State lawmakers put an end to ‘gay panic’ defense for violent crimes

ALBANY — Lawmakers have banned a controversial legal defense strategy known as “gay panic,” an idea that defendants that commit violent crimes — even homicide — do so because of temporary insanity brought on by their victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

The tactic deployed by attorneys, also called “trans panic” when used against transgender victims, asks jurors to sympathize with a defendant’s violent behavior because of shock.

Wednesday, state lawmakers in Albany officially put an end to the defense.

“With the enactment of this measure we are sending this noxious legal defense strategy to the dustbin of history where it belongs,” Gov. Andre Cuomo said. “This is an important win for LGBTQ people everywhere.”

The National LGBT Bar Association says “these defenses imply that LGBTQ+ lives are worth less than others.”

The law was passed during Pride month, as New York City hosts WorldPride, and remembers the Stonewall riots that kicked off the modern day Gay Rights movement 50 years ago.

The tactic is often used in three ways, according to the LGBT Bar: to defend insanity, implying that defendants had a nervous breakdown due to such “gay panic”; to argue that a victim’s provocation, or “non-violent sexual advance” was a justification for the crime; or that defendants were acting in some kind of self-defense.

Critics of the law say it encroaches on a defendant’s constitutional right to defend themselves, and infringes on due process.

Supporters argue the state needs to protect LGBT New Yorkers.

“The repugnant, disgusting era of claiming ‘temporary insanity’ as an excuse for homophobic or transphobic violence is OVER — and it’s about damn time,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“Gay panic” disorder — the psychological term that accompanies the defense — was debunked by the medical community in the 1970s and removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973.

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