Virginia has taken a step in the right direction becoming the 13th state, and first state in the South, to ban gay and transgender panic as a defense for murder or manslaughter. This progressive act is important and long overdue, and it is completely necessary for other states to follow suit to end the discrimination the gay and transgender communities go through on a regular basis.
The gay or trans panic defense is a legal defense where the defendant claims they acted in a state of violent, temporary insanity, committing assault or murder, because of unwanted same-sex sexual advances, or engaged in sexual relations with and claimed to have been unaware that the victim was transgender, according to an excerpt titled “Homosexual panic: a review of its concept” from The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
One of the most high profile cases that used this defense was against Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old man who was beaten to death by two men simply for being gay in 1998. Despite a long period of public protest, the defense remains legal in most states, which is a disheartening fact.
This defense is wrong and makes the LGBT community more likely to be targeted in hate crimes. According to The LGBT Bar, there were 1,656 recorded hate crimes against people for their sexual orientation and gender identity in 2019, and made up a combined 18.8 percent of motivation in single-bias hate crime incidents.
This defense has led to juries acquitting a large number of murderers and has been a successful defense in a case as recent as April 2018. The strategy is homophobic and extremely harmful to the community as it enforces a narrative that members of the LGBT community don’t deserve their birth given rights simply because of their sexual or gender identity.
The gay panic defense has been banned in 13 states including California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Colorado, District of Columbia and now Virginia. However, there are still 37 other states that need to take this step to help protect the LGBT community in the criminal justice system. It is important now more than ever to fight for the LGBT community’s safety as the hate crimes and lack of empathy are only making matters worse.