Nevada Becomes Fourth State to Ban “Gay and Trans Panic” Defense

California, Rhode Island, and Illinois have also outlawed the bigoted defense tactic.

Nevada is the fourth state to prohibit use of the “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense in court, Nevada Current reports.

Senate Bill 97, which was signed into law this week, bans those accused of committing violent crimes from using their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a defense.

Nevada joins California, Rhode Island, and Illinois as the only states with laws explicitly banning the defense. Legislation similar to SB 97 has been introduced in New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Washington, D.C.

While largely supported by Nevada lawmakers, SB 97 did receive pushback from the Clark County Public Defenders Offices and the Nevada District Attorney’s Association, groups that worried the legislation may compromise a defendant’s “right to present a defense.”

“I was proud to sign into law a bill to ban the discriminatory and bigoted gay and trans ’panic’ defense tactic, which can be used to excuse violent hate crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals,” says Gov. Steve Sisolak in a statement. “Amid a disturbing rise in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community around the world, Nevada is reaffirming our commitment to justice and equality for all individuals.”

“This so-called gay or transgender panic defense is based in prejudice and should never be available in any American courtroom,” says Briana Escamilla, state director for the Human Rights Campaign. “These ’defenses’ send the destructive message that LGBTQ victims are less worthy of justice and their attackers justified in their violence. Every victim of violent crime and their families deserve equal justice, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re grateful that Gov. Steve Sisolak quickly signed this legislation into law.”

The outlawed defense has been used successfully to get violent criminals shorter sentences and acquittals. Some defendants have gotten as little as probation for killing gay or trans people in response to nonaggressive, nonsexual interactions.

“In a different world, if women were to respond that way, there wouldn’t be a man alive,” says Brooke Maylath of Reno-based Transgender Allies Group. “It’s a vile and disgusting defense that sends a message to the community that homosexual and transgender people are subhuman, and it’s perfectly OK to be incensed and go into a murderous rage.”

“We don’t want special treatment,” Maylath continues. “We just want to be able to walk down the street without the fear of being murdered. We just want to be able to interact with other people without them freaking out and killing us.”

Brad Sears of the Williams Institute at UCLA believes the defense is based solely on “pseudo-science” and furthers institutional biases against LGBTQ people within the criminal justice system.

“It’s really targeting gay men and secondly transgender women,” Sears told the Current. “Year after year for the last four years, we’ve had a record number of transgender woman of color who have been murdered. The value of [SB 97] is for the state to take a stand against this epidemic of violence and to say the state protects LGBT people.”

D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, told NewNowNext in December that “countless Americans” have no idea these legal defenses are even viable in court: “We believe that as more people become aware of its continuing usage in courtrooms, more individuals will advocate for its end.”

Nevada became the eighth state in the U.S. to ban conversion therapy in May 2017. Last month it became the 10th state to offer its trans and gender non-conforming residents gender-neutral identification documents.

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