Illinois Just Became Only The Second State To Ban The “Gay Panic” Defense

“At the heart of gay and trans-panic defenses is the idea that individuals who do not conform to gender norms are abnormal and should be feared.”

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has signed a law prohibiting the use of the “gay panic” defense in murder cases.

SB 1761, which also bars defendants from submitting a “trans panic” defense, was unanimously passed by both the Illinois State Senate and House of Representatives back in June.

It bars attorneys from submitting as a defense that their client was threatened by the victim’s real or perceived sexual orientation. Being able to submit it as a defense at trial doesn’t automatically mean a jury or judge will buy it, but it has resulted in defendants being convicted of lesser charges, and been used as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

In 2010, Vincent James McGee was charged with capital murder for stabbing and killing Richard Barrett in Mississippi, but was only convicted of manslaughter after he claimed Barrett dropped his pants and asked McGee to perform a sexual act on him.

In 2009, an Illinois jury acquitted Joseph Biedermann of first-degree murder after he stabbed his neighbor, Terrance Michael Hauser, 61 times. Biedermann claimed Hauser made an unwanted sexual advances and that he had merely been defending himself.

Joseph Biedermann/Illinois Dep't of Correction

“At the heart of gay and trans panic defenses is the idea that individuals who do not conform to gender norms are abnormal and should be feared,” said law professor Anthony Michael Kreis, who helped draft SB 1761. “They reinforce outdated notions that LGBT persons are mentally ill and predatory. They endorse the proposition that violence against LGBT people is excusable.”

California is the only other state in the union to outlaw gay and trans panic as legal defenses.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.