The Gay Panic Defense Is Trash. Don’t At Me.






As with all matters of transparent fairness, I must say this piece is written from the vantage point of a cis-gender, heterosexual woman. In that privilege, I have to chosen to express my frank opinion about this matter. Blessings, JBHarris


I have never understood the phrase ‘Gay Panic Defense.’ Sure, my first language is English–and I read and write it well. I even make a modest living, deriving from my dexterity of these 26 letters. So, I know what all three words mean. What I do not understand is the continued fear and stigma around liking what you like.

This is definition is taken from The LGBT Bar:

The gay and trans “panic” defense is a legal strategy which asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction, including murder. It is not a free standing defense to criminal liability, but rather a legal tactic which is used to bolster other defenses. When the defense is employed, the perpetrator claims that their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains – but excuses – their loss of self-control and subsequent assault. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBTQ+ victims, this defense implies that LGBTQ+ lives are worth less than others.

One of the most recognized cases that employed the gay “panic” defense 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 the gay “panic” defense to excuse their actions. Despite widespread public protest, the defense is still being used today.

How is the defense used in court?

Traditionally, the gay and trans “panic” defense has been used in three ways to mitigate a case of murder to manslaughter or justified homicide.

I was a high school Senior when Matthew Shephard was murdered in Wyoming. I still do not understand why he is dead. As a mother now, of children only years younger than the age Matthew will eternally be, I teach them to treat people as they would like to be treated. I tell them that if someone is gay or trans, you respect them as people! We forget that part. Despite religious affiliations, or dogma. I make no bones about being a woman of faith, in believing in God. The thing, the last thing, that Christ told His followers to do before He left, was to love one another.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” -New Living Translation; The Book of John, Chapter 13, verse 34.

Before I can open my mouth about you to say what I think about you, I have to love you. My faith demands that I do!

This defense makes me uncomfortable as a cis woman! It makes me uncomfortable because no one should have the right to correlate their violence to someone’s sexual orientation or gender expression–it shouldn’t ‘provoke’ them to violence as if there was no other recourse. As if harming someone was all one could to preserve life and safety. That is trash. It is trash logic. It is a trash defense, and anyone that uses it in defense of killing another person is trash!

What happened to just letting people live as they wish, and leaving them as you found them? If you were out with a transwoman and she didn’t tell you who she is right off, and you ‘find out’ in intimate situations? If that’s not what you’re into, leave her alone. Be a decent enough person, possessing enough self-control to leave people alone! If you as straight man has a gay man hits on you, you don’t have to assault him! You have the option of walking away. There is no need to hurt, maim, assault or people because they aren’t what you want. Or what you think they should be!

On the documentary The Life And Death of Marsha P. Johnson, Victoria Cruz, a worker for AVP in New York, talked about how one individual upon meeting someone at a gay bar (I believe it was a transwoman), and this man killed her–using the Gay Panic Defense. And got off! Perhaps it is my critical and empathetic nature that will not allow me to hurt someone in this fashion. Have I had gay women, transmen hit on me? Yes. Did I verbally assault them or make them leave the world by my hand? Not at all.

There is a power in controlling your emotions in stressful situations. Every situation doesn’t require a response of physical violence! Some actions are better received when you do nothing. When you see a situation for what it is, and not add more to it. I get that not everyone is taught that grace. However, actions have consequences–and you don’t get to pick them.

Being gay or being transgender/of trans-experience isn’t a viral contagion where you have to kill the host! This nation needs to stop acting like it. Don’t blame your bigotry on your paranoia, anxiety and the ‘might be’! You don’t get to take someone out the world because you ‘think’ their sexual orientation deceived you, or made you uncomfortable! Best advice for unwanted advances? Thanks, but no thanks.

Don’t take the drink, or send it back. Don’t smile back. Don’t go home with anyone. And above all,  keep your hands to yourself. The gay aggressor troupe is a myth, and it’s inflammatory. Lastly, if another man seeming to be inappropriate, don’t watch any professional sport where ass slapping occurs. Do better, fam. We have to do better.