The Editors: ‘gay panic’ is no justification for violence

Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

“Gay panic,” or perceiving an unwanted sexual overture from someone of the same sex or from a transgender person, has been used as a criminal defense for acts of violence going back to at least the 1950s in the United States. While it rarely results in acquittal, it may be a factor in many relatively light sentences given to those convicted of killing L.G.B.T. people, such as the 12-year manslaughter sentence given to a New York man who beat a transgender woman to death in 2013.

Last month Senator Ed Markey and Representative Joe Kennedy III, both Democratic members of Congress from Massachusetts, introduced the Gay & Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act, which would prohibit the use of the gay panic defense in federal court (although it would permit the evidence of “prior trauma” to justify a defendant’s actions). “Legal loopholes written into our laws that seek to justify violent attacks against our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors should never have existed in the first place,” Representative Kennedy told The Washington Blade.


Prosecutions for such attacks are usually handled at the state level, but a federal law would send a strong message that fear of, or discomfort with, any group of people is not a license for violent behavior. Currently, the gay panic defense has been banned only by California, Rhode Island and Illinois, but we hope that other states follow their lead. Perhaps as significant, the federal bill would also require the U.S. attorney general to produce an annual report on prosecutions in federal court for crimes committed against L.G.B.T. people “that were motivated by the victim’s gender, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.” This would be valuable information for determining the scope of anti-L.G.B.T. violence.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
1 month 2 weeks ago

What violence? Hardly seems prevalent.

A Fielder
1 month 2 weeks ago

Elaine, the alleged abuse by Reuter is about 30 years old. He has been removed from public ministry, admittedly quite after the fact. How exactly does that warrant suppression of the entire order? Do you ever have anything constructive to offer? And to answer your question about Catholicism, this is what the CCC states:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Peggy Ehling
1 month 1 week ago

It might be helpful to add that Christians would do well to strive not be one of the “difficulties they may encounter.”

J Brookbank
1 month 2 weeks ago

Good for you, Editors.

I do believe this is relevant. The teachings of the RCC and other churches have contributed to the ugliness toward the LGBT communities. We can argue about whether it is the teaching itself, the delivery bybthe teachers or the reception by the students. Anyway you cut it, hatred and violence toward LGBT individuals very often is very often discussed in terms of religious precepts and prohibitions.

As the extent of criminal abuse, harassment and actions designed to hide both are revealed and explained by many Catholic leaders and laypeople as, at root, a gay issue and not a power issue, it is essential that Catholic leaders and laypeople take pro-active steps to protect the gay community from reaping (in the form of violence) what the RCC and ALL of us have sown in terms of fear-based and religiously-justified bigotry and the physical violence that always lurks as a threat in bigotry.

I think, also, of a recent citation in the comments here in which a reader referenced a priest-psychologist who claimed that homosexual desires require greater psychic energy to manage than heterosexual desires, reinforcing the "gay compulsion" and compulsive, impulsive and see-a-man-jump-a-man stereotypes of gay male sexuality which underlies and contributes to "gay panic" violence and defenses.

By way of response:

My whiteness requires less "psychic energy" for me to manage than my black male friend's blackness requires of him because my whiteness is approved, , prirective accepted and privileged while my friend's blackness renders him --- in the world as it is today --- unsafe and unwelcome and less-than.

Similarly, my heterosexuality takes less psychic energy to manage because it is approved, accepted and privileged and I don't have to worry about my emotional or physical safety if I am seen kissing a partner in public. That is NOT reality for my gay friends. And THAT --- the bigotry and the violence it iften gives rise to --- is what requires greater psychic energy to manage. )

THAT is the relevance. Good for you.

Stanley Kopacz
1 month 2 weeks ago

Used to be, a man could get away with shooting a man dead if he caught him in bed with his wife. Also, if a black guy glanced at a good looking white woman, he could end up lynched.

J Brookbank
1 month 2 weeks ago


Tim O'Leary
1 month 2 weeks ago

Is this analogous to a woman getting a lesser sentence after killing a man, when her defense was she feared an aggressive sexual advance might lead to rape? With the current #MeToo and McCarrick crises, it might be good if this legislation also included harsher punishments for aggressive sexual advances, of adults and minors.

More: LGBT

The latest from america

 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018
Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018