Today, the Virginia House of Delegates is holding a hearing on legislation by Rep. Danica Roem that would no longer make it possible for criminal defendants to use the so-called “panic defense” in cases of murder, manslaughter, or assault.

Out & Equal provided the following written testimony to the subcommittee that is holding the hearing.

Out & Equal, a global organization that partners with Fortune 500 companies to advance LGBTQ workplace equality, urges every member of the Courts of Justice Committee to support House Bill 2132, which bans the use of the LGBTQ “panic” defense.  We thank Delegate Danica Roem for serving as the lead patron of this bill and for Delegates Mullin, Sickles, and Levine for joining as chief co-patrons of House Bill 2132.  This unjust defense harms the LGBTQ community and allows a legal loophole that results in repeated miscarriages of justice.  It must not be allowed. 

Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community (most notably, transgender individuals) continues to experience violence at rates significantly above the state and national averages, despite the pro-equality legislation and policies that have been enacted in recent years.  Often, LGBTQ individuals are victims of violence simply because of who they are; they are victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  To make matters worse, criminal defendants have successfully relied on the LGBTQ “panic” defense to mitigate or even eliminate their responsibility for such violence.  This must end.  In a legal system built on the idea of “justice,” those who inflict violence upon LGBTQ individuals should not be able to justify that violence by relying on the panic defense in its various forms. 

No one should ever be excused from murder or other violent acts simply because their victim is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, and Virginia should send an irrefutable message that it fully values the lives and dignity of all people, including those who are LGBTQ.   The LGBTQ “panic” defense is purely victim blaming and is rooted in homophobia and transphobia.  This legislation will hold violent offenders accountable for their hate crimes and send a message that hate and hate-based violence is not tolerated in Virginia. 

Out & Equal is pleased to stand with the National LGBT Bar Association, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Equality Virginia, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice, the Anti-Defamation League, LGBTQ individuals and allies all across the Commonwealth, and many other organizations in wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorsing House Bill 2132. 

Through our work with hundreds of the largest companies in the United States, we know that American businesses likewise want to see state laws that uphold the rights, including the safety, of LGBTQ Americans.

While we wish such legislation was not needed, it is, and passage of this legislation will be a tremendous benefit to LGBTQ crime victims.  We hope you will fully support this legislation to ensure justice for all.  Thank you.