PA Sen. to introduce bill banning gay- and trans-panic defenses


State Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese Jr. (D-Philadelphia) said he will introduce legislation aimed at ending the use of gay panic and trans-panic defenses in homicide trials in Pennsylvania.

The actual language of the proposed legislation hasn’t been finalized. But on July 17, Farnese issued a memo to his fellow state senators urging them to support the proposal, adding that he expects to introduce the bill within the next several weeks.

The American Bar Association passed a resolution urging states to limit the use of gay- and trans-panic defenses in 2013. Although there is no defined version of either term in any Pennsylvania statute, some homicide defendants in Pennsylvania have cited a victim’s LGBT status in an effort to lessen their criminal penalties.

“We are examining model language from the American Bar Association along with language used in other states that have passed similar legislation,” Farnese told PGN.

“It is unconscionable that Pennsylvania permits the use of gay- and trans-panic defenses in murder cases involving LGBTQ individuals,” he added. “These are hate crimes and defendants should not be able to employ gay or trans panic as a justification for criminal activity.”

Farnese said the use of such defenses increases negative stereotypes of the LGBT community.

“When invoking such a defense, it suggests that the victim’s [sexual] advances were more aggressive because of their sexual orientation, further engendering more negatives stereotypes and playing to the jurors’ biases.

“There is simply no justification for allowing a defendant to blame an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender for a lethal attack.”

Farnese said he’s concerned that anti-LGBT hate crimes are on the rise.

“In a time when we see an increase in hate crimes, particularly against the LGBT community, we should be looking for ways to ensure that irrationals fears, hatred and bigotry as a defense for why a crime was committed aren’t permissible.”

Several states have taken legislative action to limit or prohibit the use of gay- and trans-panic defenses, including Rhode Island, California and Illinois. Earlier this month, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would limit the use the of these defenses in federal trials for homicide and aggravated assault. Such defenses are already banned on a state level in California and Illinois but still available in federal courts.

Given that Pennsylvania’s legislature is controlled by Republicans, Farnese said he’s not confident his bill will pass.

“I am not optimistic, because we live in a state that still allows legalized discrimination against the LGBT community,” he said. “But I am hopeful that my colleagues will see this bill as raising another reason why we must afford equal protection and equality to all of our citizens.”

In August 2015, state Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-Allentown) introduced legislation to prohibit gay-panic and trans-panic defenses for voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania. However, the bill died in the House Judiciary Committee the following year.

“I’m glad to see that Senator Farnese is pushing this,” Schlossberg told PGN by email. “Hopefully he can get more momentum in the Senate than we could in the House.”