Dalila Ali Rajah
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Violence Against Women Act Expands Services to LGBTQ+ Survivors

President Joe Biden

The Violence Against Women Act, reauthorized in the spending bill signed into law Tuesday by President Joe Biden, now for the first time includes a grant program designed to aid LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The act has for some years has barred service providers from discriminating based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, but the reauthorized version does much more, activists note.

“This Act creates the first grant program dedicated to expanding and developing initiatives specifically for LGBTQ domestic violence and sexual assault survivors,” said a statement from Liz Seaton, the National LGBTQ Task Force’s policy director. “Our sister organization, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, participated in a working group on bill language and advocated for its passage.”

“This legislation has the strongest-ever provisions to benefit LGBTQ survivors,” added Beverly Tillery, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which coordinates the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. “While the LGBTQ community continues to experience a barrage of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ attacks across the nation, VAWA provides a brief moment of hope that we can and will continue to make important advancements for our community. This victory is the result of a strong coalition of advocates who have been willing to fight with and for the most marginalized communities in our country.”

The reauthorized law also will step up programs for other marginalized populations, including Native Americans. Among other things, “tribal courts will now be able to exercise jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault and sex trafficking,” Biden said at the bill signing.

At a Wednesday event celebrating the VAWA reuauthorization, he noted, 
“No one, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should experience abuse. Period. And if they do, they should have the service and support to get through it, and we’re not going to rest.”

VAWA was first passed in 1994. Biden helped write it when he was a U.S. senator. It requires reauthorization every five years, but it lapsed in 2019, largely due to partisan disputes over whether to include a provision banning gun ownership by dating partners and stalkers who have been convicted of domestic violence. The current law bans this for those who have been spouses of victims, and Democrats agreed to drop the expansion of the ban in order to get the reauthorization passed. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said it was a “tough choice” to drop that, but the level of support needed was simply not there, CNN reports.

The spending bill will maintain federal government funding until September. It includes additional assistance to Ukraine and, to the dismay of progressive activists, the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from paying for abortions in most circumstances. The amendment was first passed in 1976 and was named for its sponsor, Henry Hyde, then a Republican senator from Illinois. Biden supported the amendment for many years but came out against it in 2019 and last year submitted a budget plan that eliminated it. However, to come to an agreement on the spending bill, Senate Democrats agreed to put off efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

Activists lamented the continued inclusion of the amendment. “We must note that the omnibus package includes the unjust Hyde Amendment,” Seaton said. “It bars federal funding to cover most abortions, undermining reproductive justice and the bodily integrity of women and LGBTQ folx. This is especially true for especially Black and Brown people, people dependent for their health and survival on federal monies, and people living in poverty.”

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