Gay and trans panic defenses first appeared in court cases in the 1960s and continue to be raised in criminal trials today. In these cases, defendants have argued that their violent behavior was a rational response to discovering by surprise that the victim was LGBTQ. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation eliminating the use of gay and trans panic defenses, but the defenses remain available in most states.
A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law examines current research on violence against LGBTQ people in the U.S. and the use of the gay and trans panic defenses over the last six decades. The study also provides model language that states may use to ban the gay and trans panic defenses through legislation. These laws are one way of addressing disproportionate exposure to violence, including interpersonal violence, for LGBTQ people.
“In many cases where the gay and trans panic defenses have been raised, we see that the victim and the defendant had a relationship prior to the homicide or the homicide occurred in the course of a robbery,” said lead author Christy Mallory, Legal Director at the Williams Institute. “These findings suggest that defendants were not surprised or in a state of panic when the homicides occurred.”
- Williams Institute research found LGBTQ people were about four times more likely to experience serious violence, including rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated or simple assault than non-LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people were more likely than non-LGBTQ people to experience violence at the hands of someone well-known to them.
- A separate Williams Institute study found that transgender people were more than four times more likely to experience violent victimization compared to cisgender people.
- The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found 47% of transgender respondents reported that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. One in ten had been sexually assaulted in the prior year.
- A 2017 analysis of 2,144 incidents of LGBTQ intimate partner violence by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found the majority (59%) of survivors were people of color, including 21% who were Black and 27% who were Latino/a.
- 2020 research by W. Carsten Andresen, associate professor at St. Edwards University, found that the gay and trans panic defenses were used at least 104 times across 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico between 1970 and 2020.
- Charges were reduced for defendants who used the gay and trans panic defenses about one-third of the time (33% of cases).
- Over half of the murders (54%) were committed in the course of theft or robbery.
- Of the 80 cases where the relationship between defendant and victim was known, the victim and defendant had a preexisting relationship prior to the homicide in 30 of them.
These companies publicly oppose anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Some fund lawmakers who sponsor them.
Lawmakers in 6 states with a high number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills received hundreds of thousands from major companies in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.
This story was originally published by The 19th
After signing a pledge opposing anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation last spring, companies like AT&T, Amazon, Pfizer, and CVS Health gave thousands of dollars to the campaign efforts of lawmakers who had been backing such bills, according to a recent analysis from Data for Progress, a left-leaning polling firm.
Lawmakers in six states who wrote, signed or sponsored anti-LGBTQ+ legislation received tens of thousands and, in a few cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, from major U.S. corporations in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles, Data for Progress found.
Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho and Texas have been prolific in their efforts to bar trans students from school sports, restrict gender-affirming care for minors and ban LGBTQ+ discussions from classrooms over the past few years.
At least seven companies tracked by Data for Progress continued campaign donations for the 2022 election cycle to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation after signing a pledge against such bills from the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans. The pledge says the companies “are deeply concerned” about anti-LGBTQ+ bills and that they call for “public leaders to abandon or oppose” the legislation, but it did not explicitly address campaign donations.
Thirty companies that made campaign contributions were also official Pride sponsors in 2021 or 2022 for various cities across the country. Other companies, including General Motors, signed the pledge after making donations for the 2020 campaign cycle but have not given since then, according to the analysis, which goes through May.
Companies have long engaged in political spending that contradicts their public values while seeking to back other interests, such as favorable and unrelated legislation. This discrepancy is can be particularly stark during Pride month. While the donations may not have been made with anti-LGBTQ+ bills in mind, the money carries extra weight in the states that Data for Progress studied, since lawmakers there have actually passed anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation after introducing bills at a rapid pace, local and national LGBTQ+ advocates said.
Among the six states studied by Data for Progress, Alabama had the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers receiving corporate campaign contributions. The state recently passed a felony ban on puberty-blocking medication or hormone treatment for transgender youth — one of the strictest bills limiting access to medical care. It was blocked last month by a federal judge.
Dillon Nettles, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of Alabama, said the funding from companies that have publicly espoused support for LGBTQ+ rights is “deeply disappointing” — and shows an inconsistent commitment to supporting the community.
