Virginia bans “gay and trans panic” as a defense for murder or manslaughter trial.
Virginia is the first state in the South, and now the 12th state in the country to ban the defense. It goes into effect in July 2021.
Earlier this year, Delegate Danica Roem —who became the first transgender lawmaker elected to a state legislature in 2017— introduced the bill in the Virginia House of Delegates and state Governor Ralph Northam signed it last week.
According to the Williams Institute, UCLA Law’s LGBTQ think tank, a person charged with the murder of an LGBTQ person can receive a lesser sentence by “placing the blame for homicide on a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity”.
But under Virginia’s new law, it is stated that “the discovery of, perception of, or belief about” someone’s sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is not a defense or “provocation” for murder or manslaughter.
Roem told NBC Out that she was driven to introduce the bill after she received a letter from an LGBTQ teen constituent encouraging her to ban the defense.
“What we were showing was, sometimes things are so egregious that when we have this universal acknowledgment that this shouldn’t be happening, we codify that,” Roem said. “And so that’s what we did with this bill.”
Roem added that news and stories about hate crimes “terrified” her. Now that she’s a lawmaker herself, she wants to send a message to the LGBTQ people, that they are welcome in Virginia, and that they will be protected, she said.
The Williams Institute’s data shows that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people make up an estimated 4.5% of the US population.
In a recent study in Science Advances, it found that LGBTQ people are three times more likely to be a crime victim compared to people who do not identify themselves as a member of a gender minority.
For many years, people who committed hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ have used the gay and trans panic as a defense, arguing that the victim’s gender provoked them to kill.
D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, told CNN that even though the defense is not often used, it’s a homophobic and transphobic relic that “sends a message that violence against LGBTQ people is acceptable and that their lives are worthless due to their gender identity or sexual orientation”.
According to the FBI’s 2020 report, hate crimes against LGBTQ people are rising, consisting of 16.7% of all hate crimes in the year alone.
Kemnitz said that it’s important and “simply staggering” that Virginia has passed the ban on gay and trans panic.
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