What Is the Trans Panic Defense?

The Human Rights Campaign published that there is an epidemic of violence against trans women, particularly trans women of color, who are at “the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and [as] unchecked access to guns conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities.”

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law published a study indicating trans people are four times more likely to experience violent victimization. 

It is effectively legal to murder trans and other queer individuals in this country by invoking gay and trans panic defenses. These defenses are arguments used by defendants that insist violent behavior was a rational response to discovering by surprise that the victim was part of the LGBTQ+ community. Model language taken from the gay and trans panic defenses are still being used six decades later in court cases across the country.

Asian woman with robotic globes
Lexie Thach performs at the Casket of Horrors Show. Photo shared with her permission.

Despite findings that suggest defendants were not actually surprised or in a state of panic, the defense has been used to justify death at least 104 times across 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico between 1970 and 2020.  

Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to eliminate the use of these gay and trans panic defenses. In one-third of the cases, charges were reduced for defendants using the gay and trans panic defenses. 

In other words, twice each year, cishet Americans murder queer people and attempt to get away with it under the law. Every 18 months on average, the courts agree that the murder, though technically wrong, does not deserve full punishment.

Workplace Discrimination: Interviewing Lexie

“I’d like to think modern society, especially the post-internet age, is trying to move towards a progressive path,” says interviewee Alex “Lexie” Thach. “However, that time is still very far off with the constant ultra-nationalist and far-right conservative lobbyists.” 

An Asian woman in a white, techno bodysuit waves hello.
Lexie Thach at her first show. Photo shared with permission.

Thach is a veteran, student, and advocate. She is a sister, auntie, and friend. She is a retired drag performer who used to go by the name Luna TQKO (Tech Queen Knockout), who designed her getup with multicolored lights built in. Thach is also a trans woman. 

She currently lives in a city that proclaims itself to be LGBTQ+ friendly. But the negative effects of transphobia have tangibly affected her economic mobility.

Thach has faced workplace discrimination firsthand and is familiar with what the trans community faces both in the military and in civilian life. 

“Back in [the] service, I came out to my boss and others, and they were supportive—however, my next boss and others, not so much. 

“I was continually turned down for better opportunities based on the perspective that I ‘didn’t fit the image’ of a professional in my field, based on higher-ups’ opinions.” 

These actions were not due to any lack of quality in her work, however. 

“I was very efficient at my job and won several awards, but that made no difference to the degrading and borderline abusive care I was given both by my management and healthcare providers while serving,” she shares.

Thach continues, “I’ve gone through the wringer transitioning while President Trump was in office, and I’ve gone through my healthcare constantly being compromised by last-minute policy changes.

“Over time I recorded my experiences, the good and bad. I then gave that information to the proper resources to help shape future care and policies for trans service members that come after me.” 

Now Thach trying to make the world a better place so others do not experience the same discrimination she has.

“It’s a small part in a very big confusing game,” she admits, “but I gave what I could to help. Now I’m trying to get involved with my local community to advocate for better trans healthcare policies and guidance.” 

Legalizing Discrimination Against Queer Americans

NBC News reports at there were an astonishing 238 anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed by March 20 – less than 90 days into 2022 – an increase of 480% since 2018, many targeting transgender people specifically. 

Over 670 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed since 2018, almost every state legislature wedging at least one bill. 

This year has already outpaced the number of anti-LGBTQ+ state bills. Across the nation, there’s an onslaught of anti-trans legislation looking to restrict rights. Transgender immigrants who emigrated from other nations have continued to face adversity in the U.S. as well. 

Photo by Kamaji Ogino on Pexels.com

Idaho’s House of Representatives passed bill HB 675 on March 8 prohibiting gender confirmation medical treatment for anyone under the age of 18. Anyone providing gender-affirming health care to transgender children could face a felony conviction and a life sentence in prison

Idaho lawmakers have likened gender-confirmation treatment to genital mutilation and sterilization.  By legislating that youth delay transitioning, state reps believe they’re protecting youth from making decisions they’re not cognitively prepared for. 

LGBTQ+ advocates feel that the guise of “protecting children” is preceded by political motivations, given some of the prohibited gender-affirming healthcare includes using students’ pronouns and allowing children to discuss gender in counseling sessions.

In reality, puberty blockers serve only to delay puberty, and more permanent changes like surgeries or certain hormone treatments do not come into consideration until the teenage years. 

Still, “Bills like HB 675 are being pushed across the country by well-funded, national, anti-trans groups to mobilize their political base,” Chase Strangio told the Guardian. As deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he added, “These bills do nothing to invest and protect Idaho youth and families and Idahoans deserve better.”

Idaho is only one example of the many states that are prohibiting type of care which could help prevent suicide and ensure basic human rights are met.

Less than a week after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Alabama is already using the court’s rationale as a reason to ban trans health care as well.

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