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Colorado Bans Gay and Trans 'Panic' Defenses, Eases Access to PrEP

Jared Polis

Gov. Jared Polis signed the bills into law Monday, along with one making it easier for minors to change the gender on their birth certificates.

Colorado has become the 11th state to ban the "gay panic" and "trans panic" defenses in courtrooms, as Gov. Jared Polis signed several bills of LGBTQ+ interest into law Monday.

Polis, the first out gay man elected governor of any U.S. state, signed the bills at the LGBTQ Center in Denver. "We've come a long way here in Colorado since our days as the hate state," The Denver Post reports. "We really went from a place where discrimination was legalized in the 1990s to where we are today, where Colorado is a leader." He described the panic defense as "absurd," "outdated," and "insidious." The defense has been used in attempts to justify assaulting or even killing LGBTQ+ people, but in recent years it has been invoked only rarely in Colorado.

A summary of the panic defense bill states that the discovery of a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity, or "an unwanted nonforcible romantic or sexual advance toward the defendant ... is irrelevant in a criminal case and does not constitute sudden heat of passion in a criminal case." If a party in the case wants to claim the information is relevant, they can request a hearing.

Civil rights advocates praised the legislation. "This bill is going to make it possible to have safer and healthier communities for all in Colorado," Amanda Gall, a sexual assault resource prosecutor with the Colorado District Attorneys' Council, told Colorado TV station KOAA. "When somebody is targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender, we want to make sure that that victim has a fair day in court, and this bill is going to help us ensure that there aren't biased arguments or bigoted arguments in our courtrooms here in Colorado."

Rep. Brianna Titone, the first transgender legislator in Colorado, was a lead sponsor of the bill. "For me, what this bill really means is protecting Black trans women, who are the most vulnerable of the communities we're trying to protect here," she said at the signing ceremony, according to the Post.

Polis also signed a bill allowing pharmacists to prescribe drugs used in HIV prevention, such as Truvada and Descovy, if the pharmacist meets certain requirements, and requiring insurers to cover the drugs. The move is expected to expand access to the medications, particularly in rural areas.

Another measure he signed simplifies requirements for minors to change the gender on their birth certificate. They will need to present a statement from a licensed health care provider that their gender identity does not align with the one on their original birth certificate, but they do not need to provide proof that they have undergone transition procedures, as previously required.

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