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Senate passes LGBT-inclusive domestic violence bill

Advocates hail bipartisan vote; measure heads to House

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United States Capitol Building, dome, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Senate approved on Tuesday LGBT-inclusive legislation that reauthorizes an existing law that aims to provide help to victims of domestic violence.

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation — the reauthorization of a 1994 law known as the Violence Against Women Act — on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 78-22. It now heads to the Republican-controlled House for consideration.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, praised the Senate in a statement for approving legislation that would aid LGBT victims of domestic violence.

“To be the target of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking is terrifying and traumatic,” Carey said. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not immune from this violence and should not also fear being turned away from life-saving services because of who they are.”

In a statement, President Obama also commended the Senate for acting on a bipartisan basis to pass the domestic violence legislation.

“This important step shows what we can do when we come together across party lines to take up a just cause,” Obama said. “The bill passed by the Senate will help reduce homicides that occur from domestic violence, improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault, address the high rates of dating violence experienced by young women, and provide justice to the most vulnerable among us.”

The LGBT language found in the bill is the same language found in a bill the Senate passed last year. The House passed its own version of VAWA reauthorization that didn’t include the protections. No agreement was made on a final version of reauthorization last year, so lawmakers are renewing their efforts this year.

The VAWA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate has language that aims to help LGBT victims of domestic violence in three ways:

• First, the legislation mandates all programs or activities that receive funding under VAWA provide services regardless of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

• Second, it explicitly includes the LGBT community in the largest VAWA grant program, the “STOP Grant Program,” which provides funding to care providers who collaborate with prosecution and law enforcement officials to address domestic violence.

• Finally, the bill sets up a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including programs that provide care specifically for LGBT people.

The bill also modifies VAWA by strengthening a tribe’s ability to respond to violence against Native American women; increasing accountability measures for grant programs; and ensuring law enforcement officials receive support to ensure rape kits are promptly tested and to reduce the countrywide backlog.

However, the legislation is different from the bill that the Senate passed last year because lawmakers removed a provision deemed controversial that increases the number of special visas allotted for undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence. According to a report in Mother Jones, there is a cap of 10,000 of these “U visas” each year, and the government consistently hits this cap.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) commended those who worked to pass the legislation in a statement and was optimistic the legislation would reach Obama’s desk.

“There is strong, bipartisan support for VAWA reauthorization, and together we can finally finish what we started last year,” Leahy said. “We are deeply indebted to the women and men around the country who have been working with us and have been steadfast in their commitment to the victims and to our efforts to combat domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault.”

All 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats voted in favor of the LGBT-inclusive Senate legislation. The 23 Republicans who joined them are Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

But 22 Republicans voted against the bill: Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Idaho), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and John Thune (R-S.D.)

It’s unclear whether the Republican-controlled House will act to pass the LGBT-inclusive legislation. According to a report from The Huffington Post‘s Jennifer Bendery, a group of 17 House Republicans sent a letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Whip (R-Va.) urging them to pass a bipartisan version of VAWA reauthorization.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Rosita Libre de Marulanda

    February 13, 2013 at 2:46 am

    Then, this would not be a Violence Against Women's Act but a domestic anti-violence act.

    Previously, lesbians were protected under VAWA.

    Now, the expanded version will protect straight men as well gay men and men who identify as women. So, it no longer is a bill about violence against women. Or, will it cover the whole adult population except straight men?

    I agree that everyone deserves a violence-free existence. My problem is the inclusiveness language of those who are not women into a bill that aims to protect women from violence. When it comes to money, of course, the bill can get very exclusive as in, according to the Blade:

    "• Finally, the bill sets up a grant program specifically aimed at providing services and outreach to underserved populations, including programs that provide care specifically for LGBT people."

    • Diane McLaughlin

      February 19, 2013 at 3:27 am

      The bill was originally written because of the prevalence of violence against women in domestic situations. However, over time we've discovered that domestic violence goes both ways. The VAWA should cover everyone. Who cares what the title is, as long as the law works.

  2. Andrew Jackson

    February 13, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    The wheels of change have finally started to turn! This is a great start. As we know the govenrning bodies may help the process along and we need to take a more active part in educating the victims of domestic abuse. Especially the children of domestic violence. Here at http://www.CDV.org our mission is to end the cycle of violence with the children. A trailer for a documentary that we launched: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPcsuNbnJ68 is a powerful reminder of how wrong these situations can become. Let's break the cycle of violence.

  3. Robben Wainer

    February 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    My initial exposure to gay preference had a somewhat traumatic effect on my perspective. Yet it was the intolerance of out right chauvinism that I felt the most brutally assaulted by. The more congress passess laws against these forms of crime and punishment that feed homophobia until there is no escape from victimization, the more of a contribution it will be making in supporting those whose orientation is a natural state of intimacy in their affections.

  4. Diane McLaughlin

    February 19, 2013 at 3:25 am

    It's time for the GOP House to get off their lazy asses and do their jobs. The VAWA is a worthwhile piece of legislation that has been adapted to meet today's needs. If they don't pass it, I guess we'll know who in the House actually approves of domestic violence.

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National

Does a potential overturn of Roe imperil LGBTQ rights?

Some fear that Obergefell marriage decision could fall

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Protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1. (Photo by Cathy Renna)

The oral arguments before the justices of the United States Supreme Court had barely ended in the case brought by the state of Mississippi defending its law banning abortion after 15 weeks, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, when alarms were set off in legal circles as some argued that Obergefell v. Hodges — the same-sex marriage decision — would be in danger should the high court rule to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler, appearing on NPR’s ‘Heard on All Things Considered,’ told host Mary Louise Kelly that there was a basis for concern over whether the court would actually overrule its precedents in other cases based on the questions and statements raised during the hearing by the conservative members of the court.

