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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 7, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 23
Confronting the 'Gay panic' excuse - Crime victims' sexuality is often used against them in court
Section One
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Confronting the 'Gay panic' excuse - Crime victims' sexuality is often used against them in court

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

On June 3, the National LGBT Bar Association gave strong applause to the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section for taking up a resolution to protect victims of so-called Gay and Trans 'panic' legal defenses. The resolution supports the LGBT community by no longer allowing defense attorneys to use victims' sexual orientation or gender identity against them in court.

'This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless LGBT victims of violence - a voice we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves,' said D'Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar.

Gay and Trans 'panic' defense tactics ask a jury to find that a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant's excessively violent behavior. The perpetrator claims that the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains but excuses their loss of self-control and subsequent assault on the individual. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT victims, these defenses imply that LGBT lives are worth less than others.

USED IN SHEPARD CASE
The 15th anniversary is approaching of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student who was beaten to death by two men. The perpetrators attempted to use the 'Gay panic' defense to excuse their actions. Despite widespread public protest, the defense is still being used today, most recently in connection with the February murder of Mississippi mayoral candidate Marco McMillian, the state's first openly Gay candidate for office. Lawrence Reed, the man who has admitted killing McMillian, has made comments to the press indicating that he might use the 'Gay panic' defense to mitigate the charges against him.

'We have been fighting against Gay and Trans 'panic' defenses for more than 15 years,' said Kemnitz. 'We must protect the LGBT community by refusing to allow defendants to use a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity to justify their heinous crimes.'

The National LGBT Bar Association developed the resolution, calling for jury instruction and providing for training for judges, attorneys, and juries geared toward supporting victims by minimizing the use of the 'panic' defense. The ABA House of Delegates must pass the resolution at the ABA's annual meeting, to be held this August, for the recommendations to become official ABA policy.

The National LGBT Bar Association is a national association of lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals, law students, activists, and affiliated LGBT legal organizations. It promotes justice in and through the legal profession for the LGBT community in all its diversity. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the association's Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair, the only one of its kind for LGBT and allied legal professionals.

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