Nevada Lawmakers Push to Ban “Gay Panic” Defense

Gay and trans panic defenses are still legal in the vast majority of the United States.

A group of lawmakers in Nevada are fighting to ban “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in courtrooms statewide, reports the Nevada Current.

Currently, some 47 states in the U.S. permit people accused of committing violent crimes to use their victim’s sexuality or gender orientation as a defense, hence the “panic” in the nickname. If passed, Nevada’s Senate Bill 97 would prohibit future use of the defense, which has been used successfully in the past to get violent criminals shorter sentences or even acquitted altogether.

Supporters of the bill, including Brad Sears of the Williams Institute at UCLA, believe that these defenses are based solely on “pseudo-science”—and actively further institutional biases against LGBTQ people within the criminal justice system. They’re rarely used, sure, but the fact that they have been used with success in the recent past has queer advocates concerned.

“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.”

Today, only three states—California, Rhode Island, and Illinois—have laws on the books explicitly banning the use of the defense. According to the Current, legislation similar to SB 97 has been introduced in New Jersey, Washington State, Rhode Island, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

Last December, D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, told NewNowNext that “countless Americans” have no idea that 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,” he added.

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