Growing up identifying as gay in Colorado, and then specifically moving north to Fort Collins, led to a good amount of exposure to the “gay panic” defense, with the murder of Matthew Shepard. It was everywhere in the news, it seemed like, and it was talked about quite often in the support/social groups of which I was a part (OASOS in Boulder, and SOGLBT at CSU). The thing that hit me most about this article was the following:
Thankfully, there is no record of the courts yet succumbing to any desire to allow a “trans panic” defence in cases of assault or murder: but if not disclosing trans history to sexual partners is an offence, the point when someone tries that, pleading self-defence in the process, can surely not be far removed.
The reason that this struck me is that the “trans panic” defense has been used before, and again locally, with the murder of Angie Zapata. As the article mentions, the court (granted, a US court rather than a UK court) did not allow the defense to be used and Andrade was convicted of hate crimes as well as murder.
However, while this does help when the trans* individual is the victim, especially in such a clearly defined case and with a history of the “gay panic” defense being considered invalid, it does not necessarily mean that the courts really know what to do with trans* folk. While the article admits that this is certainly a difficult question, and that several of those involved did not necessarily have the language to defend themselves in court nor the resources to keep themselves out of tricky situations in the first place, it does point out that a lot of the law is behind the times when it comes to these things. The law is often reactionary and very rarely forward looking, of course, but much of the interaction between the law and trans* people has shown it to be basically just stuck in the mid 20th century in so many ways. Our ideas of gender, sex, and the law are shaky enough as it is (all it takes is a look at some of the recent news about trials and even investigations regarding a woman being raped), but add in gender variance, gender identity, SRS and hormones…well, I suppose we just have a ways to go.