Identical bills were proposed in the Michigan State House and Senate this week that would make it illegal for defendants of an alleged crime against an LGBTQ+ person to bring up the victim’s sexual orientation as part of their defense.
The LGBTQ+ panic defense, known previously as the gay panic defense, has been used historically as an attempt to justify violence against LGBTQ+ persons simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, it allows for the defendant to claim they were provoked into committing violence against a gay man because said homosexual told him he had a nice ass.
But not anymore, at least in Michigan, if the bills pass. State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) introduced the bill in the House and State Senator Rosemary (D-Beverly Hills) introduced it in the Senate. If the proposals pass, Michigan would be the 17th state to outlaw the practice. The American Bar Association called for the defense strategy to be banned in 2013.
The proposals, however, may have a hard time gaining traction in the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature.
“I know for a fact, though, that there are some folks over on the other side of the aisle who are supportive,” Pohutsky, who is bisexual, told Michigan Radio. “It’s unfortunate that it’s difficult to be vocal with that support right now.”
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, said the defense reduces victims to second-class status on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I think the premise that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity exculpates the perpetrator of a crime of violence needs to be changed,” Kaplan told Pride Source.
Carsten Andresen, an associate professor of criminal justice at St. Edward’s University, keeps track of such attempts. Since the 1970’s, Andresen said there have been more than 300.
“One of the biggest misconceptions in the public is that gay men or trans women are sort of up to something nefarious or that they are predators,” Andresen told Michigan Radio. “And that’s what it plays off of.”
Michigan LGBTQ Bar Association Chair and attorney Angie Martell of Ann Arbor told Pride Source that the panic defense “legitimizes and excuses violence and lethal behavior against members of the LGBTQ+ community — it’s a legal strategy that blames the victims for the defendants’ acts,” she said.
Martell added that it’s time for the Michigan legislature to act now.
“Passing this law is of vital importance,” she said. “It sends a message that you cannot use this prejudice as a defense to justify harms and violence against a people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. A hate crime is a hate crime.”