Senate panel approves LGBT-inclusive domestic violence bill

Sen. Patrick Lehy

Sen. Patrick Lehy

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel approved LGBT-inclusive legislation on Thursday that would extend and strengthen programs working to combat and prevent domestic violence.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out the legislation, known as Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, on a party-line vote of 10-8. The bill aims to strengthen and improve programs authorized under the existing law — first enacted in 1994 — to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) spoke highly of VAWA in his opening statement and said no other statute “has done more to stop domestic and sexual violence in our communities.”

“As a prosecutor in Vermont, I saw firsthand the destruction caused by domestic and sexual violence,” Leahy said. “Those were the days before VAWA, when too often people dismissed these serious crimes with a joke, and there were few, if any, services for victims. We have come a long way since then, but there is much more we must do.”

According to a statement from the committee, among the ways the bill builds on existing law is setting aside grant money for programs addressing sexual assault crime and enhancing training for officials to identify high risk offenders who could commit domestic violence homicide.

But the legislation also has enumerated protections for victims of domestic violence in the LGBT community. The bill would make grants available for programs providing services to LGBT victims of domestic violence. Additionally, the bill has non-discrimination language prohibiting VAWA grantees from discriminating on the basis sexual orientation or gender identity.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, thanked the committee in a statement for passing legislation that has specific language related to the LGBT community.

“Victims of domestic violence need assistance, not irrational barriers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Solmonese said. “We thank the members of the Judiciary Committee that have recognized the discrimination LGBT domestic violence victims face when seeking assistance. Specifically, Chairman Leahy has shown great leadership in reauthorizing VAWA and ensuring that the bill would explicitly make grants available for service providers doing innovative work with LGBT victims.”

But Leahy also chided Republican members of the committee for voting against the legislation for reasons that possibly alluded to the LGBT protections in the legislation.

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