California Bans Gay and Trans Panic Defense

A landmark move for LGBT rights.

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Gwen Araujo
  • Gwen Araujo
In a landmark move for LGBT rights, California recently became the first state to outlaw the "gay panic" and "trans panic" line of defense that is often used to justify assaulting and murdering LGBT people. Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Saturday a bill (AB 2051) prohibiting the so-called defense.

See Also:
LGBT Groups Fundraising to Create Transgender Women's Shelter in Oakland
Transphobia Is Rampant, Even in East Bay

The gay and trans panic line of defense has been employed in the past in order to reduce the sentences for perpetrators of LGBT hate crimes, the "reasoning" being that a person's overwhelming hatred for LGBT people causes them to "panic" and commit terrible acts of violence against them. It's an appalling, victim-blaming tactic (right up there with the Twinkie defense), and one that, sadly, has been invoked numerous times over the years. It was invoked (unsuccessfully) in the case of Gwen Araujo, an eighteen-year-old trans woman from Newark who was beaten to death by four men in 2002 (and whose death prompted the creation of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance). 

Gay panic was also employed (successfully) in the case of openly gay fifteen-year-old Larry King, who was shot twice in 2008 in the back of the head by a classmate, Brandon McInerney. McInerney was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

AB 2051 was introduced by Democratic California Assemblywoman Susan Bonita. The bill cleared the Assembly 50-10, and its passage also marked Equality California’s goal of passing one hundred pieces of LGBT legislation. After the vote, EC's executive director John O’Connor remarked:

“We’re glad that the Assembly Public Safety Committee agreed that this manufactured defense that plays upon homophobia and transphobia has no place in California’s justice system. The law should not treat victims of crime any differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that includes eliminating anti-LGBT bias as a ‘reasonable’ basis to mitigate the punishment for violent crimes against them.”
As much as California continues to make great strides in LGBT rights, violence, particularly for trans women of color, remains alarmingly high. According to the Trans* Violence Tracking Portal, 102 trans people have been killed as of May of this year alone. While much needs to be done to stem this horrific tide of violence, laws like AB 2051 are certainly a step in the right direction. Here's hoping that other states follow California's lead.

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