explicitly addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) survivors of violence. LGBT inclusion in this bill represents years of continuous work by LGBT organizations and is a huge victory for this country and LGBT communities and LGBT survivors everywhere.

VAWA 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 domestic or intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual violence and stalking.
  • It prohibits VAWA grantees 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.

This historic legislation came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a national prevalence survey showing that lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience intimate partner violence and sexual assault 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 cisgender people. The legislation also increases protections for Native Americans, immigrants, communities of color and students, many of whom are a part of LGBT communities.

The passage of this LGBT-inclusive legislation was made possible by a coalition of advocates, both LGBT and allies, and our communities who spoke up and spoke out to make this law work for all survivors of violence. 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 work was also the result of the many members of Congress understanding the real and urgent need that LGBT survivors of violence have, and the ways in which an LGBT-inclusive VAWA would help meet that need. In particular, the bill's sponsors, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho); leaders in the House of Representatives, including Reps. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); and other congressional supporters of the bill worked tirelessly to include LGBT survivors in the bill. President Obama and Vice President Biden, who, as Sen. Biden, sponsored the first-ever version of VAWA, were staunchly supportive of an LGBT-inclusive bill, and their leadership was instrumental in the bill's passage.

Along with 35 national and 71 local groups working on violence, safety, equality, and more, we commend the LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act and all those who made this possible. This legislation will make a real difference in the lives of tens of thousands of LGBT people each year. And just 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 just this by responding to the real needs of LGBT people, Native Americans, immigrants, students and those whose communities intersect.

In October, OVW plans to release administrative directives that will lay out the expectations for LGBT inclusion in all domestic and sexual violence services funded by OVW. We know that clear, direct and inclusive implementation guidance on how to work with LGBT survivors as underserved populations, through nondiscrimination protections and state pass-through funding, will be critical to making this law a reality. We know that this will mean that work with domestic and sexual violence survivors will have to shift significantly, from the way in which we do intake with people to the assumptions we make about gender and violence, to the policies that we have in our organizations that address protections for survivors based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to states that still actively discriminate against LGBT people and LGBT survivors. We know that the challenge is great, but we also know that the anti-violence and LGBT fields and movements are smart enough, nimble enough and committed enough to make this work. We also know that we have to do this, because LGBT people's lives depend on it. We look forward to the implementation of administrative directives and regulations that will make these protections available to all survivors of violence.

There is more work to be done, both for LGBT equality and for LGBT survivors of violence. This victory shows what all of us, together, can do to create safety and equality for LGBT people.