During its first year in office, the Trump Administration has steadily chipped away at federal laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. The administration has withdrawn guidance protecting transgender youth in schools, banned transgender people from serving in the military, undermined LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections in federal court, and sided with people and organizations who want to discriminate against LGBT people for religious reasons.
In 2018, another crucial protection is at risk of being erased. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), designed to support survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking, contains important provisions prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in the services it funds and supports. The protections were added when the law was reauthorized in 2013, making it the first federal law to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With these provisions, VAWA has helped ensure that all survivors are able to better access care.
Support for LGBT people who have survived abuse is critical. A 2015 survey of research by the Williams Institute noted that most studies “found a lifetime prevalence of [intimate partner violence] among lesbian and bisexual women, gay and bisexual men, and transgender people that is as high as or higher than the U.S. general population.” LGBT survivors face unique barriers to accessing services, ranging from a lack of awareness to heteronormative assumptions that they don’t need protection from abuse to overt discrimination and exclusion by service providers.
VAWA helps address these barriers. LGBT-inclusive provisions have encouraged providers to undergo training and ensure services are accessible and effective for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. They have named LGBT people an underserved population, allowing providers to use earmarked funds to address their unique vulnerabilities. And they have ensured that transgender people are able to access shelters consistent with their gender identity.
These 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence are the last before Congress is scheduled to reauthorize VAWA. In 2013, Republican leadership in the House of Representatives fought hard to strip LGBT protections from the bill, delaying VAWA reauthorization for months. Advocates have expressed concern that inclusive provisions of the law will come under renewed threat in the upcoming reauthorization. In 2018, Congress should refuse to make the elimination of intimate partner violence for LGBT people a partisan issue. Instead, it should reauthorize an inclusive VAWA that commits to addressing gender-based violence in all its forms.