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Markey, Pappas introduce bill to ban use of the LGBTQ panic defense

Measure introduced during Pride month

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U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) introduced legislation on Monday that would prohibit all U.S. federal courts from allowing use of the LGBTQ panic defense, a legal tactic that has been banned in 16 states and D.C.

In criminal trials involving violent crimes against LGBTQ people, the so-called “gay panic,” “trans-panic,” or more broadly, “LGBTQ panic” defense is raised to argue for more lenient sentencing or otherwise in an attempt to lessen the defendant’s culpability in the eyes of a judge or jury.

These types of arguments, which are widely considered outdated and offensive, both exploit and work to perpetuate homophobia and transphobia in the criminal justice system, the lawmakers said in a press release Monday announcing their bill.

Markey and Pappas noted LGBTQ panic defenses have been used in criminal law for decades, perhaps most famously after the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. During trial, counsel for the defense argued their client was triggered by an unwanted sexual advance by Shepard.

The case would galvanize calls to take action against bias-motivated violence, eventually leading to Congress’s passage in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Nevertheless, use of LGBTQ panic defenses has persisted. The lawmakers noted a prominent recent example with the 2019 prosecution of the man who murdered 17-year-old Washington teen Nikki Kuhnhausenthe. Law enforcement noted during trial that the defendant was “shocked,” “uncomfortable” and “disturbed” upon learning Kuhnhausenthe was transgender.

The LGBTQ panic defense “is not only antiquated, but actively legitimizes violence against the LGBTQ+ community and encourages homophobic and transphobic bigotry within our legal system,” Markey said.

“No one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a defense for assault or murder,” Pappas said, “and it is time Congress follows the lead of states that have already banned this defense in their courts.”

The lawmakers also highlighted the pervasive problem of violent crimes targeting LGBTQ people, highlighting statistics compiled by the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign.

HRC has recorded more than 256 cases of fatal violence against trans Americans, more than 80 percent of whom were people of color. Last year, according to the organization, at least 38 trans people were killed in the U.S., the majority of whom were trans women of color.

Markey also introduces gender-affirming care bill

Also on Monday, Markey introduced the Gender Affirming Care Access Research for Equity (CARE) Act, a bill that would authorize federal health authorities to research barriers to gender affirming health treatments and study the consequences of gaps and disparities to access.

The legislation would provide for the annual allocation of $25 million over five years for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It comes in response to efforts by lawmakers in conservative states to restrict their trans residents’ access to medically necessary care, Markey noted, with 20 states passing bans targeting youth so far this year.

“Trans health is health, and health care is a human right,” he said. “We have a moral obligation to protect, defend, and expand the fundamental right for transgender and nonbinary people to get the care they need despite the tremendous legal, financial, and social barriers they too often face when accessing their health care.”

According to a press release from Markey’s office, cosponsors for the bill include Democratic Sens. Alex Padilla (Calif.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Peter Welch (Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) 

At the end of March, Markey introduced the Trans Bill of Rights with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose provisions include ensuring the community’s access to necessary medical care. The same day, Markey and other Democratic senators sent a letter urging President Joe Biden to shore up federal protections for trans Americans’ access to gender affirming care and health providers administering this care who are “facing threats of violence and limits on their ability to provide care.”

Additionally, last year the Massachusetts senator issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, urging them to “lift barriers to testosterone and expand access to gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender people, including transgender men and transmasculine nonbinary people.”

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Congress

Boebert denigrates, misgenders trans Pentagon official

Comments targeted Assistant Secretary of Defense Shawn Skelly

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Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) addresses a crowd outside of the U.S. Capitol building earlier this year. (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Lauren Boebert)

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) denigrated and deliberately misgendered Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, the Pentagon’s highest ranked transgender official, during a debate Wednesday over amendments to a defense appropriations bill.

In remarks that stirred outrage from her Democratic colleagues, the congresswoman called Skelly a “delusional man thinking he is a woman” and the embodiment of “woke-ism” before proposing an amendment that would reduce her salary to a dollar.

