US: Congress Introduces Bill to Outlaw Gay/Trans ‘Panic’ Defence

Matthew Shepard – Image: Wyoming Public Radio

The Matthew Shepard Foundation has welcomed the introduction of the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019.

On June 5th, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) introduced bills in the United States’ Senate and House of Representatives, that would do away with the use of the gay and trans ‘panic’ defences.

A gay and trans ‘panic’ defence is employed when a defendant cites their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression as cause for their violent and even deadly actions. These defences have a long and dark history. One of the most recognised cases that employed a gay ‘panic’ defence was that of Matthew Shepard.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten to death by two men. The men attempted to use a gay ‘panic’ defence to excuse their actions. Despite widespread public protest, the defence is still being used today.

If passed, the bills will prohibit the justification or mitigation of a violent offence based on the gender, gender identity/expression, or sexual orientation of a victim. The bills also contain requirements that the Attorney General submit a report annually to Congress, detailing prosecutions in Federal Court involving crimes committed against the LGBTQ+ community, that were motivated by these factors.

About the Matthew Shepard Foundation:

The Matthew Shepard Foundation’s longstanding mission is to erase hate by replacing it with understanding, compassion and acceptance. Through local, regional, and national outreach, they empower individuals to find their voice to create change, and challenge communities to identify and address hate that lives within their schools, neighbourhoods and homes. Their work is an extension of Matt’s passion to foster a more caring and just world. They share his story, and embody his vigour for civil rights, to change the hearts and minds of others to accept everyone as they are.

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