Gay And Trans Panic Defenses Continue To Be Used In Court Cases

Author: The Williams Institute
Published: Wednesday 21st April 2021
Summary: Cases often involve robbery or a pre-existing relationship between the victim and defendant.

Gay and trans panic defenses first appeared in court cases in the 1960s and continue to be raised in criminal trials today. In these cases, defendants have argued that their violent behavior was a rational response to discovering by surprise that the victim was LGBTQ. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation eliminating the use of gay and trans panic defenses, but the defenses remain available in most states.

A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law examines current research on violence against LGBTQ people in the U.S. and the use of the gay and trans panic defenses over the last six decades. The study also provides model language that states may use to ban the gay and trans panic defenses through legislation. These laws are one way of addressing disproportionate exposure to violence, including interpersonal violence, for LGBTQ people.

“In many cases where the gay and trans panic defenses have been raised, we see that the victim and the defendant had a relationship prior to the homicide or the homicide occurred in the course of robbery,” said lead author Christy Mallory, Legal Director at the Williams Institute. “These findings suggest that defendants were not surprised or in a state of panic when the homicides occurred.”


The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.

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