Free State student starts petition aiming to outlaw “gay and trans panic” legal defense strategy
photo by: Webpage screenshot/Change.org
A Lawrence high school student is taking action in hopes of outlawing a legal defense strategy he believes is discriminatory against gay and transgender people.
Hays Hummel, who will be a junior at Free State High School this fall, recently started a petition to raise awareness about a legal strategy known as the “gay and trans panic” defense. It is a criminal defense strategy that claims a defendant of a violent crime should not be held accountable for their actions because they were enraged by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity, he said.
Hummel recently told the Journal-World he started the petition because he believes such a defense should not be allowed in Kansas courts, calling it a type of victim blaming. He said “it just pains me” to know that defendants could have their charges reduced in serious criminal cases “just because of (the victim’s) sexual orientation or gender identity.”
According to the National LGBT Bar Association, the defense strategy has been used to lower a case of murder to manslaughter or “justified homicide” by arguing the panic was a form of insanity or self-defense. The association notes on its website that it believes the defense strategy is rooted in homophobia and transphobia.
Hummel is aiming to get 5,000 signatures for his petition and to send it to the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly. As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had received 2,700 signatures.
But Hummel said he knows it may be an uphill battle. He has reached out to several of his representatives in the state and federal government, but has not heard back from them, he said. Additionally, he said he believes the Kansas Legislature has not done a lot of work to help the LGBT community in Kansas.
“There are not a lot of laws that are nondiscriminatory toward (the LGBT community),” he said.
When reached by phone Thursday, Lawrence Sen. Marci Francisco, a Democrat, told the Journal-World she had received an email from Hummel but had not responded yet. However, she said she signed the petition on Thursday and commended Hummel for his advocacy, as she believes that’s how change gets made.
“There seems to be some good reasons to not allow this as an argument to be made in court,” Francisco said.
Hummel said he first became aware of the “gay and trans panic” defense strategy through his participation with Free State’s debate and forensics team. One of his projects for the team focused on the story of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming who was murdered in 1998. Hummel said the defendants in the murder trial tried to use a “panic” defense.
“It was unsuccessful, but still it frustrated me to my core,” Hummel said. He continued to research what the defense was, and he said it had been used successfully in some other cases.
While Kansas does not have any legislation regarding the “gay and trans panic” defense, a handful of other states in recent years have passed laws to deter its use. According to the National LGBT Bar Association, 11 states have either banned the strategy completely or required evidence to prove its relevance to the court.
Along with his petition, Hummel said people who want to help make a change in Kansas can do so by supporting LGBT organizations and by reaching out to their own representatives.
“We have to let our politicians know that equality needs to happen under the law,” Hummel said.
Hummel’s petition can be found on the Change.org website, change.org/p/kansas-state-house-end-the-gay-trans-panic-defense-in-kansas.
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