New Legislation Aims To Prohibit Gay/Trans Panic Defense in Federal Court Cases

Senator Edward Markey and Representative Joe Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, are looking to outlaw gay and transgender panic defenses in federal court cases with the introduction of the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2018.

The “Gay/Trans Panic” defense has been used in courts across the United States since the 1960s. Under the legal tactic, individuals who stand accused of assaulting and/or killing LGBTQ individuals claim to experience temporary bouts of insanity that prompt them to react violently due to an interaction, sometimes sexual, with a gay or trans individual. The only three states that have banned using this defense in a courtroom are California, Rhode Island, and Illinois. It is still legal and being used in the other 47 states today.

In 2008, a transwoman named Angie Zapata had her life snatched away after a man reacted violently when he found out she was trans. And unfortunately, cases like these are far too common. 6,121 hate crimes were reported to the FBI in 2016. And of the 6,121 reported, 1,076 of them were fueled by someone’s alleged sexual identity. But, despite this large number, it is likely only a small account of how many actual LGBTQ hate crimes were committed in 2016, since reporting hate crimes to the FBI is optional.

It is no secret that homophobia and transphobia drive panic defenses. Keeping these defenses alive in the courts only gives homophobic and transphobic people a shield to hide behind when they stand accused of committing crimes against LGBTQ people. They make violent reactions to LGBTQ people seem normal and accepted. Gay and trans panic defenses paint an easy target on the backs of gay and trans individuals, especially those in the QTPoC community.

Further reading:

'Gay panic' defense still used in violence cases may be banned by new federal bill (ABC News)

New FBI Data Shows Increased Reported Incidents of Anti-LGBTQ Hate Crimes in 2016 (HRC)


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