Amid an unprecedented increase in hate crimes, state Reps. Dan Miller and Adam Ravenstahl, both D-Allegheny, have moved to introduce legislation that would ban the use of “Gay and Trans Panic” defenses in criminal cases by defendants.
“I was appalled to learn that it is still possible in Pennsylvania for people to hide behind hate as justification for their actions,” Ravenstahl said. “As a strong supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, we need to continue moving forward to ensure that all Pennsylvanians, regardless of whom they love, have the same basic civil rights.
“Removing the possibility of this abhorrent defense from the books is a step the right direction and one that I hope will receive broad bipartisan support and swift passage,” Ravenstahl concluded.
“To many Pennsylvanians in the LGBTQ+ community are living in fear,” Miller said. “It is simply unjustifiable in any context that this type of defense can be used in 2020 as an excuse for a crime of violence. With acts of hate unfortunately on the rise in recent years, it is very important that we say, ‘enough is enough,’ and stand in support of our LGBTQ+ community.”
The “gay and trans panic” defense theory can allow perpetrators of criminal actions against Pennsylvanians in the LGBTQ+ community to receive a lesser sentence and in some cases even avoid being convicted or punished by placing the blame for their actions on a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. This “defense” has been used to “justify” both assaults and murders.
The defense strategy has already been outlawed in California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, Hawaii, New York and New Jersey, according to the LGBT Bar Association.
Similar legislation -- S.B. 212 – has been introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate where it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both Miller and Ravenstahl said the legislation is especially pertinent given the unprecedented rise in hate crimes in recent years.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2017 was one of the worst years for crimes against members of the LGBTQ+ community. NCAVP found that as of Aug. 23, 2017, 36 hate-violence-related homicides of LGBTQ+ and HIV affected people had been reported, which represents nearly one homicide a week of a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
In addition to this legislation, both Miller and Ravenstahl have co-sponsored several other bills related to LGBTQ equality, including H.B. 1404, the LGBT Civil Rights Protection Act which is awaiting action in the state House.