By Emily Hecht-McGowan, Director for LGBTQ Equality, and Lynn Rosenthal, Director for Violence Against Women Initiatives
Here at the Biden Foundation, we seek to expand equality and fairness for all people. This guiding principle informs our work in two key areas — ending violence against women and securing LGBTQ equality — and the powerful intersections between them.
Joe Biden often refers to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as his proudest legislative achievement. Signed into law in 1994, the legislation was groundbreaking in raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence, and directing resources to states and local communities. Joe Biden said from the beginning that the law was only a first step and would improve over time as we learned more about gender-based violence. In 2013, in response to new data showing equally high rates of violence in LGBTQ communities, Congress added nondiscrimination language into VAWA to ensure that LGBTQ survivors would be served in all VAWA programs.
The significance of this cannot be understated — it was the first, and is still the only — time that anti-discrimination protections based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity were enshrined in federal law.
The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) led the coalition of advocacy groups that helped push these VAWA nondiscrimination provisions through Congress. Since 1980, AVP has been empowering LGBTQ communities and allies to end all forms of violence through organizing and education, and supporting survivors through counseling and advocacy.
On Wednesday, October 11th — National Coming Out Day — AVP presented Vice President Joe Biden with the Courage Award for his decades of service working to end sexual assault and intimate partner violence and championing LGBTQ equality. As long-time advocates on these issues, we were proud to witness this powerful moment.
AVP is the perfect organization to honor Joe Biden, as its mission is a convergence of two critical civil rights issues: ending violence against women and working for LGBTQ equality. Mariska Hargitay, known for her role as Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU, and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, presented Vice President Biden with the award. The two share a mutual passion for this cause and have worked together for many years.
While we’ve come a long way in changing the cultural norms to end violence and discrimination, as the Vice President said on Wednesday evening, “We know that violence and the abuse of power still persist today.”
Every day, three women are killed by intimate partners and many others suffer serious physical injuries. One in five college women will be sexually assaulted, with transgender and bisexual women at particular risk. Just this year alone, 26 transgender or gender-nonconforming people have been murdered. Nineteen of these victims were women of color. And yes, we still see reprehensible behavior in Hollywood, where powerful men abuse the power they have over women’s careers in a “disgusting and immoral way.”
Additionally, while same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 states, LGBTQ people can still be fired, evicted from their homes, or denied service in a restaurant in 31 of those states because of their sexuality or gender identity.
The Biden Foundation is working to shine a light on these inequities and the connections between them. Ending violence against women and securing LGBTQ equality are among our top priorities. In the coming months, we will engage the public and form partnerships to identify new solutions and highlight the most promising work happening today. We will convene thought leaders and work alongside activists within the domestic violence and LGBTQ communities to end the culture of violence and discrimination.
The Biden Foundation envisions a world where everyone can live with dignity and respect. This passion drives us every day, and we look forward to doing our part.
Emily Hecht-McGowan is the director for LGBTQ equality initiatives at the Biden Foundation. From assisting service members impacted by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ at the SLDN to spearheading the Family Equality Council’s work in the movement for nationwide marriage equality, Emily has devoted her career to protecting and advancing the rights of LGBTQ Americans.
Lynn Rosenthal is the Director for Violence Against Women Initiatives at the Biden Foundation. She worked with Vice President Biden as the first-ever White House Adviser on Violence Against Women. She has also served as executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and began her career at the grassroots level as a women’s health activist and organizer.