Washington Lawmakers Ban ‘LGBTQ Panic’ Defense Based On Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation

Washington State Capitol Building
Washington state lawmakers have passed a bill banning defenses based on a victim's gender identity or sexual orientation. CREDIT: BRIANHE / WIKIMEDIA - TINYURL.COM/ZMPZ86K



More than 1 in 4 transgender people have experienced violence based on their identity in their lifetime, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Washington has joined a growing coalition of states that are banning what are known as “LGBTQ panic” criminal defenses. Advocates say these defenses have resulted in reduced or shortened sentences in cases of violence against LGBTQ people. Now, both houses of the state Legislature have passed a bill that prohibits the use of those defenses. 

Lisa Woods spoke of her daughter Nikki Kuhnhausen during a public hearing for the bill. The Vancouver, Washington, teenager was killed last year in what authorities believe was an act of anti-transgender violence.

“Now this bill, it’s not going to bring my daughter back. But what I hope is that it will keep other families from experiencing the same kind of pain I feel,” Woods said.

The bill, also known as the “Nikki Kuhnhausen Act,” now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee to be signed into law. Although the defense hasn’t been used often in Washington, it’s a strategy that explains or excuses violence based on a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Manny Santiago, the executive director of Washington’s new LGBTQ Commission, said he would like to see it eliminated entirely as an option.

“There’s no reason to say just because you discover someone is trans, or LGBTQ, that made you commit a crime against them. That would be blaming the victim,” Santiago said. “So what we’re trying to do, what the Legislature is trying to do, is to make sure that the victim doesn’t get blamed again for a crime that was committed against them.”

According to the Williams Institute, no states have penal codes that recognize LGBTQ panic defenses, but the defenses have been used since the 1960s in conjunction with other legal strategies in an attempt to reduce the defendant’s charges or sentencing.

Washington’s bill prohibits defenses that claim a defendant suffered from diminished capacity based on learning a victim’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, and declares that use of force cannot be justified by this discovery.

In 2013, the American Bar Association urged states and courts to bring an end to LGBTQ panic defenses. Ten states have banned such defenses, and many other states are considering similar legislation.

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