Transgender justice Bill advances

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

California moves toward becoming the first state to meaningfully respond to strategies that blame transgender people for their own murders.

The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, authored by Assembly member Sally Lieber and sponsored by Equality California, passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee with a 4-2 vote.

Ms Araujo’s mother, Sylvia Guerrero, testifying about the bill named after her murdered transgender daughter, spoke about the need for educating juries about bias in order to prevent defendants from successfully blaming their victims for their own murders through use of the so-called “panic strategies.”

“Since my daughter was killed, my family and I have spent literally thousands of hours working hard to make sure that California is a state where everyone is respected and treated fairly,” Ms Guerrero said in her testimony. “The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act will really help us in our work. [The bill] will give jurors the information they need to better understand their obligation to make decisions free of bias against the victim.”

The Bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations committee for consideration of a new provision earmarking $125,000 for the creation of educational materials about panic strategies to be distributed to District Attorneys’ office throughout the state.

The provision responds to a 2005 decision by the Fresno County District Attorney to agree to a plea bargain resulting in a 4-year sentence for a person believed to have stabbed a transgender person 20 times with a pair of scissors.

An attorney from the District Attorney’s office is reported to have attributed this light sentence for a homicide, in part, to use of panic strategies. “Outcomes like these turn our state’s hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws on their heads,” said Christopher Daley, Director of the Transgender Law Centre.

“The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victim’s Act is a logical step forward in ensuring that such outcomes, based on the bias we’ve already outlawed in employment, housing, education, insurance, and public accommodations, don’t put transgender people and others at risk for violent crimes.”

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