Metro Weekly

Illinois governor signs “gay panic” and trans birth certificate bills into law

Both measures hope to bring a greater degree of equality to LGBTQ Illinoisans

Bruce Rauner – Photo: Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer, 182nd Airlift Wing, via Wikimedia.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed two bills into law that will help LGBTQ people achieve greater equality.

The first eliminates the “gay panic” defense in murder cases, where a defendant claims that the murder victim was homosexual and made a pass at them, making them fear for their safety (or in some cases, their reputation or social standing). As a result, they could claim they were justified in venting their rage or reacting violently in self-defense.

Gay panic or “trans panic” defenses have been utilized in several high-profile murders in recent decades, including those of Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, Marco McMillan, Gwen Araujo, and Angie Zapata.

By getting rid of the “gay panic” defense, it means that the legal system in Illinois will no longer implicitly condone the argument that LGBTQ people pose a threat to society or are unworthy of protection by excusing the actions of their murderers.

The second bill Rauner signed into law amends the Illinois Vital Records Act to make it easier for transgender and intersex people to amend the gender marker on their birth certificates to reflect their correct gender identity. 

Under the change to the law, a transgender individual will no longer be required to submit a sworn affidavit from a physician who confirms they performed gender confirmation surgery on the individual.

Now, the law only requires that someone seeking to change their gender marker provide a note from a licensed medical or mental health professional attesting to the fact that they are receiving “clinically appropriate” treatment for gender dysphoria or as part of their transition.

The change in the birth certificate statute brings Illinois’ requirements in line with several other states and the U.S. State Department.

“Today, our state is a fairer and more inclusive place for all people,” Christopher Clark, the Midwest Regional Director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Transgender and intersex people born in our state will now have easier access to important identity documents that are necessary to work, travel, obtain vital benefits, and most importantly, navigate the world a little safer. By eliminating the surgical requirement, we now have a better law that is in line with medical standards of care, and puts important and very personal health care decisions in the hands of individuals and their health care professionals — where they belong.

“‘Gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses rely on anti-LGBT bias and reinforce it, perpetuating a vicious cycle of violence against our communities,” Clark added. “LGBT people, especially transgender women of color, are more likely to be victims of violent crime. We look to courts for justice, not to put victims on trial. We hope that other states will take Illinois’ example and do the same.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com