Florida Sen. Lauren Book files bill to ban use of ‘gay and transgender panic’ defenses in court

While no states explicitly allow panic defenses such as this, they have been used in trials across the country.

click to enlarge Florida Sen. Lauren Book files bill to ban use of ‘gay and transgender panic’ defenses in court
Photo via Lauren Book/Facebook
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, and Rep. Rita Harris, D-Orlando, have filed a bill to prohibit the use of "gay and transgender panic" defenses in court.

The bill, SB 156/HB 137, filed Tuesday, is titled the "Gay and Transgender Panic Legal Defenses Prohibition Act." It would ban legal defenses that seek to excuse those who commit crimes like murder and sexual assault, on the grounds that the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame — causing the assaulter to panic and lash out.

According to the American Bar Association, these types of defenses are known as the "gay or trans panic defense." While no states explicitly allow panic defenses such as this, they have been used in trial across the county.

"As lawmakers, our duty is to create a society that values and protects every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Lauren Book said in a release.

“The 'panic' defense is an affront to justice, allowing perpetrators to evade accountability for heinous acts based on prejudice. This legislation is a crucial step in safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ+ Floridians, sending a clear message that hate has no place in our courts or our communities."

This is not the first time Book has sought to introduce such a bill. Tuesday's filing marks Book's fourth time filing a bill that aims to ban gay and trans panic defenses in Florida. It was most successful the first time it was filed in January, 2021 when the Senate panel approved the measure in a "rare" legal move.

Former Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, now running for Florida Senate, sponsored a House version of the measure in 2021 and 2022. Rep. Rita Harris carried the measure in 2023's session and is sponsoring it again now.

“This is common sense legislation that protects Florida’s LGBTQ+ citizens so that direct hate against them may not stand up in court. In a time when gay and transgender Floridians are under attack by extremist politicians, it is our responsibility as lawmakers to stand up for this community. It is well past time for politicians to stop vilifying the LGBTQ+ community and stand against hate. As lawmakers, the least we can do is prohibit homophobia and transphobia from being used as valid excuses in the judiciary,” Rep. Harris said in a release.

If passed, the bill would become effective July 1, 2024.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation that prohibits the use of legal defenses claiming the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity caused the defendant's actions. Most recently, New Hampshire implemented a similar policy, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in August.

Book and Harris's proposed bill comes after a 2023 legislative session filled with several anti-LGBTQ+ bills targeting trans medical care, bathroom use, gender and sexuality education in school, and more. Florida LGBTQ+ activists and groups have been fighting to restore rights and bring awareness to the state's conservative-led Legislature since.

Florida’s legislative session is set to begin Jan. 9, 2024.

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Chloe Greenberg

Chloe Greenberg is the Digital Content Editor for Orlando Weekly.
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