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Virginia to become 12th state to ban abhorrent gay and trans panic defences. Only 38 more to go

Lily Wakefield March 1, 2021
Virginia delgate Danica Roem, who introduced the bill to ban gay and trans panic defences in the state

Virginia delgate Danica Roem introduced the bill to ban gay and trans panic defences in the state. (Getty/ Julia Rendleman for The Washington Post)

Virginia is set to become the 12th US state to ban horrific gay and trans panic defences, used to justify the murders of queer people.

House Bill 2132, introduced by trailblazing trans lawmaker Danica Roem, passed the Virginia Senate Thursday (25 February) with an amendment, and bans the use of a victim’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity as a defence in court for murder or assault.

The amendment, which passed in the House with a 58-39 vote, adds that “oral solicitation”, or coming on to someone, also cannot be used as a defence.

The bill now only requires the signature of Virginia governor Ralph Northam.

Testimony was provided by Judy Shepherd, mother of Matthew Shepherd, a gay student who was tortured and murdered in 1998, as well as LGBT+ advocacy organisation Out & Equal.

After the vote to pass the bill, Roem explained on Twitter: “For those wondering how often this comes up in court in Virginia, we presented eight cases and documented a ninth during committee.

“All of these cases, the murder/assault of an LGBTQ person was blamed on the victim by the perpetrator who hoped to play on the fears/prejudice of the judge/jury to either have a sentence reduced or dismissed.

That is not nearly an exhaustive, complete list… This [bill] means someone’s mere existence as an LGBTQ person does not excuse someone else and does not constitute a reasonable provocation to commit such a heat of passion attack.”

The most recent use of a gay or trans panic defence in Virginia was in 2011, when 18-year-old Deandre Moore admitted to stabbing his openly gay friend Jacques Cowell, 20, to death, according to Capital News Service.

In July, 2020, Colorado became the 11th state to ban gay and trans panic defences. Washington DC also voted for a ban in December.

More: Homophobia, transphobia

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