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New York Gov. Signs Ban of Gay, Trans Panic Defenses in Murder Cases

Andrew Cuomo

With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing into law a bill banning use of the “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in murder cases in the state’s courts, seven U.S. states now ban or limit the defense.

Cuomo signed the bill Sunday, shortly before joining in New York City’s Pride march, The New York Times reports. His action came four days after Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a measure prohibiting use of the defenses in murder and attempted murder cases, and two weeks after Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed one banning their use in cases involving a variety of violent acts.

“The gay and trans panic defense is essentially a codification of homophobia and transphobia, and it is repugnant to our values of equality and inclusion,” Cuomo said in a press release. “This defense strategy isn’t just offensive — it also sends a dangerous message that violence toward LGBTQ people is somehow OK. It’s not, and today we’re sending this noxious legal tool to the dustbin of history where it belongs.”

Defendants in murder cases have sometimes tried to claim they acted violently in response to a victim’s sexual advances or discovery of their gender identity. Matthew Shepard’s killers, for instance, tried unsuccessfully to use the “gay panic” defense.

Cuomo also released a video dealing with the use of the “transgender panic” defense in the beating death of New York City transgender woman Islan Nettles in 2013. Her killer, James Dixon, said he had been flirting with Nettles without knowing she was trans and lashed out because he “didn’t want to be fooled.” Dixon was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in prison, a sentence Nettles’s family said was too light. Her mother, Delores Nettles, appears in the video below.

New York, Hawaii, and Connecticut join California, Illinois, Nevada, and Rhode Island in banning or limiting use of the defenses. The day Hawaii’s Gov. Ige signed his state’s bill, he also signed one allowing for a nonbinary option on driver’s licenses and other state IDs, and one clarifying that it is illegal for state-licensed therapists to perform conversion therapy on minors. The state had outlawed use of the practice on minors last year, but the new bill made various changes to the law’s language.

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