Berlin Sylvestre, Staff Writer
Have you ever panicked around people who weren’t like you and killed them?
I’m pretty sure the answer is no, but in case you did, you might have an “easy out” if those people were gay or transgendered.
Gross, right? But gay and trans “panic” is an actual form of legal defense that allows an assailant to claim he or she felt threatened by the individual’s sexuality and was thereby incapable of controlling the ensuing attack. A new resolution aims to prohibit defense attorneys from using this (frankly) watery and absurd legal defense.
The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section is backing a resolution that will protect LGBT victims of violence from having their sexual orientation and/or identities used against them in court.
Even better, the National LGBT Bar Association, an association of lawyers, judges, law students, activists, and affiliated LGBT legal organizations has publicly applauded this measure, adding even more heft to its potential to vanquish it.
Executive Director of the LGBT Bar, D’Arcy Kemnitz, had this to say: “This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims of violence, a voice we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves.”
You may remember the “gay panic” defense used by the legal defense team in the Matthew Shepard case. In case you need a refresher, two men beat Mr. Shepard — a 21-year old college student — 15 years ago after cajoling him to leave a bar with them, then left him tied to a fencepost where he later died. That’s right: They met a gay man at a bar, “gay panicked,” and took him somewhere to rough him up so brutally that he eventually died..
The “panic” defense is still in use, despite widespread opposition. Take the killing of Mississippi’s openly gay candidate for mayor, Marco McMillian. Back in February of this year, Mr. McMillian was found dead near a levee near Clarksdale, Miss.
Lawrence Reed, the man who confessed to the crime, has already indicated to the press that he might play the “gay panic” card in court.
“We must protect the LGBT community by refusing to allow defendants to use a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity to justify their heinous crimes,” Kemnitz said.
So does this mean we’ll see an end to the gay and trans “panic” defense? While the ABA’s resolution isn’t law it highlights this important issue and gives guidance to those who *do* make the laws. Thusly, this isn’t a victory, but it has potential to be one of the larger stepping stones to giving victims of LGBT violence the equality of justice they, as citizens of a free society, should be granted.