The Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 9 to approve a resolution urging the D.C. Council to pass legislation banning the use of the so-called gay and transgender panic defense in criminal trials in the District.
One of two bills pending before the Council calling for banning the defense, the Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act, has been stalled in the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety since it was first introduced by Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) in 2017.
Grosso named the bill after D.C. transgender woman Bella Evangelista, who was murdered by a man who invoked the panic defense, claiming he lashed out against Evangelista when he learned she was trans after the two had a sexual encounter.
Grosso said his bill was also dedicated to a gay man named Tony Hunter, who died at the hands of a man who punched him in the face as Hunter was walking to a gay bar in D.C., knocking him to the ground and causing him to suffer a fatal head injury. The man charged in the case invoked the gay panic defense and was allowed to plead guilty by prosecutors to a charge of simple assault.
The second bill, introduced by Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Panic Defense Prohibition Act, has been stalled in the same committee since Mendelson introduced it in 2019.
Unlike Mendelson’s bill and anti-panic bills passed by other states, Grosso’s bill would expand the categories of crime victims for which the panic defense would be banned from sexual orientation and gender identity to include race, color, religion, national origin, gender, and disability.
“Since 2019, New Jersey, Washington, Maine, and Colorado have banned the gay panic defense,” Dupont Circle ANC 2B states in its resolution sent to the Council. “Yet D.C. has the largest LGBTQ population per capita and is falling woefully behind other jurisdictions in protecting this population,” the resolution says.
“ANC 2B once again calls on D.C. Council to move with urgency to pass the Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 or other comparable pending legislation banning the use of ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense in D.C. courts, and to do so now, rather than wait to do it in response to another attack or another death,” the resolution concludes.
Gay ANC 2B Commissioner Mike Silverstein said D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), who represents the Dupont Circle area, responded to the ANC resolution, saying, “I have just confirmed with the Judiciary Committee that both bills will be moved this fall.” Silverstein said Pinto added in a message to the ANC, “I will continue to ensure these necessary pieces of legislation are moved and hopefully passed before the end of the year.”