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Transgender Legislator Introduces Bill to Abolish Gay & Trans 'Panic Defense'

Transgender Legislator Introduces Bill to Abolish Gay & Trans 'Panic Defense'

A car on the road with blurry headlights.

The first out transgender person elected to office in Montana invoked a recent attack on someone the attacker claimed was trans in support of her bill outlawing the panic defense.

A transgender state legislator in Montana introduced a bill outlawing the so-called gay or transgender “panic” defense, citing the need for it as the victim of an apparent anti-trans hate crime was still recovering from being run down by a car in the state.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, who represents Missoula, said Wednesday that attacks on LGBTQ+ people are not new. The state’s first elected out transgender official proposed a bill prohibiting the “panic defense” in cases involving violent crimes against LGBTQ+ people in the House Judiciary Committee, the Daily Montanan reports.

The bill would exclude evidence a defendant discovered about a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity, even if they made a non-criminal romantic advance.

In a "panic defense" case, a jury is asked to decide whether the defendant's violence, including murder, was caused by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The hearing comprised four witnesses who supported the measure, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and Montana Women Vote.

To emphasize the bill's importance, Zephyr highlighted a potential hate crime that occurred Friday in Great Falls.

A 57-year-old man is charged with felony criminal endangerment and fleeing the scene after he allegedly ran down a person he perceived to be transgender, according to the Daily Montanan. John P. Carr is accused of yelling at a person that they were "trans" before driving his car into them, pinning them between the vehicle and a building.

According to reports, the person suffered a fractured pelvis and severe leg injuries. The Daily Montanan couldn't confirm the victim's gender identity, although a court affidavit identifies them as female. The document says Carr confronted the person "about being trans" before the assault.

Nobody spoke against Zephyr's proposal.

In January, Florida’s Senate minority leader, Lauren Book, and state Rep. Rita Harris filed Senate Bill 328, seeking to outlaw the panic defense in that state. As far back as 2013, the American Bar Association urged states to end such defenses through legislative action.

According to recent data, the panic defense is effective in about one-third of cases, although a 1973 American Psychiatric Association report debunked "gay panic disorder."

Committee members did not act immediately on the bill.

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