Bar association: ‘Gay panic’ defense should be curtailed by legislation

Staff Reports

SAN FRANCISCO — The American Bar Association voted Monday in favor of a resolution urging state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation restricting the availability and effectiveness of the use of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses by criminal defendants.

The resolution, approved by voice vote at the ABA’s convention in San Francisco, asks legislators to adopt jury instructions — similar to an existing statute already in effect in California – telling jurors not to be influenced by the sexual orientation or gender identity of either the victim or the defendant, and to ban the defense in non-capital homicide cases.

The lawyers’ organization said “gay panic” and “trans panic” defense strategies seek to excuse crimes by saying that the victim’s sexual orientation caused their assailant’s violent reaction to them.

Speaking on the issue before the vote, D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, detailed for attendees several brutal assaults and murders of young people whose assailants used gay panic defenses to claim their acts were reasonable.

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Such defenses, she said, are “surprisingly long-lived historical artifacts” from a time when widespread antipathy was the norm. Kemnitz added that these defenses represent “the notion that LGBT lives are worth less than other lives.

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