Western New York Legislators Pass Legislation to Eliminate ‘Gay Panic’ and ‘Trans Panic’ Defenses

Bill approved during Pride Month; important win for LGBTQIA+ New Yorkers
June 20, 2019

Assemblymembers Pat Burke (D-Buffalo), Karen McMahon (D-Amherst/Pendleton), Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) and Monica P. Wallace (D-Lancaster) announced passage of legislation to ban the use of the so-called “gay panic” defense. The legislation prevents a criminal defendant from seeking to use a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as an affirmative defense to murder (A.8375). All four assembly members have been vocal proponents of this legislation and made the passage of this bill a top priority.

“The sordid history of using a victim’s sexual orientation as an excuse to cause them harm or death is now at an end,” Burke said. “Stopping this hateful legal tactic was long overdue.”

“The elimination of the gay panic defense demonstrates that New York State is committed to equality for all New Yorkers and makes clear that no one should be the victim of a crime because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” McMahon said. “This is an important message of support to the LGBTQ community.”

“The law should be applied equally to everyone and the gay panic defense has no place in our legal system,” Ryan said. “This bill ensures the equal protection of people of all sexual orientations under our law and was long overdue. I'm proud to stand with my partners in government to make sure this dangerous legal strategy can no longer be used in New York State.”

“This defense seeks to justify murder because of bias or discrimination by the perpetrator against the victim. Discrimination has no place in our justice system and no place in New York,” Wallace said. “It diminishes the rights of victims and creates a dangerous loophole in our criminal justice system. This legislation is long overdue, and I’ll always stand up against hate to preserve the safety and equality of all New Yorkers.”

This issue has been a top priority for the delegation. They previously held a press conference on June 10 to call on the Assembly to ban the “gay or trans panic” defense before the end of this year’s legislative session.

The bill would prohibit the affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance in relation to the discovery of a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity in cases where the defendant is being charged with second-degree murder. Often referred to as the “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense, the strategy has been used to mitigate murder cases by alleging the defendant panicked after learning of the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or that the victim made an advance toward the defendant. This legislation would bar defendants from using the defense to seek a lesser sentence. Once it becomes law, New York will become the fifth state to ban the use of “gay panic” and “trans panic” in the courtroom.