Senate Reauthorizes Women’s Violence Act, But House Resists LGBT Protections

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | A day after the Senate completed work on reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in a 68-31 bipartisan vote, the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives offered its own version of the bill containing critical differences.

According to thehill.com, a measure introduced on April 27 by GOP Representative Sandy Adams of Florida, joined by 35 Republican co-sponsors, would –– in contrast to the Senate bill –– strip out protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity for those covered under the bill and would not increase the number of visas available to crime victims so they can stay in the US for up to four years while cooperating with law enforcement.

A Republican aide told the website that the House reauthorization would increase funding for sexual assault prevention and stiffen penalties for some violent crimes, but in a sign of how the GOP will battle the Senate –– at a time when the party is being accused of waging a “war on women” –– Adams said the goal of her version is to ensure “that taxpayer resources help victims –– not Washington bureaucrats. It is my hope that my colleagues in both the House and Senate can put politics aside and support this lifesaving legislation.”

LGBT advocates had hailed the Senate’s April 26 approval of VAWA reauthorization.

In a detailed release, Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), said, “For the first time ever, VAWA now explicitly recognizes LGBTQ survivors as ‘under-served populations,’ prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in service provision, and recognizes that all states can use VAWA funding to support LGBTQ-specific programs and services… VAWA is a queer issue. LGBTQ people experience violence at the same rates as any other community: 25-35 percent of relationships. However, LGBTQ victims receive fewer supportive services — and are often actively discriminated against when seeking service.”

Stapel made a point of praising Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo for his co-sponsorship of the reauthorization with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.

Late last month, Stapel noted that 10 to 15 of the 38 LGBTQ-focused groups that make up the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs receive VAWA funding. In the AVP’s case, between 10 and 15 percent of its $3 million dollar budget is funded under the law.

Early this year, Senate Republicans first voiced complaints about the effort to guarantee that programs funded under the law did not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I agree that shelters and other grant recipients should provide services equally to everyone,” said Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the committee's ranking GOP member, at a February 2 hearing. “But advocates of this provision haven’t produced data that shelters have refused to provide services for these reasons.”

Stapel told Gay City News that Grassley was given reports from the NCAVP showing the struggles that LGBT victims have accessing domestic violence services.

Should the Adams version pass the House, the differences between the two bills would have to be negotiated, likely in a conference committee.

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