Mass. lawmakers want to ban rare 'gay and trans panic' criminal defense

Boston's annual pride parade is this weekend. It's happening as Massachusetts lawmakers look to ban a rare criminal defense.

>> Read more trending news

The so-called gay and trans panic defense allows the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity to be used to justify a violent crime.

Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III and Sen. Ed Markey want to ban the rare legal defense on a federal level but are urging state lawmakers to follow suit.

It's been 30 years since Matthew Shepard was beaten to death, but the defense used by the two Wyoming men convicted of the crime is still being used.

"The fact that that even exists at all as some sort of legal protection, to protect the assaulter, to protect the murderer, is an injustice," Kennedy said.

And lawmakers from Massachusetts want it banned.

"Gay and trans panic defense sends a message that LGBTQ lives are worth less than all other lives," Markey said.

Rob Johnson, acting director of Mass Equality, said, "Once that's aired in a courtroom, these kinds of bias claims can taint the jury's deliberation."

Nevada just became the fourth state to ban so-called gay and trans panic as a defense, and while it's rarely used successfully, defendants are using it right here in the Bay State.

"That is the case in Massachusetts. It can be used. It might not be used frequently, but it is on the books as what as known as an affirmative defense," Kennedy said.

Kennedy and Markey filed the bill this week on the eve of pride weekend in Boston and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which are considered the beginning of the modern LGTBQ rights movement.

Ev Evnen, interim director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, said: "I implore all of you, take the value of this bill to heart. LBGTQ folks, violence committed against us is not our fault. We are perfect the way we are."

Kennedy said that he expects bipartisan support on this bill.

About the Author