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ABA to Consider Banning "Gay Panic" Defense

Monday Jul 29, 2013
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Next month, as part of the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco, the ABA House of Delegates, the organization’s policymaking body, will convene to consider more than 20 resolutions, one of which is to render the "gay panic / trans panic" defense inadmissible in court.

As stated in a press release from the ABA dated July 26, 2013, "Resolution urges every level of government to take legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of the ’gay panic’ and ’trans panic’ defenses, which seek to partially or completely excuse crimes on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent reaction."

The theory of "gay panic" goes back to 1920 when the term was first coined by psychiatrist Edward J. Kempf in his textbook "Psychopathology", in which he describes an acute, brief reactive psychosis suffered by the target of unwanted homosexual advances. According to Wikipedia, despite the psychotic nature of the disorder, Kempf called it "acute homosexual panic." The disorder is also known in Kempf’s honour as "Kempf’s disease." Breakdowns were said to occur in situations that involve sexual assault by the same sex, such as dormitories or military barracks.

In the courtroom, this theory has been employed as a defense in cases of assault and murder of LGBT persons. The "gay panic / trans panic" defense effectively blames the victim for making unwelcome advances that cause the defendant to go into a state of temporary insanity where they cannot be held responsible for their actions no matter how violent.

"Gay panic" has been used as a defense in recent years on a number of high profile assault and murder cases, most notably the 1995 trial of Jonathan Schmitz, who killed his friend Scott Amedure after learning, during a taping of "The Jenny Jones Show," that Amedure was sexually attracted to him. Schmitz confessed to committing the crime, but claimed that Amedure’s homosexual overtures angered and humiliated him. Three years later, the defense would be used during the trial of the two men accused of killing university student Matthew Shepard. The strategy proved ineffective or inadmissible and in both cases, ended with convictions for the defendants.

In a statement released by the National LGBT Law Association this June, executive director D’Arcy Kemnitz stated, "This resolution puts an end to a longstanding injustice in our legal system and gives a voice to countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of violence, one we never hear because they are no longer here to speak for themselves,"

The 2013 annual meeting of the American Bar Association will take place from August 8th through the 13th in San Francisco.

Comments

  • Jonathan Willner, 2013-08-02 01:40:17

    However, the "black panic" defense was used quite successfully in the George Zimmerman trial. The ABA should work on invalidating that.


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