Two Democratic Florida Congressional representatives– Debbie Wasserman Schultz from South Florida and Charlie Crist from St. Petersburg – are among the co-sponsors of federal legislation that would prevent people from using so-called “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in federal court.
In a statement, the bill sponsors describe how gay panic and trans panic defenses seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault by arguing that the victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant’s violent reaction, blaming victims for the violence committed against them. The bill would prohibit those defenses.
The Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act is being sponsored by Joseph Kennedy III in the House and Ed Markey in the Senate. Both are Democrats from Massachusetts.
In a press release, Kennedy and Markey cite the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. One of Shepard’s killers raised the “gay panic” defense, claiming that his violent acts should be excused because Shepard supposedly made unwanted sexual advances.
Nevada became the fourth state in the country to ban gay and trans panic defenses last month, joining California, Rhode Island and Illinois. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his support for similar legislation last week.