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It is not unheard of for criminal cases with an LGBTQ victim to be justified with a lighter sentence because of a person’s gender or sexual identity. Many offenders in these cases claim the victim made an unwanted sexual move, causing them to act uncontrollably, which then leads to a murder.

According to New Now Next, cases like these have been happening for years. In the 1960s, the defense was noted in court opinions around the country. In July of this year, the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act was presented to congress. However only Illinois, Rhode Island, and California already do not permit the use to the panic defense.

The FBI’s 2014 hate crime report showed 20 percent of over 5,000 hate crimes committed were directed against LGBTQ people.

A decade prior to the panic prohibition, Lawrence King, 15, was shot twice in the head by classmate Brandon McInerney, 14. King openly expressed being gay, cross-dressed, and wore makeup around school.

Because of his gender expression, King was the victim of bullying. Staff within the school thought King’s clothing was a distraction and therefore a violation of school dress code. Due to California’s anti-discriminatory laws, however, King was free to be himself.

An assistant principal who is openly queer was accused by faculty and King’s father of letting King thrive in his flamboyance as part of her “political agenda.” King was said to make inappropriate comments to other boys, but court attorneys later stated he was not sexually harassing students.

Before the shooting, King publicly asked another student, McInerney to be his valentine, which caused McInerney to be teased for the proposal. He later asked fellow students to help him assault King, but no one was willing to do so. 

King was shot in the back of the head by McInerney and rushed to the hospital only to be pronounced brain dead. Ventura County Superior Court stated King’s outer expression was a factor in his death.

McInerney’s first trial ended in a mistrial because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. However, he later pleaded guilty, his hate crime charges were dropped, and he was sentenced to serve 21 years.

Like McInerney’s trial, many attorneys use a fear and panic factor to justify crime against queer people. They either do so implicitly or by promoting the negative stereotypes associated with LGBTQ people. Many trials use this excuse that criminals experience uncontrollable panic.

The Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act states, “Gay and trans panic defenses appeal to irrational fears and hatred of LGBT individuals… to end the antiquated notion that LGBT lives are worth less than others and to reflect modern understanding of LGBT individuals as equal citizens under law, gay and trans panic defenses must end.”

The panic defense remains legal in 47 states. However, a handful of states aim to change the allowance of this defense in criminal trials.

The gay and trans panic defense appears to be rooted in previous fears and comes from a place of hate.