On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The legislation included a new amendment that would create the first grant program dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.
The amendment had been introduced by Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Marie Newman (D-IL). “The Violence Against Women Act is about saving lives and ensuring justice for survivors who have suffered in silence for too long,” said Pressley in a statement. “But until now, Congress’s efforts have overlooked the hurt and harm felt by LGBTQ+ survivors, especially trans women of color.”
Newman added that violence against Black and Brown transgender women had “become a national epidemic” and that “Domestic, sexual, and emotional violence is a tragic fact of life for far too many women in our country, especially including those from our LGBTQ+ community who, in nearly every category, face higher rates of violence than straight women.”
The VAWA originally passed in 1994 as a means of protecting women from domestic violence, stalking, and assault. The legislation lapsed in 2018, but was temporarily extended through 2019. Legislation to renew the VAWA passed in the House that year but was never brought to a vote in the Republican-led Senate.
This time around, the bill passed in the House with 244 votes, including 29 votes from Republicans. However, opposition from Republicans in the House could signal additional concerns for the bill as it heads to the Senate. Republican lawmakers have taken issue with provisions in the bill that offer transgender protections, including access to shelters and prisons based on gender identities rather than sex assigned at birth. They’ve also criticized the bill’s closing of the “boyfriend loophole,” which would prevent those convicted of domestic violence and abuse from purchasing firearms.
Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), a domestic violence survivor, was critical of the bill saying that “This version is filled with partisan priorities that force women’s domestic violence shelters to take in men who identify as women, strip away protections for religious organizations, and eliminate Second Amendment rights without due process. The most egregious provisions of this bill push leftist gender ideology at the expense of important protections for women’s privacy and safety.”
Senator Joni Ernest (R-IA), one of the Republicans currently at work on a counterproposal for the bill, also echoed Lesko’s concerns regarding the firearms provision. “That’s a big one for a number of us, some stripping away of people’s constitutional rights is not something that we should be doing,” she said in a report filed by NPR. “So why don’t we just kind of backtrack a little bit and figure out where we can agree?”