Metro Weekly

Democrats shoot down anti-transgender amendments to Violence Against Women Act

Republicans wanted to allow shelters to refuse to place transgender women in women-only spaces

Photo: House Judiciary Committee.

On Wednesday, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approved a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that contained protections for transgender victims of intimate partner violence.

The law, which funds programs and services for victims of domestic violence, rape, or stalking, lapsed in February after Congress failed to pass an extension of the act as part of a larger government funding bill. It has previously been reauthorized three separate times since its introduction in 1994, reports The Hill.

The final version of the bill that emerged from committee passed on a 22-11 party-line vote. 

Republicans objected to two significant provisions in the most recent version of the bill that they say are overtly partisan: expanded protections for transgender victims, including access to shelters; and measures that could make it harder for convicted abusers to purchase firearms. They also wanted to adopt amendments that would ensure that funds from the act would not be used to pay for abortions.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said that keeping those controversial provisions would only endanger women in abusive relationships, whom the act was originally intended to protect.

“It is my sincere hope that we can ultimately work together to authorize VAWA in a thoughtful and meaningful way that preserves the intent of the law,” Collins said. “I cannot, however, support the legislation my colleagues have put forward as it politicizes and weaponizes a program and a law that for years was non-controversial and bipartisan.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) specifically offered an amendment that purported to protect the privacy of women and children by preventing the government from forcing victims service providers to house transgender women in shelters designated for biological females.

“I think this is common sense. I think we need common sense in this bill to protect women and children,” Lesko said.

“This VAWA bill has the government forcing organizations to take in men in women’s shelters,” she added, referring to a dispute in Anchorage, Alaska, where a women’s shelter has challenged the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance by claiming it should be allowed to turn away transgender individuals due its religious beliefs.

Lesko repeatedly referred to transgender women as “biological males,” and argued that women who have been victims of abuse or rape might be triggered by having to share spaces with transgender individuals who may have male genitalia.

But Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) objected to the amendment, saying its frequent references to the “privacy” and “safety” of women and children were overly vague.

“In so far as [the amendment] is intended to deal with transgender people, I will simply say that service providers from these organizations…overwhelmingly agree that the claim that transgender women are a danger to other women in shelters is false,” said Nadler.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko – Photo: House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is openly gay, also objected to Lesko’s amendment, saying it was “clearly designed to deny services to transgender individuals.”

“It’s important to remember, we heard from a witness who made the same claim, that transgender people just don’t exist — that there are only men and women, period. As if you can eviscerate the existence of transgender women or transgender men,” Cicilline said. “The reality is that transgender, gender-nonconforming, and gender-fluid people are disproportionately survivors of violence. They deserve access to services consistent with their needs…

“There is no evidence to suggest that placing transgender women into shelters poses any danger to anybody,” he added. “In fact, all it does is ensure that transgender people are safe.”

The Human Rights Campaign praised the Democrats for voting down Lesko’s amendment and others that sought to undermine the LGBTQ protections in the bill.

“It’s shocking that in 2019, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee would use a bill designed to address violence against women as a vehicle to launch a coordinated attack on the LGBTQ community,” David Stacy, HRC’s government affairs director, said in the statement. “Protecting people from violence shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“These amendments ignore medical expertise and defy common sense. The reality is that trans people are disproportionately victims of violent crime, and they need to be able to access appropriate services,” Stacy added. “Leaders of hundreds of sexual violence and domestic violence organizations agree that transgender women victims being served alongside other women is appropriate and not a safety issue. We are grateful that pro-equality members of the Judiciary Committee voted down these discriminatory amendments.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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