Michigan Bans Gay Panic Defense Laws

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Gay and trans panic allows the accused to allege temporary insanity, diminished capacity, or self defense as part of their legal case.

Late last week, Michigan’s state House passed a ban on the gay and trans panic defense in a 56-53 vote along party lines. The ban approval will now move to the state Senate. The gay and trans panic defense is used by defendants in violent crime cases as a way of mitigating their actions. So, for example, if a person is accused of murder, they might claim that they were provoked into “defense” for fear that their victim was queer and making an advance of them. Gay and trans panic allows the accused to allege temporary insanity, diminished capacity, or self defense as part of their legal case for their innocence– even though they’ve committed a violent crime.

One of the most well-known– and awful– cases of gay panic, is the defense of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Other cases include the 1995 killing of Scott Amedure, the 2016 killing of Daniel Spencer. The trans panic defense was used in a legal strategy of the defendants in the 1993 murder of Brandon Teena – the subject of the Oscar winning film Boys Don’t Cry.

Laurie Pohutsky, bisexual Democrat Michigan House Speaker, told UpNorthLive, that gay and trans panic defense is “usually used in conjunction with other [defenses]” as a means to “play on unfortunate prejudices in an effort to lead to lighter sentences”.

“The root of the matter, the whole [defense] 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 [defense] … These days it is used very widely during assaultive crimes against the trans community, primarily, Black, trans women,” she added.

In 2014, California was the first state to ban the gay and trans panic defense in the country. Georgia, Oregon, and New Mexico were soon to follow.


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