American Bar Association Calls For Laws To Limit Gay And Trans Panic Defenses

The American Bar Association has passed a resolution calling on states to pass laws curtailing the use of “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in criminal cases.

At its annual meeting, the ABA’s House of Delegates unanimously passed the measure, which describes the panic defenses as efforts “to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction.”

The resolution puts the ABA on record for ending the panic defenses. Defendants in such high-profile cases as the murders of Matthew Shepard and Gwen Araujo have used  the defenses as a kind of justification for their violence.

The resolution says that the laws should  specify “that neither a non-violent sexual advance, nor the discovery of a person’s sex or gender identity” can be used as an excuse for a physical attack. The laws should also require courts to instruct juries not to let any bias influence their deliberations.

Speaking to the House of Delegates, D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, described the defenses as “surprisingly long-lived historical artifacts” that represent “the notion that LGBT lives are worth less than other lives.”