Respect Equality

Virginia becomes the 12th state to ban the ‘gay panic defense’

Story at a glance

  • ”The “gay panic defense” seeks to blame the victim of assault or murder for the defendent’s reaction to their sexal orientation or gender identity.
  • The defense has been used in cases of anti-LGBTQ+ violence, especially against transgender people.
  • Virginia is the 12th state to ban the defense, which the American Bar Association has denounced.

Virginia became the 12th state to ban the “gay panic defense” after a 15-year-old resident asked state delegate Danica Roem to introduce the bill. 

Roem, the first out transgender person to win a state legislative seat, thanked Gov. Ralph Northam (D) after the legislation was signed into law on March 31. 


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The “gay panic defense” is a variation of the temporary insanity defense defined by the LGBT Bar as “a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.” Homosexual panic is not recognized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association or a majority of medical practitioners. 

In a release, Gov. Northam called the defense, which was denounced by the American Bar Association in 2013, “outdated and discriminatory.” LGBTQ+ Americans, especially transgender Americans, are disproportionately at risk of hate crimes and violence motivated against sexual orientation, gender or gender identity. Last year marked a record high number of transgender people violently killed in the United States since the Human Rights Campaign began keeping record in 2013.


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The law prevents “another person’s actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation” from being used as a defense to charges of capital murder, murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, or voluntary manslaughter, even together with “oral solicitation.” 

The bill’s passing is simultaneous with a slew of anti-transgender legislation being proposed and passed in more than a dozen states all over the country, restricting the rights of transgender youth in health care and education. 


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