Today, November 20th, communities across the country and around the world will mark Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day is an opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives to violence and injustice because of their gender identity or gender expression.
The Obama Administration remains committed to preventing violence against all people, including all members of the LGBT community. Four years ago, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which greatly expanded the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes. The law marked the first time that the words, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” appeared in the U.S. Code, and enables the Justice Department to prosecute in certain circumstances hate crimes committed because of a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability .
In addition, the Department of Justice has worked with transgender advocacy leaders and law enforcement leaders from around the country to create a cultural competency training module that will be delivered by the Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS). The training will provide important information to persons interacting with and protecting transgender persons, and will attempt to dispel myths and increase understanding so that communities can better work together to prevent and respond to hate crimes. Interested community groups and law enforcement agencies can reach out to the DOJ’s CRS at 202-305-2935 in order to learn more about receiving the training session.
Earlier this year the President was proud to sign a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that included critical protections for transgender people and for the broader LGBT community. The legislation removed barriers faced by LGBT victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, whose needs are often overlooked by law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and victim service providers. It also included three provisions that would help LGBT victims of domestic violence and sexual assault access VAWA-funded services:
- First, the law added a LGBT-focused purpose area to the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant program, the largest VAWA program and the one that supports law enforcement, prosecution, court and victim service activities in every State.
- Second, the law amended the Act’s definition of “underserved population” to recognize that LGBT victims face barriers to service.
- Third, the law protects LGBT victims from discrimination by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in VAWA-funded programs or activities.
This commitment to equality for all members of the LGBT community extends internationally, where the Obama Administration continues to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. For example, earlier this year, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice released a video message to mark International Day Against Homophobia, in which she said:
At the United Nations, the United States is standing up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and fighting to ensure that their voices are heard and protected. The United States was proud to co-sponsor and adopt an historic resolution at the UN Human Rights Council condemning human rights abuses and violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Today is an opportunity to reflect upon and share the tremendous progress we have made over the last few years. However, let us also recommit ourselves to continuing this critically important work so that we can ensure dignity, equality, and justice for all people.
As President Obama said earlier this year in his LGBT Pride Month remarks at the White House:
The genius of America is that America can change. And people who love this country can change it. That’s what we’re called to do. And I hope that when we gather here next year, and the year after that, we’ll be able to say, with pride and confidence, that together we’ve made our fellow citizens a little more free. We’ve made this country a little more equal. We’ve made our world a little more full of love.
Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement.