Dems Reintroduce Bill to Ban Gay and Trans “Panic” Defenses from Federal Court

Only four states ban the defense, which has been successfully used dozens of times by murderers seeking acquittals.

Democrats are working to ban the so-called gay and trans “panic” defenses from being used in federal court in cases involving anti-LGBTQ violence.

Sen. Ed Markey (below, left) and Rep. Joe Kennedy III (below, right) reintroduced the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act in the House and Senate, respectively, having previously introduced it last year. If the bill becomes law, it will no longer be valid to claim a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, either real or perceived, provoked an attack in an attempt to be found not guilty or given a lesser sentence.

joe kennedy, ed markey
Public Domain

The practice is still legal in all but four states: California, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Nevada. Legislation to ban it has also been introduced in New Jersey, Washington, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maine, Texas, New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii, and D.C.

“Claiming a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity justify murder or assault expressly tells entire segments of our society that their lives are not worthy of protection,” said Kennedy in a joint statement with Markey.

“As long as gay and trans panic defenses are allowed in our state and federal courts, the LGBTQ community will be deprived of the justice all Americans deserve. With four states already implementing bans, we have the federal momentum to outlaw this bigoted legal practice across the country.”

“Our courtrooms are supposed to be chambers of justice, not hate,” said Markey. “So-called gay and trans panic legal defenses perpetuate bigotry and violence toward the LGBTQ community and should be banned. They corrode the legitimacy of federal prosecutions, and blame victims for the violence committed against them.”

“We believe that as more people become aware of [panic defenses] continuing usage in courtrooms, more individuals will advocate for its end,” D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director of the National LGBT Bar Association, told NewNowNext last year.

The group is one of many endorsing Kennedy and Markey’s legislation, including the Matthew Shepard Foundation, founded by the parents of Matthew Shepard, who was brutally murdered in 1998. One of Shepard’s killers attempted to use the gay panic defense, but the judge rejected it.

There are numerous examples of it having gone the other way, however, with the National LGBT Bar Association reporting gay and trans panic defenses have been used successfully to acquit dozens of murderers of their crimes.

In 2009, Joseph Biedermann was acquitted after stabbing his neighbor, Terrance Hauser, 61 times. Biedermann claimed Hauser made an unwanted sexual advance on him, but prosecutors noted facts that seemed to contradict that story.

For one, there were no signs of a struggle in Hauser’s apartment, despite Biedermann’s claim they fought before the stabbing. Prosecutors also questioned why he would need to stab the victim, who was both more intoxicated than Biedermann and smaller in stature, dozens of times simply to escape, as he claimed.

The following year, Vincent James McGee was convicted of manslaughter instead of the more serious charge of capital murder, for stabbing and killing Richard Barrett. McGee claimed the victim had dropped his pants and told him to perform oral sex on him.

In April of 2018, Texan James Miller avoided a prison sentence after claiming the man he killed, his neighbor, Daniel Spencer, had come onto him, and then reacted poorly when Miller spurned his advances.

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