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Michigan Senate passes bill to ban 'gay panic' defense

Pride flags fly at the George W. Romney Building in Lansing on June 15, 2019.
Executive Office of the Governor

The Michigan Senate yesterday passed a bill banning the "gay panic" and "trans panic" defense in court.

State Representative Laurie Pohutsky introduced the bill in June of 2023.

"The ban on the "gay and trans panic" defense would prohibit the use of disclosing anyone's sexual orientation or gender identity, either real or perceived, as a defense in court," Pohutsky explained. "A really notable use of it was in the murder of Matthew Shepard, when his murderers claimed they were so alarmed by the realization that he was a gay man, and concerned that he might make an advance on them, that they panicked and beat him to death."

This defense has historically been used in court to justify violent acts against LGBTQ+ individuals by claiming the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant into a violent reaction.

"I wanted to introduce this bill because I was a young queer person when Matt Shepard was murdered, and it was the first time, although I was not out yet, that I realized, 'Oh, this could be very dangerous for me,'" says Pohutsky .

While specific data on the frequency of the defense's use in Michigan was not available, the representative highlighted that it is more commonly used in the state compared to others.

The bill, House Bill 4718, now goes to the Governor for her signature.

Zena is a senior at the University of Michigan with aspirations of becoming a broadcast journalist. She is interning in the Michigan Public newsroom.
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