Virginia is the first southern state to ban the 'trans panic' defense that previously gave lighter sentences to assailants claiming to react to someone's gender identity
- Virginia passed a bill nullifying the "gay/trans panic defense" on Wednesday.
- The defense has traditionally been used in murder and assault cases against LGBT victims.
- Virginia, with Gov. Ralph Northam signing the bill, is the first southern state to ban its use.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Wednesday invalidating the "gay/trans panic" defense, which lawyers have previously used as an excuse to secure lighter sentences for people facing homicide charges.
Prior to the bill's passing, people accused of violent crimes could claim panic as a defense, saying they reacted to a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill nullifies that argument in murder and assault cases.
A dozen other states have already banned the defense. Virginia, with Northam signing the bill, has become the first southern state to do so.
Virginia's state House and Senate passed the bill in February, sending it over to Northam's office.
Democratic Delegate Danica Roem originally wrote and sponsored the Virginia bill. Roem is one of eight openly trans legislators in the country.
-Del. Danica Roem (@pwcdanica) March 31, 2021
Roem said in an interview with NBC News that she hopes other states will follow Virginia's lead.
"I hope that as a region, the Mid-Atlantic can really tell people that you are welcome here because of who you are, and we will protect you here because of who you are," Roem said.
Lawyers from the National LGBT Bar Association say the defense has traditionally been used in three distinct ways:
- A defendant claims that a victim "triggered a nervous breakdown" due to that person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
- A defendant claims that a victim's proposition was "sufficiently 'provocative' to induce the defendant to kill the victim.
- A defendant claims that "they believed that the victim, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, was about to cause the defendant serious bodily harm. This defense is offensive and harmful because it argues that a person's gender or sexual identity makes them more of a threat to safety," the National LGBT Bar Association said.
Research shows that more than 1 out of 4 trans people will experience a hate crime in their lifetime.
The bill comes amid a surge of anti-trans bills being considered in state legislatures across the country this year. Insider previously reported that 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation in 2021.
Most recently,Arkansas became the first state to pass a bill prohibiting doctors from providing gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth following a Monday state Senate vote.
The bill would prohibit doctors from offering gender-confirming hormone treatment or surgery to trans minors. Doctors would also be unable to refer minors to other providers for treatment.
The legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk for signature. He is expected to either sign or veto the bill early next week.
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