The LGBT Bar is proud to be leading the effort to ban gay and trans “panic” defenses across the country. In 2013, The American Bar Association unanimously approved a resolution – introduced by The Bar – calling for an end to these heinous defense arguments. Most recently, the DC Council introduced a bill in February that would eliminate the defenses in the District of Columbia.
Gay and trans “panic” defense tactics ask a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s excessively violent reaction. The perpetrator claims that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explain – but excuse – their loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT victims, these defenses imply that LGBT lives are worth less than others.
In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old college student, was beaten to death by two men. The men attempted to use the gay panic defense to excuse their actions. Despite widespread public protest, the defense is still being used today; in 2013 it was used in connection with the murder of Mississippi mayoral candidate Marco McMillian. McMillian was the state’s first openly gay candidate for office. Lawrence Reed, the man who admitted to killing McMillian, claimed that McMillian’s unwanted sexual advances were to blame for his death.
Following the ABA’s resolution, The LGBT Bar is working with concerned lawmakers at the state level to help ban the use of these tactics in courtrooms across the country. The defenses were banned in California in 2014 and legislation is pending in New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, and the District of Columbia.