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March 8, 2013

Domestic violence law passes with LGBT provisions

Washington, D.C.--The House of Representatives ended February with a rare show of bipartisanship, approving the Senate’s renewal of the Violence Against Women Act with its LGBT provisions intact.

Despite strong opposition from vocal members of his own party, Speaker John Boehner of Cincinnati brought the bill to a floor vote, where it passed 286-138, with 87 Republicans voting with their Democratic counterparts to approve the bill.

The domestic violence law, written by then-senator Joe Biden, was originally passed in the mid-1990s. Twice it was reauthorized with little fanfare, but this time the Senate added LGBT protections, along with stronger protection for immigrants and Native Americans. Republicans accused Senate Democrats of moving the goalposts by adding those groups.

The Native American provision would allow non-native men accused of domestic violence in tribal territory to be tried in tribal court.

It is also the first time domestic violence protections based on actual or perceived gender identity and sexual orientation have passed federally, bringing a chorus of approval from LGBT organizations.

“Today’s House vote explicitly includes LGBTQ survivors of violence in VAWA, our nation’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking,” said New York City Anti-Violence Project executive director Sharon Stapel. “This legislation ends the silence and isolation that so many LGBTQ survivors have felt, makes LGBT survivors visible and central to our national response to domestic and sexual violence, and says to all survivors of violence: you matter and there is support for you.”

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, also praised the reauthorization.

“We are pleased that the House passed a strong Violence Against Women Act ensuring key protections for all survivors of violence. This is so important to the many transgender people who experience violence and abuse almost daily,” she said. “VAWA will give all of our communities--LGBT, immigrant, Native American--the access we need to services that protect us from abuse.”

A 2011 survey found that 19 percent of non-gender conforming and transgender people reported domestic violence because of their gender identity. Ten percent reported harassment or denial of service from domestic violence and shelter programs.

“Transgender victims of violence can be victimized again by a discriminatory system that’s supposed to help them,” Keisling said.

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