Story at a glance

  • The “gay panic defense” seeks to blame the victim of assault or murder for the defendent’s reaction to their sexal orientation or gender identity.

  • The defense has been used in cases of anti-LGBTQ+ violence, especially against transgender people.

  • Maryland is the latest state to ban the use of the defense as part of a number of LGBTQ+ reforms.

Not to be outdone by their southern neighbors, Maryland lawmakers have passed two LGBTQ+ rights bills, including one banning the “gay panic” defense in cases of manslaughter or murder.

“The discovery or perception of, or belief about, another person’s race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, whether or not accurate, does not constitute legally adequate provacation to mitigate a killing from the crime of murder to manslaughter,” says the legislation


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“As is true of many other marginalized communities, bias and prejudice against LGBTQ+ people continue to be pervasive in our justice system. It is as simple and complicated as this: LGBTQ+ people are being violently harmed and viciously murdered simply because of who they are, and the noxious LGBTQ ‘panic’ defense allows their attackers to escape the criminal sentences that would otherwise be imposed on them but for the sexual orientation or gender identity of their victims," said National LGBT Bar Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz in a joint statement with FreeState Justice

The organizations are leading a charge to ban the "gay panic" defense nationwide, which is a variation of the temporary insanity defense defined by the LGBT Bar as “a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.” Homosexual panic is not recognized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association or a majority of medical practitioners.


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“I heard the testimony from Moises and I heard the real outrage that the defense in those cases was using the fact that this person was transgender as a reason they were killed or assaulted,” the Maryland House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke H. Clippinger told Maryland Matters. “That is wrong and should not be allowed to happen.”

Maryland lawmakers also passed legislation adding gender identity to the list of characteristics protected under hate crime legislation and providing for antibias education for offenders convicted of hate crimes, as well as updating the state’s process for name changes to protect individuals by no longer publishing changes publicly. The bills are awaiting signature from Gov. Larry Hogan. 

“The Maryland General Assembly did important work this session to ensure the safety and equitable treatment of the LGBTQ+ community,” state Sen. Shelly Hettleman, sponsor of the two bills, told the Washington Blade.


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Published on Apr 15, 2021