Michigan finally bans archaic ‘gay panic defence’ laws

Michigan lawmakers have finally approved a ban on the gay and trans panic defence being used by defendants in violent crime cases.

The ban was passed by the state’s House on Thursday (19 October) in a 56-53 vote along party lines and will now move to the state Senate. 

The gay and trans panic defence, also known as the LGBTQ+ panic defence, is a legal strategy used by perpetrators of violence crimes as a means of mitigating their actions. 

Those accused of murder, assault or other offences may use such a defence by claiming they were provoked into reacting with violence towards the victim as they feared the gay or trans person in question was making a sexual advance towards them. 

The accused allege temporary insanity, diminished capacity or self-defence as part of the gay trans panic defence. 

In the past, gay panic defences have been used by the accused in the 1995 killing of Jenny Jones guest Scott Amedure, the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard and killing of Daniel Spencer in 2016. 

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The trans panic defence has also been used as a legal strategy in the defendants in the Gwen Araujo murder case and 1993 killing of Brandon Teena – the subject of the Oscar winning film Boys Don’t Cry

Speaking with UpNorthLive Democrat Michigan House speaker Laurie Pohutsky noted such a defence is “usually used in conjunction with other [defences]” as a way to “play on unfortunate prejudices in an effort to lead to lighter sentences”. 

“The root of the matter, the whole [defence] is based in the thought that trans and LGBTQ folks are less human than other victims, which is why it’s so important to ban the use of the [defences],” she added. 

Pohutsky, who is bisexual, said a lot of people do not realise gay and panic defences are a issue as they do not understand “how vulnerable the community has been up until recently”. 

“These days it is used very widely during assaultive crimes against the trans community, primarily, Black, trans women,” she added. 

California was the first state to ban the gay and trans panic defence in the United States back in 2014, with states such as Georgia, Oregon and New Mexico in subsequent years.

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