Asked by Kelly if she saw a legal door opening Ziegler affirmed that she did. Kelly then asked her, “Them taking up cases to do with that. What about same-sex marriage?”

Ziegler answered, “Yeah, same-sex marriage is definitely a candidate. Justices Alito and Thomas have in passing mentioned in dicta that they think it might be worth revisiting Obergefell v. Hodges – the same-sex marriage decision.

“And I think it’s fair to say that in the sort of panoply of culture war issues, that rights for same-sex couples and sexual orientation are still among the most contested, even though certainly same-sex marriage is more subtle than it was and than abortion was.

“I think that certainly the sort of balance between LGBTIQ rights and religious liberty writ large is a very much alive issue, and I think some states may try to test the boundaries with Obergefell, particularly knowing that they have a few justices potentially willing to go there with them.”

As almost if to underscore the point raised by Ziegler during the hearing, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor pointed out that the high court has taken and “discerned” certain rights in cases from the Constitution.

Along with abortion, the court has “recognized them in terms of the religion parents will teach their children. We’ve recognized it in their ability to educate at home if they choose,” Sotomayor said. “We have recognized that sense of privacy in people’s choices about whether to use contraception or not. We’ve recognized it in their right to choose who they’re going to marry.”

In following up the cases cited by Justice Sotomayor, Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart, who was defending the state’s abortion law, whether a decision in his favor would affect the legal precedents in those cases cited by Justice Sotomayor.

In his answer to Justice Barrett, the state’s Solicitor General said cases involving contraception, same-sex marriage and sodomy wouldn’t be called into question because they involve “clear rules that have engendered strong reliance interests and that have not produced negative consequences or all the many other negative stare decisis considerations we pointed out.”

However, Lambda Legal Chief Strategy Officer and Legal Director, Sharon McGowan had a different take and interpreted remarks by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to mean that the decisions in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized private sexual intimacy between same-sex couples, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down remaining bans on the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, would actually justify overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a publicly released media statement McGowan noted: “During today’s argument, Justice Kavanaugh suggested that two key Supreme Court decisions protecting LGBTQ civil rights—Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges—support overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

‘To that we say, NOT IN OUR NAME. LGBTQ people need abortions. Just as important, those landmark LGBTQ decisions EXPANDED individual liberty, not the opposite. They reflected the growing societal understanding of our common humanity and equality under law.

“Just as the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education rejected the lie of ‘separate but equal,’ the Supreme Court’s decisions in Lawrence and Obergefell appropriately overruled precedent where it was clear that, as was true with regard to race, our ancestors failed properly to acknowledge that gender and sexual orientation must not be barriers to our ability to live, love, and thrive free of governmental oppression. … 

“These landmark LGBTQ cases, which Lambda Legal litigated and won, and on which we rely today to protect our community’s civil rights, were built directly on the foundation of Casey and Roe. Our interests in equal dignity, autonomy, and liberty are shared, intertwined, and fundamental.” 

On Sunday, the Blade spoke with Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national LGBTQ+ legal organization that represented three same-sex couples from Tennessee, whose case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court along with Obergefell and two other cases.

Minter is urging caution in how people interpret the court arguments and remarks made by the justices.

“We should be cautious about taking the bait from anti-LGBTQ groups who falsely argue that if the Supreme Court reverses or undermines Roe v. Wade, they are likely to reverse or undermine Obergefell or Lawrence. In fact, that is highly unlikely, as the argument in Dobbs itself showed,” he said.

“The only reason Justice Kavanaugh mentioned Obergefell and Lawrence, along with Brown v. Board of Education, was to cite them as examples of cases in which the Supreme Court clearly did the right thing. All of those decisions rely at least as strongly on equal protection as on fundamental rights, and even this extremely conservative Supreme Court has not questioned the foundational role of equal protection in our nation’s constitutional law,” Minter stressed.

During an interview with Bloomberg magazine, David Cortman, of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist hate group, said “two things in particular distinguish abortion from those other privacy rights: the right to life and the states’ interest in protecting a child.”

Cortman, whose group urged the justices to allow states to ban same-sex marriages, said those other rights may be just as wrong as the right to an abortion. “But the fundamental interest in life that’s at issue in abortion means those other rights are probably not in any real danger of being overturned.”

But Cortman is of the opinion that there is little impetus among the court’s conservatives to take up challenges to those cases.

However, the fact that the six to three makeup of the high court with a conservative majority has progressives clamoring for the public to pay closer attention and be more proactively engaged.

Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, in an emailed statement to the Blade underscored those concerns:

“Reports and analysis coming out of Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are extremely disturbing and represent a threat to our individual constitutional rights to privacy and autonomy. There is no ‘middle ground’ on what the Constitution guarantees and what was decided decades ago with the Roe v Wade decision. 

“This is about liberty, equality, and the rule of law, not the political or partisan views of those sitting on the bench. The unprecedented decision to remove a constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court 50 years ago would set back civil rights by decades. ….

“Abortion access is essential, and a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. Bans on abortion are deeply racist and profoundly sexist – the harshest impacts fall on Black and Brown women and pregnant people and on our families and communities.

“If you think this decision will not affect you, think again: a wrong decision by the Supreme Court means you, too, will lose your bodily autonomy, your ability to own your own personal and community power. This is not just about abortion; it is about controlling bodies based on someone else determining your worthiness. This is a racial justice issue. This is a women’s issue. It is an LGBTQ issue. It is a civil rights issue. These are our fundamental rights that are at stake.”

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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National

Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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