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Why this petition matters

Started by Kimberly Casey

Trigger Warning: The following contains content that describes violence against LGBTQ+ individuals. Please be advised that this information may be upsetting to some readers.

The LGBTQ+ panic defense is defined as “a legal strategy which 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 National LGBTQ+ Bar, 2021). Accepting this type of defense often undeservedly leads to lighter sentences for violent hate crimes committed against LGBTQ+ individuals.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that the defense has been used since the 1960s and has persisted to this day. A study conducted by Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice W. Carsten Andresen tracked 104 known cases between 1970 and the present day where murder defendants used the LGBTQ+ panic defense. Defense attorneys can reduce a defendants’ murder charge 32% of the time with this, even though most of these homicides involve shocking violence (St. Edward's University, 2020). 

According to the FBI’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics Annual Report, sexual orientation bias represents the third-highest category of reported hate crimes. Additionally, LGBTQ+ people are about four times more likely to experience severe violence and are more likely to be a victim at the hands of someone close to them (UCLA Williams Institute, 2021). 

There are currently fifteen state-specific laws (and one for the District of Columbia) banning the use of such defenses, the first of which was passed by California in 2014. In recent years, another ten state legislative bodies have considered similar bans but have not moved to enact them (Wikipedia, 2021).

People are dying—we do not have time to wait for individual states to act. We must pass sweeping federal legislation that will permanently end antiquated LGBTQ+ panic defenses. 

The purpose of this petition is to increase awareness around this issue, and to push for a federal law banning the gay/trans panic defense. Without speaking up and projecting LGBTQ+ voices, the use of this defense will continue to threaten the community. 

We call on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to prioritize action on S.1137 (Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2021) and recommend it for deliberation on the Senate Floor.

452 have signed. Let’s get to 500!