BY BTL Staff
On June 3 the National LGBT Bar Association applauded 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’ identities or their sexual orientation against them in court.
“This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of violence, one 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 reaction. The perpetrator claims that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explain – but excuse – their loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT victims, these defenses imply that LGBT lives are worth less than others.
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 men 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. McMillian was the state’s first openly gay candidate for office. Lawrence Reed, the man who admitted to 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 gay and trans “panic” legal defenses. The ABA House of Delegates must pass the resolution at the 2013 ABA Annual Meeting this August for the recommendations to become official ABA policy.
About National LGBT Bar Association
The National LGBT Bar Association is a national association of lawyers, judges and other legal professionals, law students, activists, and affiliated lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender legal organizations. The association promotes justice in and through the legal profession for the LGBT community in all its diversity. This year marks the 25 anniversary of the Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair.