Weak Gay Panic Defense to Justify Violence Is Being Challenged  

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A man in Texas stabbed  and killed a gay musician, a transgender woman was beaten to death in Colorado, a teen in California shot a male classmate for wearing heels and makeup, but murder isn’t the only thing that these instances have in common over the seven-year period, and they are certainly not all of the incidents that occurred during this time. The commonality is that the aggressors all got lighter sentences because they claimed they were set off in one way or another by the victims. The reason? It’s not because the victims put them in danger. In fact, it’s not even because they were bullied or even harassed. The reason is simply because these victims were either gay, transgender, or both, and that alone caused the killers to feel threatened and go into a blind fury. There is even a term for this, and you probably guessed it by now—”Gay panic.”

“Gay Panic” is a Legal Problem Nationwide

The biggest shock is that this excuse has been admissible in 47 states ever since the 60s. Thankfully, one state (Pennsylvania) is already moving to join California, Illinois, and Rhode Island, who have already outlawed this baseless defense. Unfortunately, the states where more than half of the homicides of LGBTQ people occur are Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, and Texas, and all of these states currently allow for the gay and trans panic defense.

Federal Bill Introduced to Protect LGBTQ

Now, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey are moving to make this unacceptable in federal courts. The thing is, crimes like these are usually tried in state criminal courts, so this bill is really serving more as a call to action for other states. The dream is that this new bill will be taken to heart and states will be moved to disqualify the panic defense, a “legal loophole” according to Kennedy. Violence is violence and murder is murder, and people should be held accountable for their loss of control and assault on individuals. Harming other individuals simply because they are different is inexcusable.

There is also hope that people will come to realize that violence against people because of who they are is simply a hate crime. If this alibi is left unchecked, it automatically threatens American values of equality for every man, woman, and child. Senator Markey said that “gay and trans panic legal defenses reflect an irrational fear and bigotry toward the LGBTQ community and corrode the legitimacy of federal prosecutions. These defenses must be prohibited to ensure that all Americans are treated with dignity and humanity in our justice system.”

Looking Back

Sadly, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that 2017 was “the deadliest year yet for the LGBTQ community” in America. Let’s also not forget the Pulse Nightclub massacre that happened in 2016. It is troubling that the numbers appear to be rising for not just homicides, but violence against LGBTQ people in general. There is story after story of people abusing a person for no other reason than because they are LGBTQ, and transgender individuals are disproportionately attacked.

Homophobia and transphobia are serious issues of concern, particularly when they lead to oppression, aggression, and violence. Amidst the suffering of innocent lives, the panic defense has been used to reduce sentences of offenders, and some reductions are deplorable. There is at least one instance where a murderer had his sentence dropped from a life sentence to just 10 months plus probation and community service.

What You Can Do

If you are an individual in the LGBTQ community, things might seem bleak, but stay strong. Please know that you are not alone, and there are people all over this country that value your life and well-being. Laws like this are a step towards justice and equality. If you are enduring frightening harassment and threats, or if a loved one has been victimized because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, reach out and seek legal support now. Don’t wait. Our lawyers are sincerely devoted to protecting the innocent and fighting for justice. You deserve just as fair of a legal fight as anyone else.