Gay and Transgender Panic Defense Bill Passes The Colorado House

Denver, CO — Today, the Colorado House of Representatives voted to pass HB20-1307: Gay Panic Or Transgender Panic Defense on a vote of 45-19, with Rep. Colin Larson (R-Littleton), Rep. Hugh McKean (R-Loveland), Richard Holtorf (R-Washington), and Kevin Van Winkle (R-Highlands Ranch) joined the House Democratic Caucus in supporting the bill. One Colorado, the state’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Coloradans, released the following statements:

“From the beginning, this bill has been a bi-partisan effort, and we have seen that collaboration across the aisle continue today. This is about people’s safety here in Colorado, not any political or religious ideology. We need to ban the gay and trans panic defense to hold violent offenders accountable for their attacks on members of the LGBTQ community.”
– Daniel Ramos, One Colorado Executive Director

“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

“When the DAs approached me about working on this bill in the House, I was stunned to discover 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. It’s time to abolish gay panic and transgender panic defense!”
– Representative Matt Soper (R-Delta), House co-prime sponsor of HB20-1037

Co-prime sponsors of HB20-1307 are 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 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.” 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 ten 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, New Jersey in 2020, and Washington in 2020. Similar legislation is currently pending in 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. 

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 3rd by a partisan vote of 6-2, and is supported by the Attorney General of the State of Colorado, the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, the 20th Judicial District Attorney General, the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, the Colorado LGBT Bar Association, and the National LGBT Bar Association.