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News >  Washington

‘Panic defense’ can’t be used to justify violence against LGBT community under new law

UPDATED: Thu., March 5, 2020

OLYMPIA – A bill signed into law Thursday by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee means defendants can not claim a “panic defense” in court to justify violence against a member of the LGBTQ community.

A person disclosing their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression doesn’t diminish a defendant’s capacity, according to the bill, which is known as the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act. This includes situations in which the victim made a romantic advance or had a romantic relationship with the defendant.

The act, sponsored by Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, was named after a 17-year-old teen from Vancouver who was murdered in 2019 by someone who found out the teen was transgender.

“This bill, it’s not going to bring my daughter back, but what I hope is to keep other families from experiencing the same kind of pain,” said Lisa Kuhnhausen, Nikki’s mom, during public testimony.

When a perpetrator uses the “panic defense,” they’re claiming that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity excuses their lack of self control, said Tabitha Donohue, representative for the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.

“We call this victim blaming,” Donohue said. “Moreover, the LGBTQ+ panic defense is rooted in homophobia and transphobia.”

There were 26 transgender or gender nonconforming people killed in 2019, but more cases remain unreported, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Inslee said Nikki’s murder impacted the safety and spirit of the LGBTQ community and noted that trans women of color are disproportionately affected by violence.

“It is just so painful to me that we still see such hatred, frankly, of people who want to be loved like anyone else in our state,” Inslee said.

Washington became the 10th state to outlaw “panic defense” in courts. Other states include California, New York, Illinois and Nevada.

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