LGBT Rights

Colorado Bans LGBTQ+ Panic Defense in Courtrooms

Colorado has become the 11th state to ban the LGBTQ+ “panic defense.” On Monday, Governor Jared Polis signed the bill into law, prohibiting defendants from using the gender identity or sexual orientation of a victim to excuse their behavior in the courtroom.

“This bill is going to help us ensure that there aren’t biased arguments or bigoted arguments in our courtrooms here in Colorado,” said Amanda Gall, a sexual assault resource prosecutor with the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. The bill requires that a perpetrator be responsible for their own actions, rather than relying on irrational fears and hatred to justify them.

The bill passed relatively easily, with only one lawmaker opposing it. One of its sponsors, Rep. Brianna Titone, said the support was “unlike anything I have ever seen.” For Titone, Colorado’s first openly transgender state lawmaker, the bill holds significant meaning. “For me, what this bill really means is protecting Black trans women, who are the most vulnerable of the communities we’re trying to protect here,” she said at the bill signing ceremony.

Although the defense is not frequently used in Colorado, its outlawing comes at a time of unprecedented danger for Black trans women. Between June 25 and July 3, six Black trans women were found dead. The most recent deaths of Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCarty, Tatiana Hall, and Bree Black brings the total number of trans women who have died as a result of violence in 2020 to at least 22.

From 2014 to 2018, there were 128 crimes in Colorado in which individuals were victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gall believes this number to be underreported but says that it still shows the level of discrimination that exists in the state. The ban is a stepping stone towards ending this kind of discrimination.

In addition to the panic defense ban, Polis, who is the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the country, signed other LGBTQ-friendly bills into law on Monday. One allows pharmacists to prescribe HIV-prevention medication, making it more accessible across the state. Another simplifies the requirements to change the gender listed on government documents.

“We’ve come a long way here in Colorado since our days as the Hate State. We really went from a place where discrimination was legalized in the 1990s to where we are today, where Colorado is a leader,” shared Polis.

Sources: KOAA News 7/14/20; Colorado Politics 6/12/20; The Denver Post 7/13/20; Them. 7/14/20

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