Congress Introduces Bill to Outlaw Gay/Trans ‘Panic’ Defense

Photo from Boston Spirit Magazine July 2018 when the two senators proposed the national bill he first time. Kennedy (left) and Markey (right)

Washington DC – The Matthew Shepard Foundation is proud to announce the introduction of
the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019.

Aiming to end the use of so-called “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in federal court, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Congressman Joseph Kennedy III (MA-04) reintroduced the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act. “Gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault by arguing that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant’s violent reaction, blaming victims for the violence committed against them. The legislation would curtail the availability and effectiveness of the gay and trans panic defenses, a step that many in the legal community have been urging for years. 

These defenses have a long and dark history. One of the most recognized cases that employed
a gay ‘panic’ defense was that of Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old
college student, was beaten to death by two men. Just over 20 years ago, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. One of Shepard’s killers raised the gay panic defense, arguing that Shepard’s unwanted sexual advances excused his violent acts. Despite widespread public protest, the defense is still being used today.

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. 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. – Congressman Joseph Kennedy III

Other senators* are co-sponsoring the bill as they are seeing more states put forth such legislation. Last month Nevada became the fourth state to ban gay and trans panic defenses, joining California, Rhode Island and Illinois. Similar legislation has been introduced in New Jersey, Washington, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maine, Texas, New Mexico, Connecticut, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.

Our courtrooms are supposed to be chambers of justice, not hate. 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. All Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity in our justice system. I thank Congressman Kennedy for his partnership on this legislation. As we celebrate Pride Month with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I call on my colleagues to support this bill and relegate hateful practice of gay and trans panic defense to the history books. – Senator Edward J. Markey

If passed, the bills will prohibit the justification or mitigation of a violent offense based on the
gender, gender identity/expression, or sexual orientation of a victim. The bills also contain
requirements that the Attorney General submit a report annually to Congress, detailing
prosecutions in Federal court involving crimes committed against the LGBTQ+ community that
were motivated by these factors.

About the Matthew Shepard Foundation

The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s longstanding mission is to erase hate by replacing it with
understanding, compassion and acceptance. Through local, regional and national outreach, we
empower individuals to find their voice to create change and challenge communities to identify
and address hate that lives within their schools, neighborhoods and homes.

Our work is an extension of Matt’s passion to foster a more caring and just world. We share his
story and embody his vigor for civil rights to change the hearts and minds of others to accept
everyone as they are.

For additional information about the Matthew Shepard Foundation, visit www.MatthewShepard.org

 

Jason Collins, the first openly gay NBA player, and Representative Joe Kennedy III, May 11, 2015. Photo courtesy of Joe Kennedy for Congress.
Showing support is not something new for Markey
Showing support is not something new for Markey

*The Senate legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Min..), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Angus King (I-Maine). The House bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Brian Higgins (NY-26), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Robin Kelly (IL-02), Scott Peters (CA-52), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Barbara Lee (CA-13), TJ Cox (CA-21), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Linda Sanchez (CA-38), Charlie Crist (FL-13), Norma Torres (CA-35), Tony Cardenas (CA-29) and Chris Pappas (NH-01).

 

Sources: markey.senate.govbostonspiritmagazine.com ,  and Matthew Shepard Foundation.

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