By Representative Gwen Moore
Since the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) first passed in 1994, we have witnessed nothing short of a sea change. The rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence has decreased 53 percent. More men and women are reporting domestic violence, and fewer people are being killed by intimate partner violence. As the time approached to reauthorize this successful law, a nationwide assessment was conducted that surveyed service providers, law enforcement officials, court personnel, and victims on how VAWA could be improved. We took their recommendations, and produced the most LGBT-inclusive VAWA yet.
LGBT Americans face domestic violence at the same rate as heterosexual Americans, but they face unique barriers to accessing services. A combination of discrimination, gender stereotyping, and a lack of education contribute to an environment where less than 20 percent of LGBT victims receive help. Service providers are not conducting outreach to the LGBT community, don't have the cultural competency to deal with LGBT victims, or don't have the money to pay for LGBT-specific services. To pass VAWA with gender-neutral language wouldn't fix any of these problems. The only way to address these concerns is by passing a real VAWA that does exactly what victims, law enforcement, and service providers have said they need.
The VAWA we need to pass, Senate bill S. 1925 -- which I proudly sponsored in the House of Representatives -- will protect LGBT Americans in a profound way. This bill explicitly includes the LGBT community in major VAWA grant programs, and makes LGBT programs eligible for special grants for typically "underserved communities." It will also prohibit service providers from refusing service to victims because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This provision is especially important since 85 percent of service providers report working with an LGBT victim who had previously been denied services.
We cannot pass a bill to end domestic violence by ignoring the fact that it occurs in every community. This bill passed with support from members of both parties, including 2008 Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. Supporters were men and women, gay and straight, black and white. To allow VAWA to pass without explicit protections for LGBT victims would be reprehensible, and I will do all in my power to be sure that doesn't happen.