6.9 Gay and Trans Panic Defense Bill Reintroduced 

Denver, CO — Yesterday evening, Senate Bill 221 “Gay Panic Or Transgender Panic Defense” was reintroduced in the Colorado Senate with bipartisan support in both chambers from the co-prime sponsors, Representative Brianna Titone (D-Jefferson), Representative Matt Soper (R-Delta), Senator Dominick Moreno (D-Adams), and Sen. Jack Tate (R-Arapahoe).

HB20-1307 had successfully passed out of the House of Representatives with bipartisan support on a 45-19 vote prior to the legislature’s coronavirus shutdown and was postponed indefinitely by a 3-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, May 26. 

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

“The most recent FBI report on hate crimes shows that nearly one in five hate crimes are motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity. At a time when violence against gay and transgender citizens is on the rise, we cannot continue to let the panic defense be a tool for attacking the LGBTQ community. Colorado legislators must pass this bill and ban the gay and trans panic defense now.”

– Daniel Ramos, Executive Director, One Colorado

“All Colorado prosecutors join in the support for the elimination of this sham defense used to excuse murder and violence in our state. CDAC commends and supports the numerous members of the community who have spoken out and are refusing to allow this vital, bipartisan piece of legislation to be put off for another year.”

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

“In recent years, once or twice a month we’ll see another devastating headline of a woman of color being murdered simply for living as her true self. It’s almost becoming normalized in our society. This bill sends a strong message that people who commit violence against the LGBTQ community will be held accountable. We can’t continue to allow this ‘panic defense’ to be used as an excuse to end another person’s life.”

 – Senator Dominick Moreno (D-Adams), Senate co-prime sponsor of SB 20-221

“I won’t give up on this bill. I know many of my colleagues, Republican and Democrat, were outraged when the Committee killed the bill two weeks ago. We will continue to fight so that no human being can be targeted for being their true self.”

 – Senator Jack Tate (R-Arapahoe), Senate co-prime sponsor of SB 20-221

“After moving through the House with strong bipartisan support, I was stunned that this bill was voted down when session resumed. At a time when the Movement for Black Lives is gaining momentum, we should be passing legislation that prevents people, especially people of color, from being murdered and left without justice. I’m reintroducing this bill to hold violent perpetrators accountable for their actions.”

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

“It’s incomprehensible that our current laws 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

“I’m encouraged to see my colleagues taking up the gay and transgender panic defense bill while I focus my efforts toward police accountability. Gay and transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, have been targets of violent crimes throughout history. We need to do everything in our power to end these vicious attacks. Banning the gay and trans panic defense will send 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

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.