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Virginia becomes 12th state to ban 'LGBTQ+ panic' defense; Florida could be next

In 2019, FBI data shows that there were 1,656 recorded hate crimes against people for their gender identity or sexual identity.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Virginia recently became the 12th state to ban the use of what is called the "LGBTQ+ panic" or "gay and trans panic" defense in court. And, some Florida lawmakers are hoping for a similar change here, too.

According to LGBT Bar, an organization pushing to ban the defense across the country, "LGBTQ+ panic" is 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."

“When a perpetrator uses an LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, they are claiming that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains—but excuses—a loss of self-control and the subsequent assault," LGBT Bar wrote.

"By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBTQ+ victims, this defense implies that LGBTQ+ lives are worth less than others," it added.

The American Bar Association says it's important to note that the "panic" defense is not an affirmative legal defense but rather a tactic used by lawyers to strengthen their client's cases by "playing on prejudice."

One of the most notable cases the defense was used in was the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, according to LGBT Bar. But it's not the most recent use.

According to the organization's website, the most recent instance of the "panic" defense was for a murder case in April 2018.

So far, states like California, Illinois, Rhodes Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Colorado and the District of Columbia have also banned the "LGBTQ+ panic" defense.

Virginia's bill was sponsored by Del. Danica Roem who was the state's first openly transgender delegate when elected in 2017. Her bill, which becomes effective July 1, was signed into law on what is recognized as Transgender Day of Visibility.

Virginia's ban is similar to legislation that has been introduced in Florida looking to eliminate the use of the "panic" defense.

The "Gay and Transgender Panic Legal Defense Prohibition Act” was introduced this year by Senators Lauren Book (D-Broward) and Linda Stewart (D-Orange). It currently is in Judiciary and was originally filed on Jan. 21.

SB 718 looks to prohibit "individuals from using a nonviolent sexual advance or specified perceptions or beliefs about another individual as a defense to a criminal offense, to excuse or justify the conduct of the individual who commits a criminal offense, or to mitigate the severity of a criminal offense."

According to the legislation, the current ability to do so in the state of Florida makes sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity "reasonable excuses for the loss of self-control."

If passed, and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the bill would become law in the Sunshine State on July 1.

In 2019, FBI data shows that there were 1,656 recorded hate crimes against people for their gender identity or sexual identity which made up 19.4 percent of motivations in single-bias hate crime incidents.

The Human Rights Campaign reports 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed in 2020. So far, in 2021, HRC reports it has seen at least 12 killings.

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