“It seems really risky for companies at this point in time to be willing to backslide on that commitment knowing that this is a moment where the country is being more activated and galvanized by these attacks on trans rights, and even more broadly, LGBTQ+ rights,” he said.
Data for Progress’ analysis is also just a small snapshot of the larger campaign finance contributions that major companies have made to anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers across the country. The newsletter Popular Information has tracked such spending for several years and has found that 25 companies eager to publicly celebrate Pride have donated $13 million since the start of last year to politicians backing anti-LGBTQ+ bills.
The 19th reached out to 16 companies for comment regarding their campaign contributions to politicians who had backed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. None responded except AT&T, which made the second-most donations of any company tracked by Data for Progress. (Toyota gave the most.)
When taking public positions on government policies, AT&T focuses on areas such as broadband access and expansion, spokesperson Alex Byers said in an emailed statement.
“Contributions to a particular lawmaker do not mean we support their views or actions on every issue,” he said. “We are mindful of diverse and complex societal issues that affect us, and we most immediately address these issues through direct social programs, philanthropy, employee benefits, and community involvement.”
None of the lawmakers named in this story returned requests for comment.
Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization National Black Justice Coalition, said that as anti-trans rhetoric among Republican lawmakers grows and more bills are actually making it into law, corporations that want to support LGBTQ+ people need to reevaluate their relationships with state politicians.
“There’s definitely a cognitive dissonance in saying you’re about equality and discrimination protections and for racial justice and LGBTQ+ equity and all of the things, and then to give millions upon millions of dollars to people working to undermine and demolish those protections,” they said.
In Data for Progress’ analysis, contributions to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns account for well over half of the total money spent on anti-LGBTQ politicians across these six states. He received just over $2.2 million, primarily from three companies based in Texas: Toyota, AT&T and Enterprise Products Partners, an oil and gas company, per Data for Progress’ count.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, the second-highest-funded politician the organization tracked, received $302,000 for her reelection efforts, the bulk of it coming from Southern Co., which oversees Alabama Power. Several of her recent campaign ads have specifically showcased her support for anti-trans bills. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ranked third in campaign contributions at $192,000, with USAA and Farmers Insurance making the biggest donations.
In Texas, the state legislature held back-to-back special legislative sessions in 2021, with the last two specifically called to discuss anti-trans measures, among other bills. This year, Paxton issued an opinion labeling gender-affirming care as child abuse, and under Abbott’s order the state began investigations into families accessing gender-affirming care for their children. (The ACLU and Lambda Legal have filed another lawsuit to block state probes.)
Following months of those legislative sessions, Toyota, a Pride sponsor for Los Angeles this year, contributed $150,000 to Abbott’s reelection efforts in December, Data for Progress found. AT&T, which signed the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom for All Americans pledge against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation last spring,gave $10,000 to Paxton’s campaign in February this year.
To Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, the campaign funds are a clear signal that many corporations will put their own self-interests ahead of standing with LGBTQ+ people.
While Pérez said companies need to be held accountable, they aren’t sure this is possible unless everyone makes a conscious choice to put that pressure on — including the LGBTQ+ groups platforming businesses that say they support LGBTQ+ rights.
“Do they have to be held accountable? Yeah. Are they going to change their minds? I don’t know,” they said.
Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, said that making a pledge to oppose anti-LGBTQ+ legislation while funding politicians who back these laws is ultimately meaningless. Advocates need meaningful help to get out of a “continued cycle of horrific moments,” he said, and to him that means going beyond publicly denouncing legislation after the fact.
Companies need to commit to employ more trans people, to provide benefits for queer families, and to not funding elected officials targeting trans youth, he said — while consumers need to reject a lack of integrity from companies who publicly back LGBTQ+ rights.
“It’s not going to change overnight,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the people have the power to intervene in this.”
Rachael Salisbury, vice president at a political research firm for progressive campaigns, who co-authored the Data for Progress analysis as a fellow for the organization, said she hopes that Pride organizations will use the data to screen companies that want to sponsor their events — and that companies will stop such donations.
When companies sign pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including the pledge by HRC and Freedom for All Americans, “those are just pretty words at this point,” she said.
“I want to give those leaders of those companies the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully they’re not being intentionally duplicitous, but even if it is just carelessness, we can’t tolerate that in our allies anymore,” Salisbury said.
