HomeResourcesAVP ResourcesAn open letter about new protections for LGBT survivors of violence

An open letter about new protections for LGBT survivors of violence

Dear friends,

This October, the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) will implement the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is our nation's main response to domestic and sexual violence. This law, passed in February and signed by President Obama in March of this year, explicitly addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) survivors of violence. This bill represents years of continuous work by LGBT organizations and is a huge victory for this country and LGBT communities and LGBT survivors everywhere.

VAWA includes LGBT people in three significant ways:

• It names LGBT people as underserved populations in need of specific attention to address the unique issues they face as survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual violence and stalking.

• It prohibits VAWA grantees from discriminating against survivors of violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity when providing services.

• It establishes a specific purpose area to address LGBT violence at the state level.

This historic legislation came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a national prevalence survey showing that lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience intimate partner violence and sexual assault at the same or higher rates as heterosexual people. It comes a year after the New York City Anti-Violence Project's National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that transgender people experience sexual violence at twice the rate of non-transgender people. The legislation also increases protections for Native Americans, immigrants, communities of color and students, many of whom are a part of LGBT communities.

The passage of this LGBT-inclusive legislation was made possible by the coalition of advocates, both LGBT and allies, and our communities who spoke up and spoke out to make this law work for all survivors of violence. Through our work with these friends and allies we were able to demonstrate the severe and harrowing impact that violence has on LGBT people every day. This work was also the result of the many Members of Congress who understood the real and urgent need that LGBT survivors of violence have, and the ways in which an LGBT-inclusive VAWA would help meet that need. In particular, the bill's sponsors Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Crapo, leaders in the House of Representative including Congress Members Gwen Moore, Tom Cole and John Conyers and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and other Congressional supporters of the bill, worked tirelessly to include LGBT survivors in the bill. President Obama and Vice President Biden, who as Senator Biden sponsored the first ever version of VAWA, were staunchly supportive of an LGBT-inclusive bill and their leadership was instrumental to the bill's passage.

We, with 35 national and 71 local groups working on violence, safety, equality, and more, commend the LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act and all those that made this possible. This legislation will make a real difference in the lives of tens of thousands LGBT people each year. As importantly, our work has fundamentally shifted our nation's response to violence to include and acknowledge the LGBT survivors who experience the terrifying isolation, fear and danger of domestic and sexual violence. This legislation ends the silence and isolation that so many LGBT survivors have felt, makes LGBT survivors visible and central to our national response to domestic and sexual violence, and says to all survivors of violence: you matter and there is support for you.

It is critical in our work to end violence to explicitly name, understand and address how violence impacts different communities. The VAWA passed by the 113th Congress does just this by responding to the real needs of LGBT people, Native Americans, immigrants, students and for those whose communities intersect.

In October, OVW plans to release administrative directives that will lay out the expectations for LGBT inclusion in all domestic and sexual violence services funded by OVW. We know that clear, direct and inclusive implementation guidance on how to work with LGBT survivors as underserved populations, through non-discrimination protections and through state pass-through funding will be critical in making this law a reality. We know that this will mean that work with domestic and sexual violence survivors will have to shift significantly, from the way in which we do intake with people, to the assumptions we make about gender and violence, to the policies we have in our organizations that address protections for survivors based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to states that still actively discriminate against LGBT people and LGBT survivors. We know the challenge is great, but we also know that the anti-violence and LGBT fields and movements are smart enough, nimble enough and committed enough to make this work. We also know we have to do this, because LGBT people's lives depend on it. We look forward to the implementation of administrative directives and regulations that will make these protections available to all survivors of violence.

There is more work to be done, both for LGBT equality and for LGBT survivors of violence. This victory shows what all of us, together, can do to create safety and equality for LGBT people.


Sharon Stapel                                                                                    Rea Carey                                               

National Coalitions of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP)         

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force                                            

National Organizations:

Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence

Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

Center For American Progress

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers


Futures Without Violence

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality

GLSEN – Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network

GRIOT Circle

Human Rights Campaign

Immigration Equality Action Fund

International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission

InterPride: International Association of LGBTI Pride Organizers

Jewish Women International

Lambda Legal

National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

National Association of Community Health Centers, LGBTQ Working Group

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs

National Council of Jewish Women

National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

National LGBT Bar Association

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

People For the American Way

Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)

The Trevor Project

Transgender Law Center

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund

Women of Color Network


Local Organizations:

A New Hope Center


ALIVE, Inc. (Alternatives to Living In Violent Environments)

Alternatives for Battered Women

Barrier Free Living, Inc.

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center

Center on Halsted

Chesapeake Pride Festival, Inc

Community Driven Solutions, Inc.


Conway Pride

Day One

Domestic Violence Project at The Urban Justice Center

Empire Justice Center

Equality Michigan

Equinox Domestic Violence Services

Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence

Gender Justice Nevada

GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project

Grace Smith House, Inc.

Howard Brown Health Center

Illinois Accountability Initiative

In Our Own Voices, Inc.

Kansas City Anti-Violence Project

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

Legal Services NYC/Queens Legal Services

LGBT Center of Central PA

LGBT Center of Raleigh

Lyon-Martin Health Services

Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center

Metro Community Provider Network, Inc.

Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities

Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program (SAVI)

My Sisters' Place, Inc.

Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Inc.

New Destiny Housing

New York City Anti-Violence Project

New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

New York Legal Assistance Group

Oasis Youth Center

OutFront Minnesota

Pace Women's Justice Center

Q Center

QC Pride, Inc. (Quad Cities, Iowa/Illinois)

Rainbow Community Cares

Richmond Lesbian-Feminists


Safe Harbor

Safe Homes of Orange County

Safe Horizon

Sanctuary for Families

Sojourner House

Staten Island LGBT Community Center

The Brooklyn Community Pride Center

The DC Center for the LGBT Community

The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada

The Hetrick-Martin Institute

The Legal Project

The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach

The Network/La Red


Triangle Community Center

True Colors, Inc. Sexual and Gender Minority Youth Services of Connecticut

United 4 Safety, a program of The Health Initiative

Utah Pride

Virginia Anti-Violence Project

Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance

WI Fox Valley/Oshkosh LGBTQ Anti-Violence Project

Women, Children and Social Justice Clinic, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Youth Pride Inc.

7 Rivers LGBT Resource Center