New York became the seventh state legislature, on Wednesday, June 19, to ban so-called “gay and trans panic” defenses from being used in court in an attempt to receive a lesser sentence for an act of violence against an LGBTQ person.
Out Democratic lawmakers Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell and State Senator Brad Hoylman both introduced bills to bar the defenses this year, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will sign the ban into law, calling it “an important win for LGBTQ people everywhere.”
We just voted to ban the gay and trans panic defense in New York.
This bill is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard and Islan Nettles, two proud members of the #LGBTQ community who were murdered and whose sexual orientation and gender identity was used against them. pic.twitter.com/41yQVhYbfn
— Senator Brad Hoylman (@bradhoylman) June 19, 2019
Cuomo said the defenses had “essentially codified homophobia and transphobia into state law.”
“With the enactment of this measure we are sending a noxious legal defense strategy to the dustbin of history where it belongs,” he added.
The ban on the ‘gay and trans panic’ legal defense just passed!
With the enactment of this measure we are sending this noxious legal defense strategy to the dustbin of history where it belongs.
This is an important win for LGBTQ people everywhere. pic.twitter.com/xMpXZfvnDT
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) June 19, 2019
“I’m glad that New York is sending a message to prosecutors, to defense attorneys, juries, and judges that a victim’s LGBTQ identity can’t be weaponized,” Hoylman told The New York Times.
The defense was used in 2013 in the state during the murder trial of James Dixon, who became enraged when he realized he was flirting with a transgender woman, Islan Nettles, whom he then beat to death on a street in Harlem. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, which advocates and Nettles’ family felt was lesser than what he would have been given had his victim been cisgender.
Hoylman dedicated the bill to the memory of Nettles, as well as Matthew Shepard, who was killed in Wyoming in 1998. One of Shepard’s killers attempted to use the gay panic defense, but the judge rejected it.
Last year, in Texas, James Miller avoided a prison sentence after claiming the man he killed, Daniel Spencer, had come onto him, and then reacted poorly when Miller spurned his advances.
The defense has been banned in California, Rhode Island, Illinois, and Nevada. Connecticut and Hawaii’s state legislatures have also passed bans, which are now in front of their respective governors. Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said he will sign the bill, and in Hawaii, Gov. David Ige said, through a spokesperson, that he is still reviewing the legislation.
Earlier this month, Democrats Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III reintroduced legislation to ban gay and panic defenses from being used in federal courts.