When reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month, the landmark legislation included a provision to establish the first-ever grant program dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community.
The provision included in H.R. 1620 is dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking—including trans women of who face mistreatment and discrimination from law enforcement or crisis centers that do not have dedicated services for LBGTQ+ individuals.
“Right now, the field is just woefully underfunded and that causes harm,” explains Los Angeles LGBT Center Director of Policy and Community Building Terra Russell-Slavin, who helped write the language for the provision. “There are so few programs that provide LGBTQ-specific services. Yet, we know, from hearing from LGBTQ survivors and community members, that they have a preference for going to LGBTQ-specific services and also because they receive services there that better meet their needs.”
This new grant program is specifically designed to combat domestic violence against LGBTQ+ individuals through prevention education, outreach, and training to organizations and other entities focused on serving victims.
Currently, only six dollars out of every $1,000 of the Office of Violence Against Women’s budget currently funds LGBTQ-specific grant programs, according to Russell-Slavin (pictured, above), who also serves as co-chair of the LGBT Subject Matter Committee of the National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence which is the main advocacy coalition pushing for the legislation.
“LGBTQ survivors face domestic violence and sexual violence at rates that are similar and greater to the general non-LGBTQ population,” she points out. “And nearly 60% of bisexual women experience domestic violence over the course of their lifetime.”
H.R. 1620, introduced in the House by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Brain Fitzpatrick (R-PA), aims to build on previous versions of the legislation first passed in 1994 which ensures legal protections for all people who are victims of domestic violence and abuse and ensures that survivors have access to essential services and to justice. The amendment which includes the LGBTQ grants was put forward by House Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass) and Marie Newman (D-IL).
“Violence against transgender Americans, particularly Black and brown transgender women, has become a national epidemic,” Newman said in a statement. “On top of this harsh reality is the alarming rate at which LGBTQ+ survivors cannot access services solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The House voted on March 8 to renew the lapsed VAWA legislation championed by President Joe Biden in a 244-172 vote with 29 Republicans voting with Democrats in support. The legislation is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate soon.
“This was my pipe dream to have the specific grant program for LGBTQ survivors,” Russell-Slavin says. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to get the provision through the Senate, but it’s a huge victory for it to be included.”
In 2013, VAWA included the first-ever non-discrimination protections of federal law on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Democratic-controlled House voted in 2019 to reauthorize the legislation after it expired in 2018, but the reauthorization did not pass the GOP-controlled Senate.
The effort to reauthorize VAWA still faces an uncertain future in the now Democratic-controlled Senate where there is a 50-50 partisan split. There needs to be enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster.
“There’s nothing about this that is partisan—VAWA has always been non-partisan,” Russell-Slavin says. “The fact that people wouldn’t sign onto this is about politics and not about substance.”
She advises the public to contact their senators and demand H.R. 1620 to pass through the Senate and to include the LGBTQ grant program.