Dismantling the Homosexual Panic Defense

Getting Away with Murder Aaron McKinney was recently convicted of second-degree murder for his role in the fatal bludgeoning of Matthew Shepard on October 6th of last year. During the opening statements of his trial, McKinneys attorneys argued that a homosexual advance from Shepard brought back a traumatic childhood experience which triggered “five minutes of emotional rage and chaos” (Cart “Rests” 1). The claim invoked, which was ultimately rejected by the judge presiding over the case, is known as the “homosexual-panic” or “gay-panic” defense. According to the Harvard Law Review, this defense, a manifestation of the temporary insanity plea, is “premised on the theory that a person with latent homosexual tendencies will have an extreme and uncontrollably violent reaction when confronted with a homosexual proposition” (Stryker 2). The homosexual panic defensebased on the premise that internal homophobia justifies cold-blooded murderis one of the sad symptoms indicative of the homophobia that exists in American society today. Homophobia is one of the few prejudices that is still very visible in modern society. Only recently have gay rights become a topic of national concern. Thirty years ago, police raids on gay bars were a fact of life. “You took then for granted,” says activist Joan Nestle, a writer and activist who started going to Greenwich Village bars as a teenager in the 1950s (Swift 2). So when the patrons of a bar called the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969 fought backattacking police with rocks, bottles and fiststhat startling act of defiance became an instant watershed event. Despite the civil upheaval that weekend, “the event that would become known as the birth of the gay movement was barely covered by the news” (Swift 2). But the die had been cast and the gay and lesbian movement had been radicalizednew groups of young, gay men and women formed organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front…

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