This year has been a momentous year in the ongoing fight for LGBT rights. From the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act last June to this month’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruling that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, we are witnessing an historic shift in the nations capacity to understand and protect the civil rights of LGBT Americans. And the Office on Violence Against Women is committed to build on this progress. As we come together this June to celebrate LGBT Pride Month, I cannot think of a better time to highlight the important achievement of the countless LGBT advocates and allies who worked tirelessly to make sure the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) retained a non-discrimination provision. The non-discrimination provision is one of the most significant changes in VAWA 2013 and it ensures that all LGBT victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking have access to the lifesaving services funded by VAWA. This is the first time that any federal legislation has barred discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and it is a major step forward in protecting the civil rights of LGBT Americans. The unfortunate reality is that this provision is critically needed. For the first time, national representative data shows what we already knew – lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men report lifetime levels of intimate partner violence and sexual violence equal to or great than that of heterosexuals. And the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Victimization Survey (NISVS) on Victimization by Sexual Orientation are staggering:
- 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime
- 26% percent of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual men experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime
- Approximately 1 in 5 bisexual women and nearly 1 in 10 heterosexual women have been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime
The VAWA 2013 non-discrimination provision reinforces that VAWA funded programs save lives and that all victims, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve access to these lifesaving services. We know that many LGBT Americans continue to face discrimination, but that discrimination should never prevent someone from fleeing domestic violence or healing from sexual assault. And OVW is committed to working with our grantees, like the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), to develop organizational capacity and strengthen culturally-competent services for LGBT victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. We must ensure that providers are well trained and informed by the most current best practices. OVW has a long history of funding LGBT organizations and remains dedicated to making universal access and non-discrimination a reality. By funding organizations like NCAVP and FORGE, VAWA funds are supporting vital training and technical assistance to OVW grantees on culturally-competent care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence. You can explore upcoming and archived webinars on the Training and Events page of FORGE’s website. Another resource is the National Clearinghouse on Violence & Abuse in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Communities, created by OVW Technical Assistance provider The Northwest Network. This comprehensive online resource provides current research and information on domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking affecting the LGBT community, and is an important space for community organizations and survivors to access useful advocacy tools like the LGBTQ Domestic Violence Legal Toolkit. This toolkit provides advocates with the necessary tools to help LGBT survivors navigate through the complex civil and criminal legal systems. I cannot overstate the importance of these and other resources, and I encourage anyone interested in learning more about any of these topics to visit the websites and reach out to these technical assistance A providers. The Office on Violence Against Women is committed to ensuring that all LGBT survivors and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking can access the vital services supported by OVW without fear of discrimination. As we continue to work with the entire Department of Justice to ensure equality for all, OVW will continue to work to with our grantees and technical assistance providers to expand the availability of culturally-competent services for LGBT victims and survivors. Grantees are encouraged to review the Frequently Asked Questions released by the Office of Civil Rights, Office of Justice Programs to understand obligations under the expanded non-discrimination provision of VAWA 2013. The Office of Civil Rights, Office of Justice Programs is also available to answer questions and can be contacted via email at VAWAcivilrights@usdoj.gov.