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Illinois’ Ban of Gay/Trans Panic Defense Goes into Effect with New Year

Earlier this year, Illinois made a progressive ruling when a bill banning the gay and trans panic defenses passed through the legislature and was signed into law by Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.

The bill prohibits the use of the legal defenses that have largely been used to justify the murders of gay men and trans women by cis straight men who argued that they could not reasonably control their rage after learning of someone’s gay or trans identities. Until then, California was the only state to have banned the legal defense.

Illinois’ ruling will officially go into effect in 2018, but it could be just the tip of the iceberg. As LGBTQ activists aim to continue Illinois’ momentum, seven other states could follow with similar legislative motions.

“The gay and trans panic defenses are outdated relics, reminiscent of a time when widespread antipathy was commonplace for LGBT individuals,” D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, said in a statement. “It asks jurors to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity excuses the actions of a violent criminal. Our nation’s courtrooms cannot truly be places where law rules supreme while these defenses are still allowed to persist.”

The gay panic defense was used in the 2008 case of Larry King, a 15-year-old boy in California who was killed by a 14-year-old classmate after King asked him on a date for Valentine’s Day. In 2013, James Dixon used the trans panic defense after murdering Islan Nettles.

But the gay panic defense was most notably used during the murder trial of Matthew Shepard in 1999, when Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson claimed they beat and tortured the 21-year-old gay man because he’d made sexual advances toward them.

In Shepard’s case, the defense was not accepted by the Wyoming jury, and the killers were sentenced to life in prison. As for Dixon, he was given a much more lenient 12-year sentence.

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