Virginia banned the gay/trans panic defense on the Transgender Day of Visibility

The state of Virginia became the 12th state to ban the gay and trans panic defense this past Wednesday, the Transgender Day of Visibility.

“There are unfortunately too many places throughout America… where a judge could hear that sort of transphobic or homophobic argument and think, ‘Yeah, I would have a similar reaction,’” said out Virginia Delegate Danica Roem (D). “That is extremely real.”

Related: Committee hearing devolves into chaos after GOP lawmaker calls LGBTQ people “deviant”

The gay and trans panic defenses are often used by defendants who are accused of violent crimes. They claim that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity made them panic.

For example, a straight man could claim that he went into a state of temporary insanity when he found out a woman he had sex with was trans and then attacked her.

The American Bar Association adopted a resolution calling for an end to the defense in 2013.

The gay panic defense has been used in several prominent cases. It gained national attention in a 1995 case where a gay man, Scott Amedure, told his straight friend Jonathan Schmitz that he was attracted to him on the Jenny Jones Show.

Three days later, Schmitz shot Amedure and turned himself into police, and he argued in court that he was “embarrassed” on national TV. He avoided a first-degree murder conviction and was convicted of second-degree murder.

The use of the  “gay panic” became even more publicly discussed with the murder of Matthew Shepard, where his killers claimed that Shepard had “come onto” one of the duo. Similarly, the “transgender panic” defense gained prominence in the way of the 2004 murder of Gwen Araujo in Newark, California. 

The latter case led to California’s ban on the practice, and 11 other states along with the District of Columbia have since followed suit.

Del. Roem introduced H.B. 2132 in February, and it passed the House of Delegates. It went to the state senate, where it passed by a vote of 23-15 on February 25 with an amendment attached, and was sent back to the House. The House voted to approve the amendment in a 58-39 vote on February 26.

“The discovery of, perception of, or belief about another person’s actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation, whether or not accurate, is not a defense to any charge of… murder” or assault, Virginia’s proposal reads.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the bill into law.


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