South Australia Moves to Ban 'Gay Panic' Defense

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 19, 2020

South Australia has moved forward with a bill to revoke "gay panic" as a defense in court for perpetrators of anti-LGBTQ crimes, Reuters reports.

"Gay panic" defense has been used by defendants as a means of arguing that the crime they committed was motivated by the victim's sexual orientation — for instance, in the US, attorneys for Matthew Shepard's killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, attempted to introduce such a defense. Attorneys claimed Shepard made a pass at McKinney — who was pretending to be gay — and therefore it sent McKinney into such a state that he beat and pistol-whipped Shepard. The "gay panic" defense in this instance was ultimately rejected by the court.

Currently, South Australia is the only state or territory in Australia that still has the "gay panic" defense on the books. LGBTQ advocates have described the defense as irrelevant and discriminatory. The state's attorney-general, Vickie Chapman, put forward a bill that would revoke the defense in local parliament on Thursday just before parliamentary sessions were adjourned until next month.

Equality Australia, an LGBTQ advocacy group, contends that this will lead toward reducing and ending discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Their chief executive, Anna Brown, said "attacking someone because who they are offends you should increase your punishment, not reduce it."

In the US, many states have moved to ban "gay panic" defense — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and more recently Washington state.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.