Metro Weekly

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs bill banning gay and trans panic defenses

Tactic is used to justify a defendant's violent reaction to discovering a victim's LGBTQ identity

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs a bill banning the use of gay and trans panic defenses – Photo: Office of the Governor, via Facebook.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a law banning the use of “gay panic” and “trans panic” as affirmative defenses in New York State.

Cuomo signed the bill in Manhattan, surrounded by LGBTQ activists and revelers who had come to participate in New York’s Pride March, which coincided with the celebration of World Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

The governor’s signature makes New York the sixth state to ban the defense, following California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Nevada, and Connecticut.

“New York has always been the heart of the LGBT equality movement,” Cuomo said. “It started at Stonewall, it started when we hosted the first Pride Day ever. And we’ve kept that legacy alive.”

The gay and trans panic defenses are part of a legal strategy that allows defendants charged with murder or assault to claim that they were somehow justified in acting violently after learning about the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The tactic is often used to reduce the charges against the defendant or reduce the amount of time they’d spend in prison once sentenced.

The tactic was most notably used in the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, the gay 21-year-old college student who was beaten to death by two men.

It has been used in other notable slayings, including those of transgender woman Gwen Araujo in Oakland, Calif., in 2002; Ahmed Dabarran, a gay assistant district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., in 2003; and Angie Zapata, a transgender woman killed in Colorado in 2008.

In New York, defendant James Dixon used the defense to justify beating transgender woman Islan Nettles to death in 2013, before eventually pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in exchange for a 12-year prison sentence, reports the New York Post.

“A person can argue they were so emotionally disturbed when they found out a person was gay or trans. That is actually a justification for murder,” Cuomo said before signing the bill. “Not in this state. We are going to end the gay and trans panic defense and we are going to do it right now.”

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

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