Washington DC Set to Ban Gay, Trans 'Panic' Defense

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday December 20, 2020

The nation's capitol is set to put a ban in place on the use of so-called "gay panic" and "trans panic" defenses, with the law named for two victims of lethal anti-LGBTQ violence, PinkNews reports.

Named the "Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunger Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act 2020," the omnibus bill recalls Bella Evangelista, who was shot and killed by a man named Antoine Jacobs, whose defense in court was that he was afraid Evangelista might assault him after he realized she was trans.

The bill also bears the name of Tony Hunger, an openly gay man who was attacked by a man named Robert Hannah, whose claimed he struck Hunger in self-defense after Hunger allegedly touched his crotch. Hunger died after falling and striking his head.

Website The LGBT Bar explains the gay and trans panic defense as "a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant's violent reaction, including murder."

The site adds: "By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBTQ+ victims, this defense implies that LGBTQ+ lives are worth less than others."

The DC council vote to ban such defense strategies in the courtroom was unanimous, media reports noted. The ban is part of a larger legislative package that also expands existing hate crimes law in the District of Columbia.

Referring to the bill as "Civil Rights Reform Legislation," a statement from DC Attorney General Kenneth Racine applauded the "ban on the so-called 'gay panic' defense under which criminal defendants can use a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity to reduce the seriousness of their offense."

The mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser, has already said she will sign the bill. Because of DC's unique standing as the nation's capital, however, Congress must also review the legislation before it can take effect.

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.