January 19, 2021 at 8:17 pm EST | by Philip Van Slooten
Md., Va. lawmakers introduce bills to ban LGBTQ panic defense
Connor Climo, gay news, Washington Blade

Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia have introduced bills that would ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in their respective states.

Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) last week introduced House Bill 2132, which states a victim’s actual or perceived personal characteristics that include gender identity or sexual orientation is not a defense to murder and other violent acts. The Manassas Democrat — the first openly trans person elected to a state legislature in the U.S. — on Monday presented a budget amendment for the bill as required by state law.

“Preventing the LGBTQ+ ‘panic defense’ to be used as a ‘legitimate’ mechanism in our court system shows that LGBTQ+ lives and bodies are equal to all in the eyes of the law and that our justice system doesn’t condone violence against our community,” she said on Friday in a press release.

The bill is expected to come up in subcommittee this week.

The Maryland House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday heard testimony on House Bill 231, sponsored by Del. Julie Palakovich Carr (D-Montgomery County) and state Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard Counties.)

“Despite significant advances in recent years, LGBTQ Marylanders experience violence at rates higher than other groups,” FreeState Justice Legal Director CP Hoffman told committee members during the virtual hearing.

Merrick Moise, a victim advocate in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office who identifies as a Black trans man, told the committee about Mia Henderson, a Black trans woman who was killed in Baltimore in 2014.

According to Moise, Henderson’s family and friends were deeply troubled during the murder trial when the public defender used dehumanizing transphobic language, such as asking if Henderson looked like a boy or a girl when a witness last saw her, in order to use this supposed confusion to mitigate the defendant’s violence and alleged state of mind.

The Maryland Psychological Association, however, submitted written testimony that stated “a discovery of, or perception of, or belief about another’s race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation does not constitute provocation” to violence.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office submitted a letter in support of the legislation at Tuesday’s hearing that stated “the discovery or perception of a person’s racial, sexual or gender identity can never be adequate provocation for murder or assault.”

The letter also noted under current criminal law, “discovering one’s spouse engaged in sexual intercourse with another” is another example of “inadequate provocation.”

“As one of the members of the LGBT Caucus here in Maryland, this is a bill that is long overdue,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) told the Washington Blade. “And I certainly look forward to moving it out of my committee.”

Clippinger said he expects the bill to pass in the House of Delegates again and at least reach the state Senate, where it died last session due to an early closure because of the pandemic.

“The fact that it passed last year puts it in a good place,” he said. 

FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster said he believes this legislation impacts more than just LGBTQ Marylanders, and can affect anyone who is perceived as non-conforming.

“I like to remind people that how you express your gender is not unique to trans folks,” LaMaster said. “This is for everyone to live their lives authentically and express themselves freely.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Jan. 11 signed legislation that bans the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in the nation’s capital.

According to the National LGBT Bar Association, D.C. and 11 states currently ban the use of this legal strategy; which it defines as defendants blaming a victim’s perceived gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation for the violence committed against them, often in exchange for a reduction in charges.

“It is simply unacceptable to claim LGBTQ people are somehow responsible — just by being themselves — when assaulted or even murdered,” National LGBT Bar Association Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz told the Blade in an email. “That is why it is urgent that we pass these bills — for all of society.”

The Human Rights Campaign has tracked violence against trans and gender non-conforming individuals since 2013.

It noted 2020 was the deadliest year on record with more than 40 trans and gender non-conforming people killed. The majority of them were Black trans women or trans Latina women.

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