Florida may soon become the 16th state to ban the use of “gay/trans panic defense” under a new proposal filed Tuesday by two Democratic lawmakers.
Gay/trans panic defense is a controversial legal strategy that asserts a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation panicked a defendant and even — in many instances — provoked a violent attack.
The bills (SB 374 & HB 205) would prohibit the legal strategy in Florida courtrooms, which would make Florida the latest state to do so within the decade. Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith are the bill sponsors.
“As a survivor of hate violence, I understand how gay or trans ‘panic defense’ can be used as a legal strategy to justify or excuse violence against the LGBTQ community,” said Smith, who represents Orlando. “It happened to me. The continued use of panic defense in legal proceedings perpetuates anti-LGBTQ bias and shifts blame onto the victims of violent crimes rather than their perpetrators, which is why Florida must follow the lead of several states who passed laws prohibiting its use in court.”
Tuesday’s filing marks Book’s second consecutive attempt to pass the legislation through Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature. The measure is among several items within her pro-LGBTQIA+ legislative agenda.
If successful, Florida’s ban would join states including New York, California, Nevada and others.
“It is discriminatory and unacceptable for LGBTQIA+ individuals to be held responsible for their own assaults or even murders on the grounds of simply being themselves,” Book said. “The current state of the law which allows someone to assault another person simply based on sexual or gender identity cannot stand. The use of a ‘panic’ defense is essentially doing legal gymnastics to defend a hate crime.”
The push to ban the legal argument is a relatively new effort. California was the first state in the nation to ban the defense in 2014. At the time, the American Bar Association was among the more prominent organizations calling for its end.
In a 2013 plea, the Bar Association decried the legal strategy and urged federal and state governments to implement bans. The defense, they asserted, wrongly suggests violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals is excusable.
What’s more, they noted the American Psychological Association debunked “gay panic disorder” in 1973.
“The use of a gay or trans panic defense deprives victims, their family, and their friends of dignity and justice,” the Bar Association wrote in a letter.
Notably, the panic defense has led to reduced charges against defendants in roughly one-third of cases, The Conversation reported in 2020.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2020 was the deadliest year on record for trans and gender-nonconforming people, and 2021 is on pace to surpass the grim record.
If signed into law, the bill would take effect July 1.
The 2022 Legislative Session begins Jan. 11.