Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announces new economic development projects at an event on October 5, 2022 in Grand Rapids, Michigan Source: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Ban on 'Gay Panic' Defense Heads to Michigan Gov. Whitmer's Desk

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 2 MIN.

Perpetrators of anti-LGBTQ+ violence in Michigan will most likely soon find they can no longer attempt to justify assault and murder targeting queer victims with the so-called "gay panic" defense, as a bill banning that defense in court heads to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitman.

Passage of the bill into law will mean that Michigan becomes the 20th state to ban the controversial defense, MLive reports. (Story is behind a pay wall.)

Michigan Public explained that the "gay panic" defense "has historically been used in court to justify violent acts against LGBTQ+ individuals by claiming the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity provoked the defendant into a violent reaction."

News outlet the Michigan Advance details that House Bill 4718, which state lawmakers approved on June 20, was sponsored by out State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, who described her personal interest in the use of the defense strategy.

"When Matt Shepard was murdered, I wasn't out yet," Pohutsky told the news outlet.

Infamously, Aaron McKinney, one of the two men convicted of kidnapping, torturing, and beating Shepard before tying him to a fence and leaving him to die, attempted to use the "gay panic" defense during his murder trial. The defense was not accepted by the presiding judge.

McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, "pretended to be gay in order to lure Shepard away from the bar they were at," the Advance noted.

"I was very young," Rep. Pohutsky told the Advance, "but it was the first time that I thought to myself that maybe I just shouldn't come out because it could clearly be deadly, and it can be dangerous."

"While specific data on the frequency of the defense's use in Michigan was not available," Michigan Public noted, "the representative highlighted that it is more commonly used in the state compared to others."

The Advance relayed that "one researcher, Carsten Andresen from St. Edward's University found in 2020 that Michigan ranked sixth in states for highest concentration, with four cases between 1970 and 2020."

The Advance also noted that the American Bar Association (ABA) officially opposed the "gay panic" defense in a 2013 resolution that stated, "The use of a gay or trans panic defense deprives victims, their family, and their friends of dignity and justice.

"More broadly, it is designed to stir up and reinforce the anti-gay or anti-transgender emotions and stereotypes that led to the assault in the first place," the resolution added.

"At its core, the defense asserts that crimes against the LGBTQ community carry less weight because we are inherently less human and therefore less valuable," Pohutsky told the Advance.

Gov. Whitmer is expected to sign the bill, news reports said.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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