LGBTQ+ people are nine times more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to be victims of violent hate crimes, and trans people of color face disproportionate rates of violence

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington (June 26, 2023) – Today, on Equality Day, commemorating a slate of Supreme Court decisions – including Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges – which reaffirm LGBTQ+ rights across the United States, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Congressman Chris Pappas (NH-01) announced the reintroduction of the LGBTQ+ Panic Defense Prohibition Act, legislation that would ban using panic defenses based on sexual orientation or gender identity in federal courts. These defenses are used to excuse violent crimes, such as murder and assault, by arguing that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant’s actions, placing the blame on the victims for the violence committed against them. Since 2013, Human Rights Campaign has recorded over 256 cases of fatal violence against trans people in the United States, over 80 percent of whom were people of color. In 2022, at least 38 transgender people were killed in the United States. Many of the attacks targeted transgender women of color.

LGBTQ+ panic defenses have been used in courts for decades. Over 20 years ago, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming and one of his killers raised a panic defense, arguing that Shepard’s unwanted sexual advances excused his violent acts. More recently, in 2019, Nikki Kuhnhausen, a transgender woman, was heinously murdered in Vancouver, Washington and her killer raised their own panic defense, claiming that Kuhnhausen’s gender identity excused his violent acts. Kuhnhausen’s family called on the Washington legislature to pass Nikki’s Law, legislation to prevent those charged with a violent crime from using panic defenses in the state, which passed in 2022. In addition to Washington, 15 states and Washington D.C. have already taken legislative action to curtail the availability and effectiveness of using LGBTQ+ panic defenses. California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Maine, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Virginia, Vermont Oregon, Maryland, and New Mexico have banned such defenses, and similar legislation has been introduced in additional states.

“Members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans people of color, are facing ongoing, escalating, and intensifying violence emboldened by hateful actions and speech by elected officials at every level of government,” said Senator Markey. “This so-called defense is not only antiquated, but actively legitimizes violence against the LGBTQ+ community and encourages homophobic and transphobic bigotry within our legal system. The LGBTQ+ Panic Defense Prohibition Act will stop courts from sanctioning violence against people based on who they are and who they love. It is a necessary step forward—LGBTQ+ people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

“On Equality Day, we recognize the progress we have made, while recommitting ourselves to the work still to be done to achieve full equality for all,” said Congressman Pappas. “No one should be a second-class citizen in the United States but in many jurisdictions, including our federal courts, violent perpetrators can still avoid accountability for their crimes through the use of bigoted ‘panic’ defenses. No one's sexual orientation or gender identity is a defense for assault or murder, and it is time Congress follows the lead of states that have already banned this defense in their courts.”

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.

The LGBTQ+ Panic Defense Prohibition Act is endorsed by the American Bar Association, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and National Center for Transgender Equality.

Also, today, Senator Markey also introduced the Gender Affirming Care Access Research for Equity (CARE) Act to authorize $25 million annually over five years for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research barriers to gender-affirming care and the impact of those barriers on health. In March, Senator Markey and Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) introduced the Trans Bill of Rights, a landmark resolution to recognize the federal government’s duty in protecting and codifying the rights of transgender and nonbinary people, as well as to ensure trans people have access to medical care, shelter, safety, and economic security. On International Transgender Day of Visibility in March, Senator Markey led colleagues in a letter urging President Joe Biden to protect transgender people’s access to gender-affirming health care, protect them against violence and discrimination, and support health care providers facing threats of violence and limits on their ability to provide care. Last September, Senator Markey led a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) urging the Biden administration to lift barriers to testosterone and expand access to gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender people, including transgender men and transmasculine nonbinary people. In June 2022, Senator Markey secured commitments from Facebook, PayPal, Discover, Visa, and Instacart in response to his March inquiry into their name-change policies that contributed to harmful deadnaming practices of referring to transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming users’ birth or legal name that they no longer use.