PA State Legislature Proposes Bill to End Gay Panic and Trans Panic Defense

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A new piece of Pennsylvania legislation, HB1509, introduced on Tuesday, would prevent those accused of manslaughter to claim “trans panic” or “gay panic” in their defense.

“Trans panic” is a phrase that is becoming all too familiar when examining cases where alleged criminals are tried for the manslaughter of a trans individual: This defense is often times used when a sexual encounter is involved where the attacker “learns” that their partner is transgender. A recent example is the case of a U.S. Marine who is claiming “trans panic” in the brutal death of a trans Filipina woman who he openly admits that he killed.

In a July 22, 2015 memorandum from Representative Michael Schlossberg, he explains the rationale behind proposing the bill:

“Some criminal defendants have been known to invoke the ‘gay panic argument,’ often referred to as the Homosexual Advance Defense, the Homosexual Panic Defense, and the Homosexual Rage Defense, when facing homicide charges. A criminal defendant employing this defense claims that killing the victim is a fear-based reaction to sexual or romantic advances or declarations by a transgender or gay person, and relies on sympathy from the jury to mitigate a murder charge to manslaughter, or to avoid conviction altogether. Though there is no defined version of the defense in any statute, the use of the gay panic defense often looks like a form of insanity, diminished capacity, provocation, or self-defense.”

PA HB1509 would prevent this type of claim in a voluntary manslaughter defense by adding a clause to the definition of “serious provocation.” This clause reads:

“The term does not include the discovery of, knowledge about or potential disclosure of the homicide victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or expression or affectional or sexual orientation.”

The passage of this bill would be a major victory for LGBT advocates for a variety of reasons: The added language would prevent the victim of a crime, especially one where a sex act was involved, from being even further stigmatized in the court of public opinion. This type of stigma can, unfortunately, aid in a defense’s ability to claim “trans panic” or “gay panic.”