Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of the Anti-Violence Project, Named "Champion of Change" by the White House (Q&A)

Sharon Stapl2.jpg
Sharon Stapel, the Executive Director of the New York Anti-Violence Project, was named a "Champion of Change" for her work with domestic violence in the LGBT community, the White House announced yesterday.

"[I]n honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Valerie Jarrett will join White House Advisor on Domestic Violence, Lynn Rosenthal, to host 14 leaders at the White House who are dedicating their professional lives to ending domestic violence in their communities," the Obama administration's press release read. In doing so, the "White House welcomes Sharon Stapel to participate in a roundtable discussion to raise awareness for domestic violence."

We've been engaged in an ongoing, running conversation with Stapel over the past couple of years about LGBT domestic violence, and this invitation is significant for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the mere concept of partner abuse within same-sex couples seems to be, from our perspective, a pretty foreign concept within the mainstream, straight-oriented domestic-violence community. But it's equally foreign within the LGBT activist community. Domestic violence is far less sexy an issue for gay activists to rally around than, say, the right to marry. (In fact, now that gay and lesbian couples can wed in New York State, the taboo subject of partner abuse might be the last thing marriage equality activists may want to talk about.)

We spoke to Stapel on the phone last night about her work, domestic violence in the LGBT community, and her kudos from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Here's an edited transcript of our exchange.

Congratulations on your recognition.

Thank you! This isn't really about me, though. It's a great recognition of work of AVP in general, and the work the organization has done to feature LGBTQ intimate partner violence.

How did you find out about tomorrow's event?

The vice president's office called about a week or so ago.

Is this the first time that an LGBTQ domestic violence organization has been recognized by the government in this capacity?

I certainly can't say if it's the first time ever, but it's certainly the first time our organization has been recognized at the federal level around our work with survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence.

Are you already in Washington?

No, I'm going tomorrow. I actually already had a meeting there scheduled anyway. I'm really excited to be taking Victoria Cruz with me to the White House, our senior domestic violence advocate. She's been here for 13 years, and she's the epitome of why AVP has been successful. She started as a client, then she was a volunteer, and she is a staff member. In fact, she's the longest continuous serving member of our staff right now, so I'm so honored that she will be able to go to the White House.

Will you be meeting the president? What would you want to say to him about domestic violence in the LGBTQ community that might not be on the radar of the White House?

No, as I understand, neither the president nor the vice president will be in the meeting. It will be Valerie Jarrett and [White House Advisor on Domestic Violence] Lynn Rosenthal. And while it will be great to see them, this is not the first time we've talked to the White House. We're part of the National Coaltion of Anti-Violence Projects, which has already gotten to talk about policy with the White House. We also released a report with the National Center of Victims of Crime called "Why It Matters," which looked at how LGBTQ violence was viewed within the mainstream anti-violence community.

What we found was that 79 percent of prosecutor offices had no LGBTQ liaison, and 48 percent of domestic violence programs had no connection to the LGBTQ community.

We did give a briefing to the White House on this. But that was a joint report. Tomorrow, personally, I am so proud that the White House is recognizing the work that AVP's staff and board do every day to make a safer world for LGBTQ and HIV-affected people. In acknowledging the work we're doing locally in NYC, the White House is also recognizing the need to create safety for all LGBTQ people.

I'm excited to share our message that we need to recognize diversity and recognize identity. We need to be more inclusive and more creative as we support people in the aftermath of intimate partner violence. Understanding and recognizing LGBTQ people will help us get to the roots of ending violence.

To watch the panel Stapel will be participating in live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/live at 1 p.m. ET today.

Disclosure: Stapel has had some gracious, kind words to say about our writing in the past.

sthrasher@villagevoice.com | @steven_thrasher


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Joseph Dietrick
Joseph Dietrick

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