The Gay/Trans Panic Defense: And What It Means For All Of Us

This defense justifies bias against more then just the LGBT Community.

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The Gay/Trans Panic Defense, also known as “Homosexual Panic,” was first used in the 1960’s as a defense against charges of assault or murder against members of the LGBT community. The twisted logic behind the Gay/Trans Panic Defense explains that during the crime, a suspect experiences a temporary psychotic break upon learning that the victim is gay or transgender. Learning this, is so offensive and frightening to the person that in their mind, they have no choice but to react with uncontrollable violence. In many cases, this defense allows for lesser charges and lighter sentences.

Despite the obvious issues with this law, it still stands as a legal defense in the U.S.; in every state and U.S. territory besides California. In fact, In 2014, California became the first state to ban the Gay/Trans Panic Defense.

So let me break this down for you hypothetically; I am a gay woman walking down the street, minding my own business, a man cat calls and approaches in an attempt to get my number, uninterested, I continue walking. My girlfriend walks up to me and greets me with a kiss. The man, realizing that I am gay and that his advances will go no where, breaks out into an all out rage and beats me brutally. God forbid this were ever to happen to me, but it is a scenario that has happened to countless numbers of gay and trans women across the country. In court, he could use the Gay/Trans Panic Defense to receive a lesser charge.

Even though there was no trigger for the violent act other then my sexual identity, and the very use of the Gay/Trans Panic Defense is the attacker’s admission of going into a violent rage because of my sexual identity, he could even escape being charged with a hate crime, if I were killed, he could escape a murder charge, as what was done here in New York in 2013 when Islan Nettles was beaten into a coma after a man pursued her and was told she was a trans woman. Nettles later succumbed to her injuries and her attacker was apprehended but was given only 12 years in prison for her death, claiming that he blacked out and went into a rage after being mocked by his friends for hitting on a trans woman.

So not only does this imply that people are not to be held responsible for their actions, but even worse, when members of the LGBT community are the victims, we are treated like second class citizens, not worthy of defending, unworthy of justice because of how we choose to identify or who we choose to love. As long as the Gay/Trans Panic Defense stands, it can be explained away that if we are beaten, it is our fault, if we are murdered, it is our fault. The poor cis gender man or woman (more often a man) is so fragile and weak that finding out our sexuality, not by any secrecy or deception on our part, can not contain their disappointment and has no other choice but to fly off the handle. How could they control themselves, right?

Now, if you are a cis gender man or woman of color reading this article, you most likely have some kind of empathy and/or “wokeness” about the dangers of being a member of the LGBT community. But here is why the Gay/Trans Panic Defense should matter to you; In light of the political and social climate and the continuous number of R.I.P.  hashtags running through our news feeds of unarmed black and brown folks being gunned down in the streets, the logic behind the Gay/Trans Panic Defense is something to pay attention to. How many times have we seen cops (and even civilians like George Zimmerman) get off with a “Black Panic” defense? How many  times have we heard shooters use their unreasonable fear of black people to justify puling the trigger? How many times have these people gotten off using this defense? The Gay/Trans Panic Defense essentially justifies bias towards the LGBT community, making embarrassment from a rejected advance, or an unreasonable disgust with gay or trans people a legal defense. This same attitude and twisted logic that is explicitly accepted when it comes to acts of violence against people of color.

In many social environments, as queer people of color, our blackness is paramount to our sexual identity and often times has an impact on our interactions with whites far before our sexuality plays a part. The Gay/Trans Panic Defense has repercussions that stretch far beyond the LGBT community and is very dangerous for all people of color because bias has no hierarchy of importance. Any form of bias is bias we can not stand for.

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