Scott signs law making Vermont 14th state to ban LGBTQ ‘panic’ defense

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Phil Scott in front of video monitor
Gov. Phil Scott speaks at a press conference on March 23, 2021. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed into law Wednesday a ban on using the LGBTQ “panic” defense in court cases. Vermont is the 14th state to enact the ban. 

The new law, H.128, prevents a defendant at trial or sentencing from justifying violent actions by citing a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Such defenses have succeeded in excusing assaults on — and even the murder of — LGBTQ people across the country. 

While this legal strategy has not surfaced in Vermont, the legislation won unanimous support in the Legislature, where lawmakers touted the bill as an important step in curbing violence against the LGBTQ community.

“With this legislation, Republicans, Democrats and Progressives alike sent a message to Vermonters that your identity should never be an excuse for someone to cause you harm,” Scott said in a recorded message.

“While this effort is a step in the right direction, we know there is still more work to do to ensure all Vermonters, regardless of identity, feel safe and protected in our state. I look forward to continuing our work together in the future,” the governor added.

The lead sponsors of the bill were Reps. Mari Cordes, D-Lincoln, and Taylor Small, P/D-Winooski, who is the first openly transgender person to serve in the Vermont Legislature.

Small said Wednesday that the governor’s decision to sign H.128 has earned her respect, especially in a year in which more than 140 anti-transgender and LGBTQ bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country.

“I feel like we are in a state where we can see each other’s humanity and try our best to right the wrongs that have been done, and I think this is just one step in the right direction,” she said.

From Small’s perspective, the unanimous support in the Legislature and Scott’s signature send a signal to members of the LGBTQ community that they can more safely report cases of discrimination, bias and violence.

“I have to say, being the first out trans legislator, it is the warmest welcome that I could ask for,” Small said.

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