Banning the Use of Gay and Trans Panic Defenses

April 2021

This report 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. It also provides model language that states may use to ban the gay and trans panic defenses through legislation.

The gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in antiquated ideas that homosexuality and gender non-conformity are mental illnesses.
Since the 1960s, discussions of the gay and trans panic defenses have appeared in court opinions in approximately one-half of the states.
These laws are one way of addressing disproportionate exposure to violence, including interpersonal violence, for LGBTQ people.

When LGBTQ people are killed and the gay and trans panic defense is invoked, those fatal acts of violence need to be understood within the broader context of widespread violence that LGBTQ people face in general—starting from an early age—and often from people they know including romantic and dating partners. 

LGBTQ people in the U.S. face widespread stigma, discrimination, and violence. Recent media accounts detail an epidemic of violence against transgender women, particularly transgender women of color; federal data show that a substantial percentage of hate crimes are related to anti-LGBTQ bias; and decades of research establish that LGBTQ people are at increased risk of violent victimization. Much of this violence is hate-based or occurs within the context of a dating or romantic relationship. Often, violence against LGBTQ people starts early in their lives, at the hands of family members or other students at school. Violence against LGBTQ people can result in death, and even when victims survive, has lasting effects on their physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. 

LGBTQ people face several barriers to addressing violence. LGBTQ people may be reluctant to seek help due to experiences of, or fear of, discrimination and harassment by law enforcement. LGBTQ survivors may also be reluctant to seek help from health care and service providers out of fear of being mistreated or turned away. Moreover, in many states, laws do not adequately protect LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence and hate violence. 

One way states can combat the epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people is by passing laws that bar defendants from asserting gay and trans panic defenses in court. Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in antiquated ideas that being LGBTQ is a mental illness, and rely on the assumption that it is reasonable for a perpetrator to react violently to discovering the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or to a romantic advance by an LGBTQ victim. Since the 1960s, the gay and trans panic defenses have appeared in publicly reported court opinions in approximately one-half of the states. To date, 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. 

This report presents evidence of violence against LGBTQ people in the U.S., provides an overview of how the gay and trans panic defenses have been used in court, and presents model legislation to eliminate use of the gay and trans panic defenses. 

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Banning the Use of Gay and Trans Panic Defenses

Jaime M. Grant, et al., Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey 2 (2011), (reporting that 61% of the 6,450 respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey were the victim of physical assault); Rebecca L. Stotzer, Violence Against Transgender People: A Review of United States Data, 14 Aggression and Violence Behavior 170 (2009) (providing a comprehensive review of data on violence against transgender people); Gregory M. Herek, Hate Crimes and Stigma-Related Experiences Among Sexual Minority Adults in the United States: Prevalence Estimates from a National Probability Sample, 24 J. Interpersonal Violence 54, 54 (2009) (reporting that approximately 20% of LGB adults reported having experienced a person or property crime based on their sexual orientation).

These statistics are based on the most recent data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports. See 2014 Hate Crime Statistics, available at

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2014 8 (2015), available at

James J. Nolan & Yoshio Akiyama, An Analysis of Factors That Affect Law Enforcement Participation in Hate Crime Reporting, 15 J. Contemp. Crim. Just. 111, 114 (1999) (concluding that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender victims frequently do not report hate crimes because they fear police insensitivity and secondary victimization by police officers).

See The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, 18 U.S.C. § 249 (2014); Movement Advancement Project, Hate Crime Laws, (reporting that as of May 13, 2016, 17 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and 13 states have laws that only cover sexual orientation).

In 1980, “gender identity disorders” were included in the DSM. Gordene Olga MacKinzie, Transgender Nation 69 (1994). Those labels remained in the DSM until 2013, when the APA changed “gender identity disorders” to appear as “gender dysphoria.” American Psychological Association, REPORT OF THE APA TASK FORCE ON GENDER IDENTITY & GENDER VARIANCE (2008), This change reflected the APA’s intent to avoid stigmatizing transgender people who sought gender reaffirming medical care and to “better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.” American Psychiatric Association, GENDER DYSPHORIA (2013),

Cynthia Lee, The Gay Panic Defense, 42 U.C. DAVIS L. REV. 471, 477 (2008).

States with reported court decisions discussing the gay and trans panic defenses are Arizona (2010), California (1967, 2002), Florida (2012), Georgia (2001), Kansas (2006), Illinois (1972, 1977, 1993, 2000, 2004), Indiana (2001), Iowa (2015), Louisiana (1990), Massachusetts (1978, 2005), Michigan (2000), Missouri (1975, 1990, 2000), New Jersey (2004), New York (2012), North Carolina (1978), Nebraska (1994), New Jersey (1988), Ohio (1988), Pennsylvania (2010), Tennessee (1998, 2009), Texas (2007), Wisconsin (2001), and Wyoming (1979, 1999).

American Bar Association, Gay and Trans Panic Defenses Resolution (2013), available at


Those states are Florida, Illinois, and Kansas. See infra Part I.

Assembly Bill 2501 amended the statutory definition of voluntary manslaughter under the California Penal Code to include the following language:

(f)(1) For purposes of determining sudden quarrel or heat of passion pursuant to subdivision (a), the provocation was not objectively reasonable if it resulted from the discovery of, knowledge about, or potential disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, including under circumstances in which the victim made an unwanted nonforcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant, or if the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship. Nothing in this section shall preclude the jury from considering all relevant facts to determine whether the defendant was in fact provoked for purposes of establishing subjective provocation.

(2) For purposes of this subdivision, “gender” includes a person’s gender identity and gender-related appearance and behavior regardless of whether that appearance or behavior is associated with the person’s gender as determined at birth.

Cal. Penal Code § 192(f) (2015).

Parker Marie Molloy, California Becomes First State to Ban Gay, Trans “Panic” Defenses, The Advocate, Sept. 29, 2014, available at

Illinois: Bill Status of SB 3046, 99th General Assembly,; New Jersey: Bills 2014-2015, A4083,, Pennsylvania: HB 1509,