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End the Gay-Transgender Panic Defense AB-2501

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Many people will recall the murder of Scott Bernard Amedure, March 9, 1995, who was fatally shot after professing he had a crush on Jonathan Schmitz, a heterosexual man during an appearance on the Jenny Jones Show.

Three days after the show aired Schmitz traveled to the home of Amedure, killing him with a shotgun. The senseless murder sent shock waves in the LGBTQ American Community and began a cry for justice that was not realized until recently.

The California Assembly has passed AB-2501 otherwise known as the gay-transgender panic defense. This antiquated and cowardice legal defense is used by officers of the court to defend the perpetrators of some of the most heinous crimes in modern LGBTQ world history.

The bill, authored by Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla of the 14th Assembly District - Co-sponsored by Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Equality California EQCA

In an interview Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla had this to say "Assembly Bill 2501 states that discovering a person's gender or sexual identity is not sufficient to provoke "heat of passion" and therefore cannot be used in court by the defense to reduce criminal charges.

These so called "panic defenses," where defendants argue that a state of panic provoked their malicious act, have been well documented and proven successful in causing mistrials or reducing sentences in the past.

AB 2501 addresses this serious concern by striking a balance between allowing individuals to present evidence in his or her defense, while ensuring that biases do not mitigate violent crimes against members of the LGBT community. It is time we ensure that such prejudices against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders are eliminated from our court system. Such injustices should not be accepted anywhere, under any circumstances. "

Stephan Roth spokesmen for EQCA, an organization dedicated to advocacy and LGBTQ civil rights said "that there is a trend in California and around the nation among criminal defendants to use the gay and transgender panic defense in an attempt to reduce murder charges to manslaughter charges."

A few notable cases in the state of California are the murders of Ventura resident Larry King a 15 year- old who was shoot in the back of the head during an English class and 17 year-old Gwen Araujo, a transgender women who was beaten and strangled by four men in Newark, California. Two of Araujo's attackers were charged with manslaughter. More shocking was the murder of Joel Robles, a transgender resident of Fresno who was stabbed 20 times by Estanislao Martinez. He used the panic defense. Martinez served only four years after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mauve Fox, the prosecuting attorney from the Ventura District Attorneys Office, during that hour long conversation I walked away horrified with a few realizations about the LGBTQ community seeking justice; one that jurors will often lie to become a juror on high profile cases, two that people will use religion and hatred to excuse people who kill members of the LGBTQ or those people who are different.

Rick Zubr with EQCA released this statement to me "It's unconscionable that in 2014 criminal defendants justify the murder of LGBT people through the use of 'gay panic' and 'trans panic' defenses," said Rick Zbur, executive director-elect of EQCA. "The law should not treat victims of crime any differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is why it's important that we put an end to the use of these discriminatory tactics once and for all."

I also contacted California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, the first open lesbian to ever be elected as speaker of the lower house. Atkins and I have had a very positive relationship over the many years we have known each other. Speaker Atkins released this statement to me pertaining to AB-2501-"Our system of justice should not permit a criminal defendant to blame the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity for their own violent acts. AB 2501 affirms that every life is valued the same under the law."

AB-2501 will soon go before the California Senate where it is likely to pass and become law. If AB-2501 becomes law it will be the first of its kind in the nation. California would join the island nation of New Zealand who banned the panic defense Section 169 of the Crimes Act 1961 in 2009 in response to the murder of Ronald Brown, whose killer beat him and shoved the neck of a banjo down his throat.

AB-2501 sends a global message that the gay-transgender panic defense should not and will not be tolerated. The LGBTQ community must write their law makers, do not let people get away with murder, they have been doing it for far to long.

Bloggers Note Miles Agosto undergraduate at UC Riverside, poet, fiction and screenplay writer, artist, and photographer contributed to this blog post.