Lawrence King was 15 years old when he was shot twice in the back of the head by his 14 year old classmate Brandon McInerney. McInerney claims that King was harassing him, meaning flirting, and this caused him to have an emotional breakdown. Openly gay and comfortable wearing women’s clothes and makeup on occasion, King was a target for bullying school. There was no provocation from King, no struggle that would justify self-defense, King was killed because of his sexual orientation. Because of this, McInerney was charged with murder and the commission of a hate crime. The trial ended in a mistrial, partially because of the defense’s “gay panic defense” argument. This argument claimed that the defendant acted “in a state of violent temporary insanity because of a little-known psychiatric condition called homosexual panic.”
Yes. This is a a real thing.
“Homosexual panic” coined by psychiatrist Edward J. Kempf in 1920, details that when someone is the target of unwanted homosexual advances, this can cause them to suffer an acute and brief reactive psychosis. This is a very real and commonly used LEGAL DEFENSE, and it has expanded to include people who are transgender. Arguing that if someone “feels threatened” by someone because of their sexual orientation, they were justified in assaulting or murdering them. “Feeling threatened” can literally mean that someone was in the same bathroom as an LGBT individual, and because of deeply horrible and prejudicial beliefs, they thought that this person was going to harm them even though there was no physical evidence of this. This is a disgusting and homophobic reality in the United States.
The reason I’m talking about this is because California, my home state, became the first state to ban the gay and trans panic defense in the US. Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill No. 2501 on September 27, 2014. This defense is most commonly used in cases where the defendant claims that the LGBT individual came on to them, and this infuriated them so much, that they assaulted them. This should not be a normal legal defense. This defense justifies homophobic and transphobic beliefs. This defense allows someone to attack or even kill an individual because they were uncomfortable with the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Case like Larry King are not rare. In April 2010, Cal State Long Beach transgender student Colle Carpenter, was cornered in a campus restroom by an assailant who carved “It” on his chest. In 1987, Joseph Parsons, claimed that because of an unwanted advance, he killed Richard Lynn Ernest, but at trial he was unable to prevent any evidence to support his claim. Matthew Shepard was beaten, tortured, and left to die by two men who targeted him for being gay. This list goes on and unfortunately hate crimes against people in the LGBT community rose 13% in 2010, according to The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs study. There’s even a Wikipedia page that details a list of assaults on gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals. The Trans* Violence Tracking Portal is also an important resource to understand how likely an LGBT individual will suffer violence in their lifetime.
I’m happy and proud that California is being a forerunner in abolishing this horrible defense but it’s a very small step forward. Hopefully other states follow suit soon.
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