Oregon, Maryland Mull Bans on 'Gay Panic' Defense

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday April 16, 2021

Two more states may be poised to ban the so-called "gay panic" and "trans panic" defense strategies in prosecutions involving murder and manslaughter.

Oregon lawmakers approved a measure on April 14 that would bar use of the "gay/trans panic" defense, reports local news station KEZI.

Maryland lawmakers approved similar legislation, political news site The Hill reports.

Twelve states currently ban such defense strategies. Virginia banned the "gay panic" defense earlier this month.

"The 'gay panic defense' seeks to blame the victim of assault or murder for the defendant's reaction to their sexual orientation or gender identity," The Hill summarized. "The defense has been used in cases of anti-LGBTQ+ violence, especially against transgender people."

Added The Hill: "Homosexual panic is not recognized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association or a majority of medical practitioners."

Maryland's bill states that "The discovery or perception of, or belief about, another person's race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, whether or not accurate, does not constitute legally adequate provocation to mitigate a killing from the crime of murder to manslaughter."

Speaking to the need for such protections, the executive director of the National LGBT Bar, D'Arcy Kemnitz, said, "LGBTQ+ people are being violently harmed and viciously murdered simply because of who they are, and the noxious LGBTQ 'panic' defense allows their attackers to escape the criminal sentences that would otherwise be imposed on them but for the sexual orientation or gender identity of their victims."

The measure passed by Oregon Democrats seeks to correct the state's current law, under which "it is an affirmative defense to commit an act of murder in the second degree or claim self-defense because the act was committed due to an 'extreme emotional disturbance' caused by the victim's gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation," KEZI noted.

"The fact that this defense is available in state law is a relic of hate against LGTBQ+ individuals," said Oregon state Sen. Kate Lieber, adding, "Legal protection for bigotry is absolutely unacceptable, and repealing this antiquated and hateful law is long overdue."

Arkansas lawmakers also approved a hate crimes bill this week. However, critics slammed the legislation for leaving out several categories of personal characteristics that hate crimes bills typically include, such as race, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Arkansas bill does, however, cover bias crimes motivated by a victim's religion.

Arkansas is one of only three states with no hate crimes protections on the books. The others are South Carolina — where a hate crimes bill is reportedly being considered — and Wyoming.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.