LGBTQ+ “panic” defenseLast updated
LGBTQ+ “panic” defenses are legal strategies used to legitimize and excuse violence against LGBTQ+ people in court. They suggest that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender is to blame for the defendant’s violent behavior. A prominent example is the case of the two men who beat Matthew Shepard to death in 1998.
Typically, the “panic” defense suggests that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender caused the defendant to break down and become violent (“insanity”/diminished capacity defense); that the victim’s nonviolent sexual advance (or the perception of one) provoked the defendant to violence (provocation defense); or that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender would compel them to cause the defendant serious bodily harm, which required the defendant to respond with violence (self-defense defense). Several states have banned or introduced legislation against the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, but it is still currently permitted in most US states.
Though the term LGBTQ+ “panic” defense can be used when discussing in a broader sense, being as specific as possible is helpful for clarity; for instance, using the phrase “trans panic defense” when covering an instance of transphobic violence.
- The Gay/Trans Panic Defense: What It is, and How to End It (American Bar Association)
- LGBTQ+ “Panic” Defense (The National LGBTQ Bar)
- LGBTQ+ “Panic” Defense Legislation Map (The National LGBTQ Bar)
The LGBTQ+ “panic” defense is a legal tactic used to justify violence against LGBTQ+ people, often trans women of color. It is illegal in several states. “LGBTQ+ panic” is used to be inclusive of all nonheterosexual and noncisgender people, whose members experience hate crimes and violence at significantly higher rates. Being as specific as possible is helpful for clarity; for instance, using the phrase “trans panic defense” when covering an instance of transphobic violence.