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New York bans ‘gay panic’ defence in murder cases

Lily Wakefield June 20, 2019
Brad Hoylman gay panic

Brad Hoylman (left), who sponsored the ban on "gay panic" and "transgender panic" defences, with his husband. (Bryan Bedder/Getty for GLAAD)

New York legislators approved a ban on the use of the “gay panic” and “transgender panic” defences in murder cases yesterday (June 19).

The “gay panic” defence is when a defendant justifies violence by claiming that finding out a victim’s sexuality or gender identity caused them to suffer from temporary insanity.

Gay democrats Daniel J O’Donnell, member of New York state assembly, and Brad Hoylman, state senator, introduced the bill to ban the defence last weekend.

Hoylman told The New York Times: “I’m glad that New York is sending a message to prosecutors, to defence attorneys, juries and judges that a victim’s LGBTQ identity can’t be weaponised.”

“I don’t think we can leave it to judges and juries given the record of homophobia that we’ve seen in courtrooms,” he continued. “We’re acting prudently to codify values of tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people.”

Islan Nettles gay panic
Islan Nettles was beaten to death and her attacker used the “transgender panic” defence.

New York is the sixth state to ban the “gay panic” defence

The most well-known instance of the defence being used was the Matthew Shepard case in 1998. Shepard, a gay college student, was murdered and in court the defendant said he was not responsible for his actions because Shepard had made unwanted sexual advances.

The judge rejected it, but it sparked conversation about the validity of the defence.

In 2013, trans woman Islan Nettles was beaten to death in New York. Her attacker claimed he was put into a fury after flirting with Nettles and then discovering she was trans, and was given 12 years for manslaughter.

It is thought that he would have received longer if he were not allowed to use the “transgender panic” defence.

The approval of the ban comes during Pride month and 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots which began in New York. It makes New York the sixth US state to ban the “gay panic” and “transgender panic” defences,

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