Michigan lawmakers have taken a significant step towards justice by approving a ban on the gay and trans panic defence in violent crime cases. The state’s House voted 56-53 along party lines to pass this important legislation, which will now move to the state Senate for further consideration.
The gay and trans panic defence, also known as the LGBTQ+ panic defence, has been a legal strategy employed by individuals accused of violent crimes to mitigate their actions. This tactic involves claiming that they were provoked into violence because they believed the gay or trans person involved was making a sexual advance toward them. This defence often includes allegations of temporary insanity, diminished capacity, or self-defence.
Historically, the gay panic defence has been invoked in cases such as the 1995 killing of Jenny Jones guest Scott Amedure, the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, and the 2016 killing of Daniel Spencer. Similarly, the trans panic defence has been used as a legal strategy in cases like the Gwen Araujo murder case and the 1993 killing of Teena Brandon, which inspired the Oscar-winning film “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Laurie Pohutsky, the Democrat Michigan House speaker, emphasized that the gay and trans panic defence is often used in conjunction with other defences to exploit unfortunate prejudices, leading to lighter sentences. Pohutsky, who identifies as bisexual, underscored the importance of banning these defences, stating that they are rooted in the harmful belief that LGBTQ+ individuals are less human than other victims.
Pohutsky further noted that many people may not fully grasp the prevalence of gay and trans panic defences and their impact on the vulnerable LGBTQ+ community, particularly Black trans women, who are disproportionately affected. California led the way by banning the gay and trans panic defence in 2014, with other states like Georgia, Oregon, and New Mexico following suit in subsequent years, recognizing the urgency of addressing this injustice.