Skelly served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for 20 years as a naval flight officer before retiring with the rank of commander. Her record of service includes senior positions with the Defense and Transportation Departments during the Obama administration.

“Assistant Secretary Skelly has served in her role admirably, as she has done as her time as a naval officer,” responded U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), stressing each of the feminine pronouns as she spoke.

The second-term Colorado representative countered with more transphobic comments: “if you want to call Mr. Skelly a her, his chromosomes are still XY, and we trust the science over here rather than delusion and playing dress up and imaginary games with our military readiness.”

Boebert is among the more vocal members of an ultraconservative cohort of House Republicans who, in recent weeks, have sabotaged efforts to clear must-pass appropriations spending packages before Oct. 1 to forestall a government shutdown.

Members of the far-right faction have attached to these bills controversial, partisan, and often anti-LGBTQ amendments — effectively dooming their chances of passage by the U.S. Senate amid Democratic control of the chamber.

With respect to the Defense Department spending bill, for example, GOP members have advanced proposals that would defund healthcare services for transgender service members and ban Pride flags from military bases.

On X, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, wrote that “Republicans claim to support the military but Rep. Boebert, just spent five minutes misgendering and attacking our Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness — just because she’s trans. Ms. Skelly serves our country with honor. I can’t say the same for Boebert.”

The caucus added, “It’s disgusting that a Member of Congress would use their platform on the House Floor to misgender and attack a top-ranking @DeptofDefense official and veteran just because she’s a trans woman.”

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Congress

HRC ad campaign slams ‘extremist’ House GOP’s role in looming government shutdown

Funding deadline is Oct. 1.

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U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign launched an ad campaign on Monday slamming House Republicans for advancing anti-LGBTQ and other “out of touch demands” rather than working to clear must-pass spending bills before the month’s end to avoid a government shutdown.

In the weeks since Congress returned from the summer recess, opportunities to forestall this outcome narrowed with each passing day as small groups of the GOP conference’s most conservative members obstructed votes, led an open rebellion against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and added anti-LGBTQ and other far-right amendments to all 12 appropriations bills, effectively dooming the prospects of their passage by the Senate.

HRC’s announcement of plans to run the six-figure blitz “across major national outlets, cable networks and digital streaming services” included a 30-second ad titled “Grind to a Halt,” which accuses House Republicans of “trying to limit the health care you and your family can access, ban books and flags, and block enforcement of civil rights laws.”

In a statement, HRC President Kelley Robinson said the conservative lawmakers had “hijacked the appropriations process to attack LGBTQ+ communities rather than doing their jobs,” noting that a shutdown would “interrupt critical government services, hurt working families and endanger our national security.”

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Congress

House GOP sinks their own spending bill, Dems object to anti-LGBTQ riders

Vote was 216-212

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U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of four hardline House Republicans on Thursday joined Democratic colleagues to sink their own spending bill, a $886 billion military appropriations package full of riders from GOP members that include anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ provisions.

The 216-212 vote raised the likelihood of a government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to forge a path forward before the end of September.

“Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

His counterpart in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), expressed frustration with his own caucus, characterizing the impasse he has reached with colleagues as “frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate.”

“And then you got all the amendments if you don’t like the bill,” he continued. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down — it doesn’t work.”

A group of 155 House Democrats on Thursday issued a letter objecting to anti-LGBTQ provisions in the bill, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, addressing the message to U.S. Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The effort was led by Congressional Equality Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the co-chairs of the Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force, U.S. Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Specifically, the letter argues several anti-equality amendments would “actively target LGBTQ+ service members and LGBTQ+ dependents and threaten the recruitment, retention, and readiness of our Armed Forces.”

Among these are riders prohibiting coverage of gender affirming healthcare interventions for service members and their dependents; banning LGBTQ Pride flags, drag shows and other events; and restricting funding for certain books in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

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