TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA)–Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book is reintroducing a bill for the third year in a row.
It would ban Florida attorneys from using what’s known as the “gay/trans panic defense.”
“I think we’re living in a time where people think things like this don’t happen, but they do in fact happen,” said Leader Book. “People in this community are being prayed upon and people are using this as a defense.”
Like in 2003, when Carlos Guillermo Smith was physically assaulted and repeatedly called homophobic slurs.
“My attacker was not only charged with assault, he was also charged with a hate crime,” Smith said. “In defense of that charge, my attacker used a classic example of the ‘gay panic defense’ and alleged that somehow my sexual orientation somehow provoked his attacks against me and a friend.”
He co-sponsored legislation with Leader Book two sessions ago while he was serving as a state representative that aimed to eliminate the “gay/trans panic defense.”
“Look, the reality is, the ‘gay/trans panic defense’ is legalized victim blaming,” he said. “It is basically saying that a victim of hate violence had it coming simply because they are gay or transgender.”
Leader Book’s bill aims to continue their work, banning any Florida defense attorney from using a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a reasonable excuse for their loss of self control.
We caught up with legal analyst Felix Vega to break down the legal strategy.
“They’re alleging that the person that the defendant attacked was gay or transgender or a part of the LGBTQ community, and they’re saying that played into the motivation for them attacking the person defending themselves from whatever that person was doing,” Vega explained.
He says it wouldn’t be a smart move by any defense attorney.
“If they start talking and saying ‘I panicked and freaked out because they were gay and coming on to me’ or whatever the situation may be, they’re going to say, well if you freaked out and attacked the person because they’re LGBTQ, then as a prosecutor, I’m going to be like well you just proved you committed a hate crime,” Vega explained.
“So it’s counterproductive?”, asked News Channel 8’s Nicole Rogers.
“Yes,” Vega replied.
But when it is used, Smith says it sends a statement to victims.
“As a young gay man, someone who had survived anti-LGBTQ hate violence, when my attacker used gay panic defense against me, it sent a message that because I was openly gay that I somehow had it coming,” Smith said.
Leader Book says her fight isn’t over.
“This is not a new issue,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do and we will continue to fight until we are successful.”
“Say you’re not successful this session, what comes next?”, asked News Channel 8’s Nicole Rogers.
“We do it again next session,” Leader Book responded.
You can read the bill in its entirety below.