Senators Wahls, Celsi try to eliminate gay and trans-panic defense in Iowa

Senators Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines) and Zach Wahls (D-Iowa City) introduced an interesting bill during the 2019 legislative session. The pair later tried to amend another bill with their bill as an amendment.

The bill-turned-amendment said a person does not suffer from reduced mental capacity nor are they justified in using force against another person if they discover the other person’s actual or perceived gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

“This amendment is regarding what’s called a panic defense,” Celsi said. “The amendment would prohibit any defendant who has committed a violent crime against a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individual from asserting a defense of panic or provocation and thus claiming they couldn’t help themselves upon learning the victim’s sexual orientation or sexual identity.”

Celsi said it is allowed in some states in order to reduce sentences.

“It’s based on irrational and archaic fears,” she said.

Wahls said the amendment was brought to their attention and endorsed by state of Iowa’s Youth Advisory Council Human Rights Committee.

On April 1, the day the amendment was offered, Wahls said he spoke in the morning at the Governor’s Conference in Des Moines to LGBTQ students. They were excited for debate on the amendment, according to Wahls.

“There were a lot of cheers,” he said. “Young people who were very excited about the opportunity to finally ban officially the use of the gay and trans-panic defense in Iowa courtrooms.”

Wahls repeated Celsi’s statement that LGBTQ individuals are subject to disproportionately high rates of violence.

“While the use of the gay and trans-panic defense is certainly not accepted by any jury, we have to make sure it is not accepted by any jury,” Wahls said.

The amendment was ruled not germane to the bill, which dealt with criminal law procedure.

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall