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American Bar Association may ban ‘gay panic’ defense

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 8:47 EDT
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National Trans Day of Action protesters via Shutterstock
 
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A proposal coming before the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section would permanently render the so-called “gay panic” defense inadmissible in court. According to the dot429 blog, if the proposal is ratified, it will ban defense attorneys from using the sexual orientation or gender identity of a victim against them in court.

Too often, according to dot429, attorneys representing perpetrators of violent acts against LGBT people resort to accusing the victims of “bringing it on themselves” in order to defend their clients in court. The “gay panic” defense says that an LGBT brought violent retribution on themselves, up to and including murder, by sexually propositioning someone who was so enraged by the gesture that they had no choice but to react violently.

It was invoked, unsuccessfully in the trail of the murderers of Matthew Shepard and Gwen Araujo. The term “gay panic” was first used by psychiatrist Edward J. Kempf in his 1920 book Psychopathology, in which he described it as “a distinct stage in the psychoses.” However, it is rarely used in modern courts since no one has able to verify its existence as a genuine psychiatric phenomenon.

As dot439 pointed out, “If merely being sexually propositioned was a legally acceptable reason for killing someone, countless thousands of heterosexual men would be at severe risk for being murdered by women they made a pass at.”

The preliminary agenda (MS Word document) for the ABA’s next meeting contains a resolution “urging governments to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses, which seek to partially or completely excuse crimes on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction.”

For the resolution to be ratified, it must be approved by a majority of delegates at the ABA’s next national meeting, which takes place in August.

The National LGBT Law Association said in a press release, “This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of violence, one we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves.”

[image of National Trans Day of Action protesters in NYC via Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
 
 
 
 
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