HRC and Freedom for All Americans said in emailed statements that working with companies on issues like political contributions or private lobbying, respectively, are key parts of their advocacy work for LGBTQ+ rights.
“We encourage companies not to donate to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, and to reckon with how damaging and harmful those donations are to the community, including their own LGBTQ+ employees,” HRC press secretary Aryn Fields said in a statement.
“Companies have a singular ability to gain audience with lawmakers across the political spectrum, and can help share both the human and business reasons that this kind of policymaking is at odds with corporate values, public opinion, and long-term competitiveness,” Freedom for All Americans communications VP Angela Dallara said in an emailed statement.
On whether LGBTQ+ groups should ask companies for financial commitments when signing pledges against anti-LGBTQ+ bills, or if something should be done differently on such letters, Freedom for All Americans does not have a position, Dallara said. HRC declined to comment on what changes should be made to such pledges.
Disclosure: Pfizer, CVS Health, the Human Rights Campaign, and the chairman of Enterprise Product Partners, Randa Duncan Williams, have been financial supporters of The 19th.
The 19th is an independent, nonprofit newsroom reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy.
Texas-based hate group was behind attempted riot at Pride event in Idaho, authorities say
Authorities say the 31 suspects are part of an extremist group founded in Texas after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Eight of those arrested Saturday are from North Texas, officials said.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune
The suspects were released on bond after being charged with conspiracy to riot. Police say all of them belong to Patriot Front, a white supremacist organization headquartered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The suspects include eight people from Texas, whom police identified as Thomas Rousseau, 23, of Grapevine; Robert Whitted, 22, of Conroe; Tommy Walker Jr., 24, of Godley; Josiah Buster, 24, and Connor Moran, 23, of Watauga; and Kieran Morris, 27, Steven Tucker, 30, and Graham Whitsom, 31, of Haslet.
The Coeur d’Alene City Police Department said on Saturday they responded to a call about “a little army” of people with masks and shields getting into a U-Haul van near the Pride event. Law enforcement said they also found at least one smoke grenade in the vehicle.
“I think some of us were a bit surprised by not only the level of preparation that we saw but the equipment that was carried and worn by those individuals along with the large amount of equipment that was left in the van when the stop happened,” Lee White, the department’s police chief, said at a Monday press conference. “That level of preparation is not something you see every day.”
White said it was unclear why the group targeted the Pride event in Idaho.
The white supremacist organization’s activity comes less than a week after the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that recent and upcoming events — including the mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, New York; the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion access; and the November midterm elections — could be “exploited to justify acts of violence against a range of possible targets.”
Rousseau, who was among those arrested Saturday, is from the Dallas-area suburb of Grapevine and founded Patriot Front in 2017 — following the Charlottesville, Virginia, “Unite the Right” riot, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In Charlottesville, white supremacists stormed the city with tiki torches and rammed a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing three people and injuring dozens of others.
“They espouse racism, antisemitism and intolerance under the guise of patriotism and preserving the ethnic and cultural origins of European ancestors,” Stacy Cushing, the deputy regional director of Anti-Defamation League’s Texas/Oklahoma branch, said about Patriot Front. “Their goal is to reclaim America as a white nation. They are white supremacists with neo-Nazi roots.”
Last year, nearly 5,000 racist, antisemitic and other hateful messages were identified across the country, with Texas-based Patriot Front responsible for more than 82% of incidents nationally, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The extremist organization has hundreds of members nationwide. They are responsible for spreading racist propaganda with the intent to invoke fear and hate, said Jeff Tischauser, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Compared to other states, he said, the Texas chapter is “the most active.”
“Members from Texas regularly cross state lines to take part in racist activism, which includes harassing local residents at the Pride parade in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, as well as traveling out of state to post racist propaganda,” Tischauser told the Tribune via email. “Members from Texas also travel across state lines to destroy murals that depict Black life, LGBTQ pride, as well as memorials to victims of police violence and racially motivated mass shootings.”
Since the formation of Patriot Front, the extremist group’s activity in Texas has included hanging a banner from a Dallas overpass that read, “Take a knee, back in Africa,” and heckling attendees at a book fair in Houston with smoke bombs and phrases such as “Blood and Soil,” according to the Houston Chronicle. They have also posted racist propaganda across college campuses, the Texas Observer has reported.
