The opening line of HuffPost senior political reporter Amanda Terkel's Feb. 27 piece "Obama Circumvents Gridlocked Congress To Advance LGBT Rights" caught my eye: "Don't expect any landmark gay rights bills in the 113th Congress." Though I don't disagree generally with Terkel's assessment of the 113th Congress when it comes to LGBT rights, I would like to point out one significant counterexample: Last week the 113th Congress passed a landmark LGBT rights bill, the new Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
VAWA, the primary federal legislation that addresses intimate partner and sexual violence, is the first federal legislation in the country that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also recognizes LGBT people as "underserved communities," or communities with unique needs that have been unaddressed for far too long. Finally, it provides an LGBT-specific "purpose area" for funding for LGBT anti-violence initiatives.
While I'm at it, I would like to correct an assumption I've seen in some recent stories about LGBT inclusion in VAWA. Although the act names women as its purpose, these LGBT-specific provisions apply to all LGBT people, including gay, transgender and bisexual men as well as genderqueer people, not just lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.
The LGBT communities do not always see violence as "our issue." We also don't often see violence through a human rights or civil rights lens. But LGBT people experience intimate partner and sexual violence at approximately the same rates as non-LGBT people, and many of the barriers we experience in seeking support are because of the legal discrimination and institutional bias we face. Many LGBT people can't get orders of protection, because their relationships are not recognized. Many can't talk about the violence at work or ask for help, for fear that they will be fired. Many can't, or won't, go to the police, domestic violence shelters or the court, because of the bias that they know they will face in those institutions. Intimate partner and sexual violence is an LGBT issue, and it is a civil rights issue.
Therefore, an explicitly LGBT-inclusive VAWA, our nation's response to intimate partner and sexual violence, is a landmark LGBT rights bill that passed both houses of Congress with strong bipartisan support: 78 to 22 in the Senate, and 268 to 138 in the House. This is cause for celebration, it is a model that we can build on, and it is a victory for LGBT people everywhere.