SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that bans the "gay panic" or "trans panic" defense and their ilk in criminal court proceedings, taking aim at a tactic traditionally used to deflect blame from a defendant accused of violent crimes onto the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Defendants use these defenses in an effort to avoid full accountability on the grounds that the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim is reasonable in and of itself to be considered adequate provocation,” said one of the bill’s chief sponsors, Democratic Rep. Karin Power. “The passage of this bill will send a strong and proactive message that the perpetrator of a second-degree murder will not be able to excuse the crime simply based on who their victim is.”
House Democrats cited the Human Rights Campaign, which reported that 2020 was the "most violent year on record" for crimes against transgender and gender non-conforming people since it began tracking these crimes in 2013, with 44 recorded fatalities.
A 2018 FBI report found an increase of more than 500 percent in reported in hate crimes against people who identify as transgender since 2013, Democrats said, the largest rate of growth in any category.
"LGBTQ+ Oregonians deserve to feel safe, and know that the state does not excuse violence perpetuated against them because of their gender or sexual orientation,” said Rep. Rob Nosse, also a Democrat. “This bill sends a strong message to LGBTQ+ Oregonians that our state does not stand for violence based on gender or sexual orientation. It shows them that we care about their livelihood, and that we are willing to act to hold attackers accountable. It shows them that we see them, and we are working for them.”
Unlike an insanity defense, LGBTQ+ "panic" defense is not an accepted plea in U.S. law, but a strategy used by some defense teams in criminal cases to bolster other defenses and erode culpability for the crime.
Senate Bill 704 passed the House with unanimous support and now heads to Governor Kate Brown's desk for a signature. The bill was first introduced by Basic Rights Oregon. If signed into law, Oregon will become the 14th state to ban defenses of this kind.