Gay and Trans Panic Defense Ban Introduced in Colorado House

Denver, CO — Today, the Colorado House of Representatives introduced House Bill 20-1307:  Gay Panic Or Transgender Panic Defense with bipartisan support in both chambers from the co-prime sponsors Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver), Representative Matt Soper (R-Delta), Senator Jeff Bridges (D-Arapahoe), and Senator Jack Tate (R-Centennial). 

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 nine states banning the defense.

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

“LGBTQ people should have the freedom to live their lives without fear of assault and murder, simply for being who they are. Using prejudice to defend an attack on another person should never be an option. We cannot continue to allow violent offenders to use hate to excuse their attacks on LGBTQ people. Colorado needs to follow the American Bar Association’s recommendation, and ban the gay and trans panic defense.”
– Daniel Ramos, Executive Director One Colorado

“The murders of black transgender women is becoming a crisis in this country. Fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color at the intersections of racism, sexism, and transphobia. At least 30 transgender victims were violently murdered in the United States in 2019. No one should ever be excused from murder because their victim is gay or transgender, and Colorado must send an indisputable message that we fully value the lives and dignity of all people, including black transgender women.”
– Representative Leslie Herod (D-Denver), House co-prime sponsor of HB20-1307 and Chair of the Black Caucus

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.

While not successful in Colorado, the defense has been employed in the state. 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.” Andrade was found guilty of both first-degree murder and a hate crime, and was sentenced to life in prison.

The defense has been banned in nine states, being banned in California in 2014, Illinois in 2017, Rhode Island in 2018, Maine in 2019, New York in 2019, Nevada in 2019, Connecticut in 2019, and New Jersey in 2020. Similar legislation is currently pending in Washington, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. 

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.