Tischauser said Patriot Front has been using restrictive legislation and policies in Texas to recruit people for their cause.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive in February instructing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care for their transgender children as possible child abuse. An Austin judge last week temporarily stopped those investigations. Gender-affirming care is recommended by all major medical associations to treat gender dysphoria, the distress one can feel when their gender identity does not align with their biological sex.
Texas Republican officials have also waged a campaign against school material that includes the teaching of history and books with references to sexuality and race. In April, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he would prioritize a Texas version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a Florida law that limits classroom discussions about LGBTQ+ people.
Members of Patriot Front “think the Texas GOP isn’t going far enough,” Tischauser said.
Disclosure: Southern Poverty Law Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Montana on track to make history with election of two transgender candidates
Zooey Zephyr and SJ Howell, two transgender candidates, are running in safe Democratic districts
After waking up at 6:30 AM and confirming that she was still leading in the Democratic primary for House District 100, Zooey Zephyr got a bacon breakfast burrito and a café au lait from her local coffee shop.
While the café au lait is her standard for days that are not sweltering, the breakfast burrito was a treat, as following Tuesday’s primary election, Zephyr, 33, became one step closer to becoming one of the first two openly transgender candidates elected to the Montana Legislature.
Zephyr and SJ Howell, a transgender non-binary candidate for Missoula’s House District 95, will both be on the ballot in November.
Their run for office comes at a pivotal time for the transgender community as more and more bills that advocates say are detrimental for LGBTQ folks are being introduced at state legislatures across the country, including Montana. The Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ advocacy group and LGBTQ political lobbying organization, went as far as to label 2021 “the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history.”
With Zephyr’s district located in a decidedly blue slice of central Missoula, her path to victory seems clear — in 2020, Rep. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, won the seat with 82% of the vote. And the district has voted Democrat in the last four elections, although before the lines were redrawn in 2014, Republicans dominated between 2003 and 2013.
“I am feeling good, I am obviously excited, primarily I feel awash in gratitude for the people who helped me, for the people who voted for me, for Missoula … there’s a lot to do, there’s a lot to plan for, but right now I am just overwhelmed with gratitude,” Zephyr told the Daily Montanan in a phone interview.
On Tuesday, Zephyr, who has spent much of her career working for the University of Montana, beat her primary opponent David Severson 1,188 to 832, according to preliminary numbers from the Montana Secretary of State’s Office. She will face Republican Sean Patrick McCoy and Libertarian Michael Vanecekin in November.
Howell, 41, did not have a primary opponent and will be up against Republican Lauren Subith and Libertarian J.C. Windmueller in the general.
Howell is the executive director of Montana Women Vote, a nonprofit advocacy group, and is also in a secure Democratic district. Between 2003 and 2021, voters in the district only elected a Republican to the office once, but Howell said they are ready to dig in going into the general.
“I certainly don’t take the general election for granted. I am excited to get to work; I’ve been knocking on doors already,” Howell said.
If Zephyr and Howell win in November, Montana will be the second state to have elected multiple transgender people to a state legislature — New Hampshire currently has three transgender women in its House of Representatives.
There is a difference between legislators having a conversation about you compared to having a conversation with you.S.J. Howell, candidate, Montana Legislature
In total, 11 openly LGBTQ candidates ran for office in this year’s Montana primary, with six advancing to the general election. For Montana and across the country, LGBTQ candidates make up a minuscule amount of elected officials. There are 1,040 “out” LGBTQ elected officials nationwide — only eight of whom are transgender — which amounts to .2% of all elected officials, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute. And in Montana, there are just six out LGBTQ elected officials, according to the institute’s Out for America Map, which tracks out LGBTQ elected officials nationally.
Both Montana candidates advocated for LGBTQ rights at the Capitol during the last session. On Wednesday, they spoke about the importance of having transgender voices in the Legislature after multiple bills were passed last session that affected the trans community.
“It’s big for Montana. What feels really exciting to me is that we are sort of going from zero to two, which in a lot of ways feels like a big exponential step forward,” Howell said. “I feel that there is a difference between legislators having a conversation about you compared to having a conversation with you, and I think it changes the tone of the debate; I think we both have the intention of getting in and fighting hard for the rights of queer and trans Montanans.”
