New Jersey becomes ninth US state to ban ‘gay and trans panic’ defence

Cecilie Johnsen

New Jersey has banned the use of ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defence in the state.

The controversial legal strategy, which is mostly used in assault or murder cases, allows people to defend themselves by claiming they were driven to violence after discovering their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

On Tuesday (21 January), Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill that outlaws the use of the archaic defence in New Jersey, arguing that both ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defences are “abhorrent” excuses for violence.

“We will always stand with our LGBTQ+ community and promote full equality for all our residents,” he said in a statement.

“Gay and trans panic defences are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations.

“With this new law, we are enacting critical measures to protect our friends and neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community.”

Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director for Garden State Equality, said: “Make no mistake, the ‘panic’ defence is flat-out discriminatory legal malpractice, and no one should ever be excused from murder because their victim is gay or transgender.

“As hate crimes against LGBTQ New Jerseyans continue to rise and trans people are murdered across the nation, it’s more imperative than ever that we ensure our criminal justice system protects LGBTQ people equally — full stop.

“Thank you to Governor Murphy for signing this ban into law and sending an unequivocal message that we fully value the lives and dignity of LGBTQ people in New Jersey.”

La’Nae Grant, a trans advocate from East Orange in New Jersey, celebrated the moment by saying: “Transgender women of colour are victims to murder, violence, and harassment every day of our lives simply for living authentically as ourselves.

“We deserve to live with dignity and safety in our communities. Knowing that the ‘panic’ defence is banned in New Jersey is another victory and moment of empowerment for black trans women like myself, but there’s still more work to do for our community.”

New Jersey now joins California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York and Rhode Island in banning ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defences.

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