'Gay' or 'Trans Panic' Defenses Are Crap And Now Illegal In California

Hard to believe this isn’t already illegal in ALL THE PLACES, but kudos to California’s legislature and Governor Jerry Brown for making California the first state in the union to ban the use of the so-called “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense. Since, you know, your phobia of LGBT+ people is not justification for hurting or killing us.

Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Saturday AB 2051 prohibiting the I-can’t-believe-this-was-still-legal-in-California-in-2014 homophobic and transphobic “defense,” according to East Bay Express. What’s worse, although not surprising, is this horribleness has actually been used successfully. Like in a real court of law! Here! In 2008, Brandon McInerney was convicted not of murder but voluntary manslaughter for shooting his high school classmate, Larry King, in the back of the head after his counsel used “gay panic” as a defense. He did end up taking a plea deal including second degree murder, but life in prison was taken off the table.

Probably its most famous use was in the case of Gwen Araujo from Newark, California. Araujo, an eighteen-year-old trans woman of color, was beaten to death by a group of men in 2002. The “trans panic” defense failed in that case, with the men serving prison sentences of between eleven years and life in prison. Transgender Day of Remembrance observances often honor Araujo’s memory.

These are just two examples of a far too common defense which has sometimes actually been successful, even if only as mitigation and not as a full self-defense justification. Even its use of mitigation is horrendous, and the fact that one of our most liberal states, California, is just getting around to outlawing this shit in 2014?! Just one more reason that the wheel of justice turns slowly for LGBT+ folks, and given the intersectional issues of race and class, violence against trans women of color like Araujo is at epidemic rates.

The Trans* Violence Tracking Portal is reporting that 102 trans people have been killed this year, and their numbers only go to May. If we average that out, it means we’re probably looking at a number more closely approximating 180 victims. And those are just trans victims. If we consider LGB, that number is sure to go higher. And if we go with violent attacks regardless of outcome, the number which we might be able to estimate proves that we have a plague of homophobic/biphobic/transphobic violence. And to think people can clothe their bigotry in “justification due to fear” in 49 states? Appalling.

AB2051 cleared the Assembly 50-10. There were actually ten people who voted against making this defense illegal. One sixth of the legislature who possibly thought, “hey, this ‘LGBT panic’ defense thing? Totally cool!” Ten people who apparently thought this defense was vital to the proper functioning of the court system. Or ten people who just allowed their contempt of LGBT+ individuals to be laid bare for all the world to see.

Image via Shutterstock.

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