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Gay panic is a legal defense recourse for perpetrators of violent crimes to claim to have been provoked to temporary insanity by
teh evil gay the discovery that the victim was LGBT, generally with the implication that the victim was making a pass at them, with the aim of having the murder charge reduced. To put it bluntly, this defense, along with the related trans panic defense, is nothing more than a legal justification for hate crimes based on a blatant devaluing of the lives of LGBT individuals.
Use of the gay panic defense invariably reflects negatively on the perpetrator who invokes it, whether or not they are telling the truth about being driven to insanity, because anyone so easily provoked to murderous violence by a perceived threat to their
life family heterosexuality cannot have been particularly sane or secure, to begin with. There have also been instances in which stories of sexual advances were shamelessly fabricated for the sake of this defense. In short, either the "temporary violent insanity" claimed by defendants is counterfeit, or it isn't temporary at all.
In practice, gay panic is virtually always invoked by men who claim to have been hit on by another man or transgender person. It is absurd that a female perpetrator similarly targeted by unwanted male advances cannot use the same defense, even though far more women than men deal with this every day. The "gay panic" defense is thus not only homophobic but also sexist, as it assumes that men have more right than women do to defend themselves against male sexual advances. The sexuality or gender of the perpetrator and the victim should have absolutely no bearing on the validity of a panic or temporary insanity defense in response to being hit on.
The gay panic defense is sadly still available to murderers in some parts of the world, including (as of April 2021) thirty-eight US states, but there are increasing calls to do away with it. There have been similar calls in New Zealand, while in Australia, South Australia became the final state to abolish it in 2020.
Murder of David Spencer
Spencer was murdered by neighbor James Miller and Miller's friend in September 2015 after Spencer tried to kiss Miller while they were in a jamming session. Miller declined the advance. The two seemed to have gotten over it, but Miller stabbed Spencer to death shortly afterwards. He was ultimately charged with a lesser crime than murder due to his defense team
fabricating pleading temporary insanity. Perhaps he got off lightly because he is a former policeman in Texas or perhaps because the jury felt that a gay man's kiss is equivalent to holding a loaded weapon against one's skull. In any case, it's obvious that a gay man kissing a straight former Texas policeman is potentially fatal for the gay man.
Murder of Ronald Brown
Ferdinand Ambach, a tourist in New Zealand, had drinks with Ronald Brown and was invited to his apartment. Apparently Ferdinand, a 32-year-old diving instructor, was so threatened by a 69-year-old making a move that a justifiable response (in terms of premeditation) was bashing the man's head in with a guitar and shoving the broken top down his throat. Ambach got away with murder and was instead convicted of manslaughter. The case so outraged many New Zealanders that the law was changed, although that didn't stop a defense lawyer nearly a decade later from trying his best to keep the spirit of LGBT+ discrimination alive. It's worth noting that if the roles had been switched, and Ambach had hit on an elderly woman who had then murdered him in outrage, she could not have used the gay panic excuse to avoid murder charges.
A transphobic counterpart of the above, the trans panic defense is used to claim provocation from the discovery that someone is transgender, generally while in a state of romantic or sexual intimacy. This defense is an obvious appeal to any transphobic prejudices the jurors may hold, asking them to rule that a person's trans status justifies violence, which has revolting implications surrounding the perceived value of trans people's lives. Aside from all this, the defense also singles out being transgender — out of all the unexpected things one could learn about one’s partner — as a justification for violent retaliation. Nevertheless, this defense has been invoked by the killers of numerous transgender women such as Gwen Araujo and Islan Nettles. Fortunately, it is also usually included in the calls to abolish the gay panic defense.
- See the Wikipedia article on Gay panic defense.
- The Gay Panic Defense by Cynthia Lee, 42 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 471 (2008).
- Kujala, Joyce (March 22, 2017). "Queensland has finally abolished a defense from the dark ages". Courier Mail.
- Carter, Terry. "'Gay panic' criminal defense strategies should be curtailed by legislation, ABA House resolves".
- White, Caitlain (April 16, 2018). "Advocates call for end to gay/trans panic defense in New York".
- "Gay MP calls for change to law". The New Zealand Herald. 11 July 2009.
- Hartevelt, John (27 November 2009). "Parliament scraps partial defence of provocation". The Press.
- Dayman, Isabel (December 1, 2020). "South Australia becomes final state to abolish 'gay panic' murder defence". ABC.
- "Provocation defense still being used". New Zealand Herald. April 27, 2016.
- Bettcher, Talia Mae (2007). "Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion". Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 22 (3): 44.
- Schwirtz, Michael (8 September 2013). "Embarking on a New Life, Transgender Woman Has It Brutally Taken". The New York Times.