A baffling sentence opened the Thursday testimony of Julia Beck, an anti-trans conservative speaking at the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
In fact, Beck had found a welcoming political home for her testimony on Thursday, as she had when she spoke to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in February and at the Heritage Foundation in January. Beck’s home is among conservatives, where she is granted a platform to give the right wing’s anti-transgender activism the veneer of bipartisanship.
Lawmakers on the House subcommittee discussed the reauthorization of VAWA, which has provided funding for programs that address domestic violence since it was signed into law in 1994. Funds for VAWA expired in February after the law was left out of a spending bill meant to stave off a second federal government shutdown over President Trump’s border wall. The 2019 reauthorization includes funding for a gender-responsive, culturally relevant, and trauma-informed protocol for screening, assessment, and intervention with survivors of sexual assault; direction to the Bureau of Prisons that housing assignments for intersex and transgender people be determined on a case-by-case basis; and adds sexual orientation and gender identity to data collection instruments.
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Transgender people, trans women in particular, have an urgent need for anti-violence services and programs, as Democratic committee members reminded attendees on Thursday. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey, more than half (54 percent) reported experiencing some form of intimate partner violence, including acts involving coercive control and physical harm. Nearly half (47 percent) reported experiencing sexual assault. At least 128 transgender people have been killed since 2013 with likely many more uncounted, including dozen at the hands of abusive partners.
Thursday’s hearing fell into a sort of routine: Committee Democrats would share statistics about the epidemic of sexual, domestic, and intimate partner violence and question the other three highly qualified witnesses about their areas of expertise and how they recommend supporting survivors and service providers. The other panelists were Ramona Gonzalez, a circuit court judge in Wisconsin; Professor Sarah Deer of the women, gender and sexuality studies department at the University of Kansas; and Roberta Valente, policy consultant at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Then the Republicans, one by one, would turn their questions to Beck, offering her time to expound on her fiercely anti-transgender views. Beck is not a judge. She is not a professor. She is not a policy expert. She is a personal witness who was invited to share her non-expert views on law, sociology, and policy impacting transgender survivors of violence. And the Republicans of the subcommittee gave her the space and time to share these baseless, often violently explicit anti-transgender views, without interrogation or foundation.
To be precise: by inviting Julia Beck to testify as a witness on the reauthorization the Violence Against Women Act, congressional Republicans committed violence against transgender people.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) was the first to question Beck, allowing her time to mislead the committee and viewers about who is in danger when transgender people access needed violence prevention and recovery services. Ratcliffe thanked Beck for her testimony.
Outside the Thursday morning hearing, Ratcliffe does not support lesbian radical feminists like Beck. In fact, when the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, bringing marriage equality to all 50 states, Ratcliffe issued a statement clarifying his belief that “marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” “I agree with Governor Abbott’s … that, ‘Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected,'” Ratcliffe said. “I am committed to ensuring that this ruling does not force any Texan to act in a way that violates his or her religious beliefs.”
“Forced pregnancy” was chief among the many harms Beck baselessly claimed would occur if VAWA continued to protect transgender people against discrimination in the provision of anti-violence programs and services. Ratcliffe opposes access to abortion, and has co-sponsored the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and voted to end funding for women’s health and abortion care.
There is some evidence Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) invited Beck to speak at the hearing. She was complimentary and grateful to Beck, and joined her in offering baseless anecdotes of men committing fraud to access women’s homeless shelters. In 2014, when she was a state legislator in Arizona, Lesko was a sponsor of an expansive religious exemptions law that would have permitted broad discrimination against LGBTQ Arizonans. After Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed the legislation, Lesko introduced a comprehensive attack on abortion access in the state. The legislation included surprise inspections at abortion clinics and an inflammatory reporting requirement.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) was solicitous of Beck at Thursday’s hearing, offering her time to clarify what would happen, in her opinion, if state legislatures were allowed to continue to updates laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. “There will be no protections for women on the basis of our biological sex,” Beck said. “Rates of violence against women I would expect to increase, rates of forced impregnation, forced motherhood, which is a form of slavery, that would also increase.”
Steube himself supports forced pregnancy, and advocates for permissive gun ownership, despite testimony from the other witnesses at the hearing on the high correlation between gun ownership and domestic violence.
Most shocking perhaps was Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX), who closed out his five minutes of questioning with seemingly heartfelt appreciation for Beck. “I can’t convey adequately how much I appreciate you as a human being and your courage and your clarity,” Gohmert said.
In fact, Gohmert has little appreciation for LGBTQ people as human beings, including lesbian women. In 2009, during a hearing on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he argued that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act would mean you’d have to “strike any laws against bestiality, if you’re oriented toward corpses, toward children, you know, there are all kinds of perversions.” In 2013, he again likened marriage equality to bestiality on a Tea Party conference call, during which he argued that nondiscrimination laws would lead to churches hiring “whatever Satan-worshipper, whatever cross-dresser you think might be immoral.”
At an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation in 2014, Gohmert said federal judges ruling in support of marriage equality needed “plumbing lessons.” Gohmert in 2016 expressed concern, while speaking from the House floor, that same-sex couples might be allowed into future speculative space missions to Mars.
Each subsequent Republican’s questioning made it clear that they were content to sit behind Beck as she did their dirty work for them: vocalized their anti-transgender views while sucking time and air from the real questions at hand.
“I belong to an anti-violence movement that, though imperfect, tries with each reauthorization of VAWA to be more rather than less inclusive,” Lisalyn Jacobs, a domestic and sexual violence expert who attended the hearing, told Rewire.News. “Despite having, ‘women,’ in the title, VAWA is gender neutral. It serves all victims. It saddens me that 25 years in, we have to stop and talk about why being inclusive is central to our goal of reducing and ultimately eradicating domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”
At the end of the hearing, each witness was offered time to talk about housing for survivors of violence. Debbie Fox, senior housing policy and practice specialist for the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Rewire.News it would be critical to include transgender women in the reauthorization of VAWA.
“We are working towards a goal of VAWA inclusivity for all,” Fox said. “An inclusive VAWA being reauthorized means all survivors will have access to necessary life-saving services reflecting our country’s deep commitment to address the needs of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual violence, and stalking survivors. We know that trans women of color are at great risk of domestic and sexual violence and murder. They need desperately need support and to know they can access VAWA-funded services.”
Katelyn Burns contributed to this report.