The Gay Panic Defense: Legal Defense Strategy or Reinforcement of Homophobia in Court?



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Gay panic refers to a heterosexual man violently responding to unwanted sexual advances from a gay man. In court, the defendant may argue he was provoked or temporarily insane. This study utilized 352 jury-eligible citizens to assess differences across mediums of gay panic. Participants were asked to read vignettes depicting a control, gay panic as provocation, or gay panic as insanity condition and provide verdicts and ratings of blame and responsibility. Verdicts, victim blame, and ratings of responsibility differed across vignette conditions, with an observed leniency effect when gay panic was claimed in either context. Homonegativity also exacerbated patterns of pro-defendant views, as those higher in homonegativity assigned higher victim blame, lower defendant responsibility, and more lenient verdicts in the gay panic conditions. The effect of political orientation was nuanced, as only republicans in the provocation condition followed the anticipated pattern in rendering more lenient verdicts. Results are discussed with respect to sexual orientation-based prejudice, validity of the gay panic defense, law and public policy, and trial strategy.



Gay panic, legal defense strategies, juror perceptions, homonegativity, political orientation