The Legislature took up bills limiting how transgender youth can participate in sports, putting more restrictions in place for updating a gender marker on birth certificates and restricting gender-affirming care for trans youth. While the last of the three failed to pass out of the state house, the other two passed and are currently being challenged in court.
Republicans at the time defended the bills as necessary safeguards for protecting children.
For Zephyr, it’s all about representation. Zephyr decided to run after watching Senate Bill 280, which changed transgender Montanans’ ability to update their birth certificates, pass the Senate 26-24.
“I remember it passed by one vote, and I thought, I know I could change that heart, I know I could be the difference between a yes and a no there. It would have only taken one person to protect my community from discrimination,” Zephyr said. “We will be the best defense there is against this particular brand of hate.”
One of the reason’s SB280 was so impactful for Zephyr is prior to the passage of the bill, she was able to update her own birth certificate.
“The office of vital records told me as far as the state of Montana is concerned ‘we are updating a 30-year clerical error.’ It was one of those moments that felt like a full recognition of who I am … it meant an extra layer of safety and acknowledgment of who I am,” Zephyr said.
Bills that affect people who are transgender and the rest of the LGBTQ community have proliferated beyond Montana. A spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said in an email that it is tracking 341 bills across the country it views as harmful toward LGTBQ people; of those bills, more than 143 are anti-trans, including more than 40 healthcare bans, 76 sports bans, and 15 “bathroom bills.”
An analysis by NBC News found that the annual number of anti-LGBTQ bills filed in state legislatures across the U.S. increased from 41 bills in 2018 to 238 in the first three months of 2022.
However, during the same period, more LGBTQ candidates have filed to run for office.
“We coined it the rainbow wave. We’ve seen a number of candidates run and win. And this year, in particular, we have about 50 candidates from the trans community running for office up and down the ballot across the country,” said Ceasar Toledo, deputy political director at the LGBTQ Victory Fund — a political action committee that focuses on increasing the number of openly LGBTQ public official. The fund endorsed both Howell and Zephyr in their races this year.
Surveys by the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, outlined how these types of bills and the debates surrounding them negatively impact transgender youth. One survey found that of the 35,000 LGBTQ youth questioned, 42% had considered suicide within the prior year. And another found that two-thirds of LGBTQ youth surveyed said debates about anti-trans legislation had negatively impacted their mental health.
Shawn Reagor, director of equality at the Montana Human Rights Network, said the organization has seen a recent uptick in reports of vandalism and harassment toward the LGBTQ community, which he attributed to increased activity by white supremacist and militia groups in the state.
But Reagor said more LGBTQ representation in the Legislature will help combat those attacks.
“We know that when people are able to build relationships with transgender and nonbinary community members, they are significantly less likely to vote against the needs of the community and make statements that further misunderstanding of who trans and nonbinary people are,” he said. “Not only do Howell and Zooey represent role models for the community, but they also provide an important opportunity for other legislators and the state as a whole to further get to know some of the wonderful trans and nonbinary people that live in Montana.”
Toledo said having LGBTQ voices present during debates on bills impacting their communities “humanizes the policy.” He added, “It’s those voices at the table that can be the difference.”
And in general, Reagor said he is excited about the likely wins by Zephyr and Howell.
“As a trans person, I am incredibly proud and excited at the possibility that our community could be represented in the state Capitol by great leaders like Zooey and Howell. After the attacks during the last legislative session, I am thrilled to see trans candidates run for office and receive this level of support,” he said. “They are smart, hard-working, and have a deep understanding of the needs of our state.”
Bryce Bennett, a former Democratic lawmaker and first openly gay man elected to the Legislature, echoed Reagor’s message.
“For the first time in Montana history, young people coming to terms with their gender identity will look to their Legislature and see people like Zooey Zephyr and SJ Howell who know their story, their struggles, and the bright possibilities ahead. When they get to the Legislature, the day of people talking about trans people will be over; they will finally have to talk with them. That is why representation is so incredibly powerful,” Bennett said in a text message to the Daily Montanan.
The Daily Montanan is a nonprofit, nonpartisan source for trusted news, commentary and insight into statewide policy and politics beneath the Big Sky.
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