Violence Against Women Act--Passed in GOP-Controlled House--Covers Transgenders

By Matt Cover | March 5, 2013 | 6:45pm EST

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

( – Provisions in the recently passed Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that single-out gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT) put domestic violence among those groups at the center of the federal effort to address such violence nationwide.

After it passed the Democrat-controlled Senate, the Republican leadership brought the bill up for a vote last week in the House and it passed. It has now been sent to President Obama for his signature.

The new law does not provide a definition for transgender or bisexual. However, the American Psychological Association defines transgender as “an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice, or body characteristics.”

The APA says that bisexual persons “can experience sexual, emotional, and affectational attraction to both their own sex and the opposite sex.”

Language in the law--which passed the House last week on a divided vote and passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support--make clear that the federal government wants states to set up programs aimed at curbing domestic violence among LGBT persons.

The bill does this in three ways.

First, it includes specific language that LGBT people cannot be denied the benefits of any anti-domestic violence programs the states might set up, specifically including language making clear that any program be open to domestic violence victims regardless of “sex, gender identity, [or] sexual orientation.”

Second, it specifically includes LGBT individuals in the legislation’s signature STOP [Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors] Grant program, the primary federal tool for providing states with the resources for anti-domestic violence efforts.

The STOP Grants are important because they are formula grants, meaning that Congress attaches specific conditions to how states and localities use the funds they provide. In this case, Congress is saying that states can use STOP Grant funds to set up anti-domestic violence efforts aimed at LGBT individuals.

Thirdly, the law includes LGBT persons in another, smaller grant program aimed at what it calls underserved populations, including in the definition of an underserved population gay, lesbian, and transgendered people.

“The term ‘underserved populations’ means populations who face barriers in accessing and using victim services, and includes populations underserved because of geographic location, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity,” it says.

At issue for LGBT activists is the fact that domestic violence is much more prevalent among gays and lesbians than it is amongst straight couples. According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report from January 2013, gays and lesbians experience domestic violence at or above levels experienced by straight people.

“The study found that lesbians and gay men reported IPV [Intimate Partner Violence] and SV [Sexual Violence] over their lifetimes at levels equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals,” the CDC said in a January 25 release about the report.

(AP Photo)

“This report suggests that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals in this country suffer a heavy toll of sexual violence and stalking committed by an intimate partner,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden explained in the release.

The CDC report found that 29.4 percent of lesbians and 49.3 percent of bisexual women reported experiencing some form of severe physical violence in their lifetimes, compared with 23.6 percent of heterosexual women.

Gay men also experience higher rates of severe domestic violence, the CDC found, with 16.4 percent of gay men reporting they had been abused by a partner compared with 13.9 percent of heterosexual men.

On Feb. 28, the House Republican leadership brought up the Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act and a substitute, sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R.-Wash.) that did not include the LGBT provisions. The substitute lost 166 to 257. The Senate version won 286 to 138. Eighty-seven House Republicans voted for the Senate bill.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) explained on Tuesday that the House GOP caucus could not resolve its own differences on the bill, leading to the open floor votes on both versions.

“We tried everything we could to get the differences in our conference resolved,” Boehner said at a Capitol Hill press conference on Tuesday. “The fact is that they couldn’t resolve their differences and it was time to deal with this issue [domestic violence] and we did.”

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