What is gay/ transgender panic?
This is a legal strategy that asks the jury to find that it is, in fact, the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person that caused the defendant’s panic reaction. This can include murder as well.
It is a popular legal tactic to uplift any other defences. The perpetrator claims that their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains but excuses their loss of self-control and subsequent assault. These defences, however, truthfully only imply that LGBTQ+ lives are worth much less than others.
One of the most recognized cases that employed the gay “panic” defence was that of Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten to death by two men. The men attempted to use the gay “panic” defence to excuse their actions.
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What are the ways it can be used as a defence in court?
Usually, this “panic” defence has been used in 3 ways:
- Defence of insanity or diminished capacity: This is, probably, the only way one can even remotely get panic. But even so, it’s unjust. The defendant, in such a situation, alleges that a sexual proposition by the victim gave cause to a nervous breakdown. This defence was further backed by the American Psychiatric Association that called it “gay panic” disorder. It was removed in 1973. The act, however, didn’t remove the law. The medical field has been able to keep tabs on changing times but the legal field has a lot of catching up to do.
- Defence of provocation: The defence of provocation allows a defendant to claim that a victim’s proposition was provocative. Usually, enough for the defendant to kill the victim. What is concerning, is the fact that such “provocations” stigmatize the LGBT community. Provocations on their own are barely harmful, but add an LGBT person to the mix and suddenly it’s murder worthy?.
- Defence of self-defence: Defendants claim that because the victim was of a different sexual orientation, the defendant felt that they would be seriously harmed. This defence is the most demeaning of them all, stating that a person was harmful or dangerous only because of the identity they have. In addition, gay and trans “panic” is often employed to justify violence when the victim’s behaviour falls short of the serious bodily harm standard, or the defendant used a greater amount of force than necessary to avoid danger, such as using weapons when their attacker was unarmed.
Are “panic” defences used outside of the LGBT community?
Well, truthfully, yes. With people from different races and different religions – more so with Black people and Muslims. It’s extremely discriminative and doesn’t accord to basic human rights.
However, gay and trans “panic” defences frequently draw on unique stigmas about LGBTQ+ people, sexuality, and gender to justify horrific violence against gay and trans individuals.