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Panic-defense bills introduced in Congress
2019-06-05

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On June 5, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts) introduced bills (the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act) in the United States' Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, that would ban the use of the gay and trans "panic" defenses, The Matthew Shepard Foundation noted in a press release.

According to The National LGBT Bar Association's (The LGBT Bar's) website, the defense "is a legal strategy which asks a jury to find that a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant's violent reaction, including murder."

The foundation pointed out that one of the most recognized cases that employed a gay "panic" defense was that of Shepard himself. In 1998, Shepard—a 21-year-old college student—was beaten to death by two men. The men attempted to use a gay "panic" defense to excuse their actions. Despite widespread public protest, the defense is still being used today.

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 foundation added. 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.

The LGBT Bar Executive Director D'Arcy Kemnitz noted in a separate press release, "Gay and trans 'panic' defenses have long stood as a symbol of dangerous and outdated thinking. The Gay and Trans 'Panic' Defense Prohibition Act would protect LGBTQ+ lives and send a clear message that hate has no place in the federal courtroom."


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