While the LGBTQ+ community has made massive strides over the past 10-20 years, there’s still a very long way to go. Every day, there are laws being upheld and put into place to take rights away from members of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community and to make the world a hostile and unsafe place for them to live. However, one step has been taken in the right direction as Virginia has banned the ‘LGBTQ+ panic defense’ for suspects accused of murder or manslaughter.
What is the LGBTQ+ panic defense? It’s quite simple: it was a previously completely legal strategy in which an accused killer could claim that they took another person’s life because they “panicked” upon learning their gender identity or sexual orientation. This works in one of three ways: either the defendant’s “panic” over learning the victim’s gender/sexual identity caused them to have a mental breakdown; the defendant claims the victim was “provocative” towards them, leading them to react violently; the defendant believed the victim’s LGBTQ+ identity would cause the defendant serious bodily harm. Yes, really.
Virginia is now the 12th state to ban the defense. It’s hard to believe that such a defense was actually legal in 2021, but it was. Thankfully, Virginia has now outlawed it along with the 11 other states that already made it illegal. Given that, according to The Legal Bar, the use of the LGBTQ+ panic defense has acquitted “dozens of murderers” over the years, the ruling couldn’t come soon enough.
The ban came into play on March 31. While the measure was approved by the House and Senate in February 2021, it was only signed by Governor Ralph Northam on March 31 and became effective immediately. Virginia now joins Illinois, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New York, and Connecticut in the ban.
A teenage LGBTQ+ constituent originally got in touch with Democratic Delegate Danica Roem to create the bill. As Roem explained to NBC News: “He sent me an email asking me to pass this bill, and I came to realize that in 2021, my out teenage constituents are living with the same fear that I did in 1998, after Matthew was killed, and that I did in 2002 after Gwen Araujo was killed, and you think of how many other people will stay closeted because they have a fear of being attacked, let alone all the other fears that a closeted person who wants to come out has.”
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