U.S. House panel rejects LGBT protections in domestic violence bill

CHRIS JOHNSON [e]Washington Blade[m]

WASHINGTON — A Republican-controlled House panel beat back measures on Tuesday that would have made LGBT protections part of legislation aiming to extend federal authorization for domestic violence programs.

The House Judiciary Committee voted down several measures that would have made the House version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization LGBT-inclusive.

One amendment that was offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — voted down on a 14-18 vote — would have prohibited domestic violence programs receiving funds under VAWA from discriminating against someone based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The Violence Against Women Act needs to be an inclusive bill that covers all of today’s families, whether those families are composed of a man and a woman, or two women or two men, and that’s why I’m offering this amendment,” said Polis, who’s gay.

Polis continued, “It doesn’t say anything about a particular lifestyle that members of the committee may not agree personally agree with. It simply says the law needs to be applied equally.”

Prior to the vote on the amendment, anti-gay Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) voiced opposition, saying other characteristics such as race and sex are immutable, but sexual orientation and gender identity are “self-professed” identifications.

“I also make the point that this is supposed to be the Violence Against Women Act,” King said. “Even though that is the case and that needs to be the subject of this discussion; we still are bringing up the subject of sexual orientation and gender identity when people no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity are covered under this bill.”

King called for more data that LGBT non-discrimination protections are needed for domestic violence programs and said other vehicles would be more appropriate for dealing with this bias other than the Violence Against Women Act.

But Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) responded by saying the committee shouldn’t be “in the business of limiting” protections that would be afforded under the legislation.

Another amendment came from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that would have explicitly included the LGBT community in VAWA’s “STOP Grant Program.” It was voted down along party lines by a 12-15 vote.

“With this addition, STOP grant recipients would be able to offer programs to target members of the LGBT community who are not otherwise being served,” Nadler said. “This would not be a requirement of any STOP grant recipient, but would allow entities to use STOP grants for this purpose if they so choose.”

The “STOP Grant Program” is the largest program funded under the law and provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.

Yet another amendment from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) would have explicitly included sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the underserved groups protected under VAWA. Like the others, the measure was voted down on a party-line basis, 13-16.

In his remarks introducing the amendment, Quigley criticized the House version of VAWA reauthorization for not going far enough to protect LGBT victims of domestic violence as well as other groups.

“Domestic violence affects people from all walks of life, whether they are gay, straight, immigrants or tribal members,” Quigley said. “Everyone deserves to be protected. Sadly the bill being considered by the committee today fails to meet the mark.”

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) voiced opposition in particular to the Quigley amendment, saying “there is little data” to support the need for “special protected status” for LGBT people.

“There’s nothing under current federal law to prevent LGBT victims of domestic violence from receiving federal resources and services,” Smith said.

The House version of VAWA aims to extend programs authorized under the existing law — first enacted in 1994 — to assist victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. But civil rights groups have criticized the House version of the bill for not going far enough and failing to provide explicit protections for minorities, including LGBT people.

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