A bill was reintroduced today in Congress to ban the use of the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in cases of murder, assault, and other violent crimes.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III introduced the legislation in the U.S. House and Sen. Ed Markey in the Senate. Both are Democrats from Massachusetts.
These defenses “seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault by arguing that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant’s violent reaction, blaming victims for the violence committed against them,” notes a press release from Kennedy’s office. For instance, defendants may claim they acted violently because a gay person made a sexual overture or because they discovered someone was transgender.
In the trial of Matthew Shepard’s killers in Laramie, Wyo., 20 years ago, one tried to justify his action by claiming that Shepard had made an unwanted sexual advance. Both, however, were ultimately convicted.
“Claiming a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity justify murder or assault expressly tells entire segments of our society that their lives are not worthy of protection,” Kennedy said in the release. “As long as gay and trans panic defenses are allowed in our state and federal courts, the LGBTQ community will be deprived of the justice all Americans deserve. With four states already implementing bans, we have the federal momentum to outlaw this bigoted legal practice across the country.”
“Our courtrooms are supposed to be chambers of justice, not hate,” Markey added. “So-called gay and trans panic legal defenses perpetuate bigotry and violence toward the LGBTQ community and should be banned. They corrode the legitimacy of federal prosecutions, and blame victims for the violence committed against them. All Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity in our justice system. I thank Congressman Kennedy for his partnership on this legislation. As we celebrate Pride Month with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I call on my colleagues to support this bill and relegate hateful practice of gay and trans panic defense to the history books.”
The legislation, a version of which was introduced last year but failed to pass, has numerous cosponsors in both chambers of Congress. Most are Democrats. It also has the support of numerous LGBTQ and legal organizations.
The four states that have enacted bans are California, Illinois, Nevada, and Rhode Island. Similar bills have been introduced in 10 states and the District of Columbia.