April 30, 2011 | by Sharon Stapel
HHS turns a new page for an under-served community: LGBT Victims of Violence

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) was encouraged by an announcement by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on April 1, highlighting new recommendations to improve the lives and health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including addressing domestic violence as it distinctly impacts LGBT survivors. On Friday, HHS stated “The recommendations were developed in response to the Presidential Memorandum on Hospital Visitation, which, in addition to addressing the rights of patients to designate visitors regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, directed the Secretary to explore additional steps HHS could take to improve the lives of LGBT people.”

HHS’s 2011 and 2012 Funding Opportunity Announcements under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program was posted on April 1 during LGBT health awareness week. HHS articulated a new and increased commitment to recognize LGBT populations as under-servedcommunities and to identify LGBT populations as target populations for other population-specific grants. This commitment advances the important work that the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), a program of AVP, has done to expand access to funding for local anti-violence programs throughout the United States. Funding for LGBT-specificAVPs will allow LGBT survivors to access competent services that recognize, respect and respond to the specific needs and obstacles thatLGBT people face.

We commend HHS’s work to address the reality that LGBT survivors of violence, including domestic violence, face many obstacles when seeking help from first responders. HHS’s recommendations will go a long way to ensuring that LGBT survivors will have access to competent, unbiased emergency services that are critical to ensuring safety.

A 2010 study coauthored by the National Center for Victims of Crime and NCAVP demonstrates significant barriers that LGBT people face in accessing necessary support and services in mainstream agencies, which may primarily or exclusively serve heterosexual, non-transgender women. Few victim-serving agencies are trained to work with LGBT victims and survivors of crime. This focus often translates into hetero-sexist service provision and may exclude or discriminate against LGBT survivors. Studies have shown that only one in five survivors of same gender sexual assault and intimate partner violence received victim services. These findings highlight the critical need for culturally competent support for LGBT survivors of domestic/intimate partner violence.

For too long, local AVPs have largely been denied access to the critical federal dollars that fund the vast majority of the government-funded anti-violence work done throughout the country. In 2009, NCAVP member programs, already small and under-funded, experienced an unprecedented degree of financial instability due to the fiscal crisis with many programs facing severe funding cuts. As 75% of NCAVP member programs have five or fewer staff, and 44% of member programs have fewer than three people on staff, such cuts are devastating. In 2010, half of the NCAVP programs reported losing, on average, half their staff positions due to funding cuts between 2007 and 2009. Other organizations could not expand staff or program capacity to meet a demonstrated need for such growth. NCAVPmember programs had less capacity to respond to and meet the needs of survivors because of the drastic reductions in direct services, outreach, and community organizing despite the demonstrated increase in demand fromLGBT survivors for supportive, culturally-competent programming.

The recommendations of HHS are, we hope, a harbinger of things to come in equitably addressing the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual andtransgender victims and survivors of violence.

Sharon Stapel is the Executive Director of the The New York City Anti Violence Project and the coordinator of the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs. www.AVP.org.

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