Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill this week banning gay and trans-panic as a defense for murder, manslaughter, and assault-related crimes.
The bill, introduced by the state’s only openly transgender congressperson Delegate Danica Roem, makes Virginia the 12th U.S. state, and the first southern state, to pass such a measure.
Roem said she first learned about the “gay panic” defense in 1998 when Matthew Shepard, a gay man, was murdered, and the men who killed him used the defense in court.
According to the American Bar Association, the defense is defined by the LGBT Bar as “a legal strategy which asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.”
Roem said she was eventually compelled to write the legislation this year after she received a letter from an 15-year-old LGBTQ constituent.
“He's out, and he sent me an email asking me to pass this bill, and I came to realize that in 2021, my out teenage constituents are living with the same fear that I did in 1998, after Matthew was killed, and that I did in 2002 after Gwen Araujo was killed,” Roem told NBC. “And you think of how many other people will stay closeted because they have a fear of being attacked, let alone all the other fears that a closeted person who wants to come out has.”
"Sometimes things are so egregious that when we have this universal acknowledgment that this shouldn't be happening, we codify that," Roem added. "And so that's what we did with this bill."
Gov. Northam said he was proud to sign a bill that would “advance equity” in Virginia.
“I am extremely proud of the meaningful progress we have made to enact legislation as unprecedented as the challenges we are facing,” Northam said.
Another legislator, Taylor Small, who was elected to the Vermont State House in 2020 and is the state’s first openly trans legislator, has also introduced a similar bill there.