On Thursday, February 2nd, the US Senate Judiciary Committee approved GLBTQ-inclusive legislation on domestic violence, known as Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This is the first time VAWA has been written to specifically include gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) victims of domestic violence since it was first enacted in 1994. Historically, a GLBTQ domestic violence program seeking funding under the VAWA STOP Grant program was denied access to funding if their primary client population was not women.
Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown (not a Judiciary Committee member), stepped forward to co-sponsor the bill the day before the Committee vote (which followed party lines and passed 10-8 due to the Democratic majority). “I am proud to co-sponsor the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and encourage its immediate passage,” said Senator Brown. “Massachusetts is home to many organizations and advocates that are on the front lines in assisting victims and survivors. VAWA will allow these groups to continue to make a difference in the lives of so many in Massachusetts and across the country.” Brown is one of eight New England Senators co-sponsoring the bill, and one of two New England Republican Senators, the other being Senator Collins of Maine.
Curt Rogers, Executive Director of the Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project (GMDVP) – a regional domestic violence organization serving Southern New England, applauded the inclusive language. “GMDVP has been repeatedly denied access to Federal VAWA monies through the STOP Grant program administered in Massachusetts by the Executive Office of Public Safety because we do not ‘primarily serve women’”, said Rogers. “The new VAWA language breaks down the barriers that prohibited GLBTQ domestic violence victims from having access to equal services.”
The Senate action to increase the inclusivity of VAWA follows the recent release of an exhaustive Center of Disease Control’s (CDC) survey of sexual assault and domestic violence that affirmed domestic violence is not the female-specific phenomena that it has commonly been thought. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) is one of the CDC’s newest public health surveillance systems and it is designed to monitor the magnitude of intimate partner violence victimization in the United States. While 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence, the survey shows that 1 in 4 men will experience domestic violence as well. On a national average, 28.5% of men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime compared to 35% of all women.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) strongly supports an inclusive VAWA. “Some are saying we seek to protect too many victims,” Leahy said. “One thing I know from my time as a prosecutor, and I would hope it is something we can all agree on, is that all victims count.” President of the Human Rights Campaign Joe Solmonese praised the recent vote. “Victims of domestic violence need assistance, not irrational barriers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Solmonese.
However, Rogers voiced caution for the legislative process that lies ahead and underscored the importance of Sen. Brown’s co-sponsorship, “it is one thing to pass a GLBTQ-inclusive bill on party lines in a Democratic majority Senate committee. When the bill reaches the Senate floor or the Republican controlled House, we may well see the GLBTQ provisions stripped out of the bill and an actual reduction in the current limited access GLBTQ programs enjoy in VAWA. As a Republican Senator of national prominence, Brown’s co-sponsorship of the GLBTQ inclusive VAWA can be critical in advocating for further Republican support.” Articulating the anti-GLBTQ stance is Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, saying that he could not support the bill since “the Leahy substitute would prohibit discrimination by grantees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project is a southern New England organization that has been providing crisis intervention to victims and survivors of intimate partner abuse for 18 years. GMDVP works with anyone who is without services, regardless of sexual orientation or gender/ gender identity. GMDVP has emergency safe-home housing, legal advocacy, and a 24 hour hotline, 800-832-1901.