Sanchez, Schlossberg aim to close LGBTQ+ Panic Defense loophole

HARRISBURG, April 8 – Seeking to permanently close a loophole they deem not only unnecessary but an active invitation to human rights violations, state Reps. Ben Sanchez, D-Montgomery, and Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, will soon introduce legislation to prohibit the so-called “LGBTQ+ Panic Defense.”

The LGBTQ+ Panic Defense theory – also known as Gay Panic or Trans Panic – allows for perpetrators of criminal actions against Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ+ community to receive a lesser sentence or, in some cases, even altogether avoid conviction or punishment, by placing the blame for their actions on a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

“As a group of people who already see discrimination and violence directed toward them on a sadly regular basis, the LGBTQ+ community should not worry that our justice system hosts a version of that discrimination,” Sanchez said. “A victim of violence should not feel that their justice system will not protect them because of a loophole that targets their very existence.”

While similar bills have been introduced in previous legislative sessions, the Sanchez/Schlossberg legislation would extend beyond the “gay” and “trans” terminology to include all members of this marginalized community by prohibiting the court system from allowing a defense of this nature in consideration of serious provocation or insanity.

“Let’s be honest: There are people who look for an excuse to hate and hurt others,” Schlossberg said. “It’s awful that we need to provide protections like this, but it’s our reality. There is no place in our society for fear-based attacks on another person.”

Citing the recent trend of trying to legislate bans of transgender student-athletes, Sanchez and Schlossberg highlighted the ongoing discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community. According to FBI Hate Crime statistics, incidents targeting the LGBTQ+ community have been increasing steadily since 2016, with 2020 deemed a “season of violence” by the Human Rights Campaign because of the exorbitant number of transgender assaults and murders within the year.

Thirteen other states already protect LGBTQ+ citizens by allowing the same possibility of justice as everybody else who are victims of violent crime. This year, both Virginia and Vermont have passed similar laws.

“It’s time for Pennsylvania to join this growing list of states offering these basic, commonsense protections that every human deserves,” Sanchez said.

The House bill will serve as a companion bill to legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate by Sen. Maria Collett, D-Bucks/Montgomery.