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Exclusive: Violence Against Women Act to offer support to LGBTQ survivors

LGBTQ survivors, especially trans women of color, have been overlooked by the act, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) speaks during a news conference to discuss proposed legislation entitled Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act outside the U.S. Capitol on March 11, 2021 in Washington, DC.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The House of Representatives passed an amendment Wednesday that would create the first grant program dedicated to supporting LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., was part of the House’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark 1994 law that supports programs for domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking survivors.

“The Violence Against Women Act is about saving lives and ensuring justice for survivors who have suffered in silence for too long,” Pressley said in a statement to NBC News. “But until now, Congress’s efforts have overlooked the hurt and harm felt by LGBTQ+ survivors, especially trans women of color. I’m proud that this year’s Violence Against Women Act included my provision to create grants and services dedicated to serving members of the LGBTQ+ community. I am grateful to Rep. Newman for her partnership on this priority and look forward to seeing this critical legislation signed into law.”

LGBTQ people were included in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, but the new amendment creates the first grant program dedicated to expanding and developing initiatives specifically for LGBTQ domestic violence survivors.

The Violence Against Women Act expired in 2018, and was temporarily extended until February 2019, when it expired again. The House voted to reauthorize it for five years in April 2019, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., never brought it to the Senate floor. Joe Biden vowed during his campaign to enact the reauthorized bill in the first 100 days of his presidency.

The amendment to support LGBTQ domestic violence and sexual assault survivors comes at a critical time during which transgender people are facing more violence. More than half of the 11 trans people murdered so far in 2021 have been Black trans women, with trans murders jumping 266 percent compared to this point last year.

Newman said violence against trans Americans, “particularly Black and Brown transgender women, has become a national epidemic.”

"On top of this harsh reality is the alarming rate at which LGBTQ+ survivors cannot access services solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she said in a statement. "This new grant program is specifically designed to combat domestic violence against LGBTQ+ individuals through prevention education, outreach, training to victim service organizations and other entities. We cannot allow ourselves to ignore this gross injustice any longer. We must do more to protect all women, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer women.”

Pressley said the amendment would help create more support services for LGBTQ people, who experience intimate partner violence and sexual assault at rates higher than or equal to the general population, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. For example, the survey found that approximately 1 in 5 bisexual women (22 percent) and 1 in 10 (9 percent) heterosexual women reported being raped by intimate partners.

Transgender people also disproportionately experience intimate partner violence and sexual assault. About half (47 percent) of trans people — and 53 percent of Black trans people — reported experiencing intimate partner violence, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.

Domestic violence across all demographics has also increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. LGBTQ people often face unique barriers to support services, such as discrimination or fears of being outed to unsupportive families.

The House’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act also takes place just a day after eight people were fatally shot Tuesday night at three spas in the Atlanta area, with six of them reported to be women of Asian descent — context that Pressley noted matters as the bill goes to the Senate.

“Last night’s devastating attack in Georgia that robbed us of the lives of eight people — including seven women, six of whom were Asian women targeted because of their race — reminded us that the crisis of gender-based violence is an intersectional one, and this legislation is needed now more than ever,” Pressley said.

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said safety and wellbeing for trans people can begin with providing resources and support.

"Grant funding ensures that local trans communities are given access to protection from the constant violence we experience every day and give us opportunities to live better and more meaningful lives," Heng-Lehtinen said in a statement. "To have safe spaces for trans survivors is one of many steps in combating the atrociously high murder rates that hurt our community on a daily basis and therefore, we are grateful for Rep. Pressley’s and Rep. Newman’s strong advocacy when it comes to the lives of trans people across this nation.”

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