Nevada has become the fourth state to prohibit using the “trans panic” and “gay panic” defense in court.
Senate Bill 97, which was signed into law Tuesday, bans people from using a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a defense for committing a violent crime against them.
Brooke Maylath with the Reno-based Transgender Allies Group said around the country people have gotten as little as probation for killing gay or trans people for nonaggressive, nonsexual interactions.
“In a different world, if women were to respond that way, there wouldn’t be a man alive,” Maylath said. “It’s a vile and disgusting defense that sends a message to the community that homosexual and transgender people are subhuman, and it’s perfectly OK to be incensed and go into a murderous rage.”
Briana Escamilla, the state director for the Human Rights Campaign, said banning the defense is long past due.
“This so-called gay or transgender panic defense is based in prejudice and should never be available in any American courtroom,” she said via email. “These ‘defenses’ send the destructive message that LGBTQ victims are less worthy of justice and their attackers justified in their violence. Every victim of violent crime and their families deserve equal justice, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re grateful that Gov. Steve Sisolak quickly signed this legislation into law.”
The legislation, proposed by the Nevada Youth Legislature, was voted out of the Senate 19-2 on April 16 and out of the Assembly 36-3 on May 7.
“I was proud to sign into law a bill to ban the discriminatory and bigoted gay and trans ‘panic’ defense tactic, which can be used to excuse violent hate crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement. “Amid a disturbing rise in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community around the world, Nevada is reaffirming our commitment to justice and equality for all individuals.”
While it was mostly supported by lawmakers, it did get pushback from the Clark County Public Defenders Offices and the Nevada District Attorney’s Association — two groups that have generally disagreed on legislation during the session. Both groups worried the legislation would have unintended consequences, including compromising a defendant’s right to a fair trial and due process by eliminating defense options and their “right to present a defense.”
Maylath said California was the first state to ban the defense and Rhode Island and Illinois followed. New Jersey, Washington State, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia have all introduced various versions of legislation.
“We don’t want special treatment,” Maylath said. “We just want to be able to walk down the street without the fear of being murdered. We just want to be able to interact with other people without them freaking out and killing us.”