6.12 Gay Panic or Transgender Panic Defense bill sent to Governor Jared Polis for signature

Denver, CO — Earlier today, the Gay Panic or Transgender Panic Defense bill (SB20-221) overcame its final hurdle as it passed out of the House of Representatives on a vote of 63-1-1 and is now headed to Governor Jared Polis for signature. 

SB20-221 is a revival of HB20-1307, which had passed out of the House before the coronavirus shutdown. Once reconvening, the HB20-1307 was postponed indefinitely on May 26th. Through the tireless efforts of Representative Brianna Titone (D-Arvada), Representative Matt Soper (R-Delta), Senator Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City), Senator Jack Tate (R-Centennial), and Senator Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), the bill was reintroduced on June 9th.

One Colorado, the state’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Coloradans, released the following statements:

“This is a unique bill — not only because of its uncommon journey through the legislative process, but because most people we spoke to along the way were shocked that this bill was even necessary. It’s hard to believe that right here in Colorado, as recently as last year, violent offenders attempted to use their victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a tool to reduce their sentence. We are so grateful for our legislators who never gave up on fighting for justice.”

– Daniel Ramos, Executive Director,  One Colorado 

“We are proud that we were able to play a role in making Colorado the 11th state to pass legislation banning gay and trans panic defenses that have been used to excuse murder and violence for too long. With the Governor’s signature, SB20-221 will be a huge step toward creating safer and healthier communities for everyone in our state.”

– Tom Raynes, Executive Director, Colorado District Attorneys’ Council

“The overwhelming success of this revival bill is unlike anything I have ever seen. When I made the decision to reintroduce the bill, I immediately saw strong support from my constituents, the LGBTQ community, and my colleagues in the legislature. Everyone deserves justice, especially black trans women. Passing this bill today, on the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub attack is a fitting symbolic tribute to those we remember today.”

– Representative Brianna Titone (D-Jefferson), House co-prime sponsor of SB 20-221

“It’s incomprehensible that our laws would allow someone to murder a gay or transgender person and use the shock of finding out as an excuse for their violent actions. I believe in personal responsibility, and a perpetrator of murder or violent assault shouldn’t be able to use the victim’s sexual or gender identity as a defense to remove all culpability of the perpetrator’s actions.”

Representative Matt Soper (R-Delta), House co-prime sponsor of SB 20-221

“As one of the original bill sponsors, I am so proud to see this important piece of legislation go to our Governor to sign into law. Gay and transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, have been targets of violent crimes and their murders have been excused. We need to do everything in our power to end these vicious attacks. Banning the gay and trans panic defense sends a message that hatred and bigotry are grounds for further punishment, not excuses for violent crimes.”

– Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver), House co-prime sponsor of HB20-1307 and Chair of the Black Caucus

“Banning the gay and transgender panic defense in Colorado is a step forward for civil rights. The significance of this bill passing during Pride Month and at a time when the world is grappling with the horrific killings of Black people is not lost on me. I am honored that I could lend my support to advance legislation that protects vulnerable communities and holds violent offenders accountable. We will celebrate victories like this one, but also stay focused on the long road ahead, as we aim for justice for all.”

– Senator Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge)

The gay and trans panic defense is a legal strategy that cites a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the causal factor for a defendant’s violent reaction — including murder. In 2013, the American Bar Association (ABA) unanimously approved a resolution to urge governments to ban the use of this tactic, which resulted in ten states banning the defense.

One of the most recognized cases that employed the gay and trans panic defense was that of Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten to death by two men in Wyoming. The men attempted to use the defense to excuse their actions. Despite widespread public protest, the defense is still being used today.

In July of 2008, 18-year-old Angie Zapata from Greeley, Colorado, met 31-year-old Allen Andrade and they spent three days together, during which they had at least one sexual encounter. When Andrade discovered that Zapata was transgender, he viciously beat her with a fire extinguisher. Upon his arrest, Andrade said he thought he had “killed it.” While Andrade tried to excuse his bigotry by using the defense, he was found guilty of both first-degree murder and a hate crime, and was sentenced to life in prison. Unfortunately, in other cases, the defense has been successful.

The defense has been banned in ten states – California in 2014, Illinois in 2017, Rhode Island in 2018, Maine in 2019, New York in 2019, Nevada in 2019, Connecticut in 2019, Hawaii in 2019, New Jersey in 2020, and Washington in 2020.

In 2018, Representative Joe Kennedy of the U.S. House and Senator Edward Markey also proposed a nationwide ban, which One Colorado signed on as a supportive coalition partner.