Colorado becomes 11th state to ban LGBTQ “panic defense”


Colorado on Monday became the 11th U.S. state to ban the LGBTQ “panic defense,” meaning defendants can no longer blame their own violent actions on a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gov. Jared Polis, the first openly gay man in the country to be elected governor, signed the new law at the LGBTQ Center in Denver, flanked by advocates and lawmakers who carried a bill at the statehouse this spring.

“We’ve come a long way here in Colorado since our days as the Hate State. We really went from a place where discrimination was legalized in the 1990s to where we are today, where Colorado is a leader,” said Polis, who used words like “absurd,” “outdated” and “insidious” to describe the “panic defense.”

Polis signed a handful of other LBGTQ-friendly bills into law, including one simplifying the requirements for people younger than 18 to change the gender on their birth certificates.

Another allows pharmacists to prescribe HIV-prevention medications and requires insurance carriers to cover them. By eliminating the need to visit a doctor, the bill is expected to increase access to such medications, including Truvada, especially in rural parts of the state.

The “panic defense” ban was a priority for LGBTQ advocates heading into the 2020 legislative session even though defendants in Colorado rarely use that defense and success with it is even more rare. With strong bipartisan support, the bill’s passage seemed a sure thing.

But the legislature shut down from mid-March to late May because of the coronavirus, and when it returned, the majority Democrats tabled the effort amid a flurry of bill-killing that was meant to adjourn the session as soon as possible.

That move was swiftly condemned, including by Republicans, who had voted at the committee level to keep it alive. Not only is the policy noncontroversial, but passing it would cost lawmakers very little time and no money, supporters argued. On June 8 the effort was revived with a new bill sponsored by two Republicans, Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial and Rep. Matt Soper of Delta, and two Democrats, Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada and Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City. Moreno is gay, and Titone is the first transgender state lawmaker in Colorado history. It passed easily, with just one lawmaker — GOP Rep. Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins — opposing it.

“For me, what this bill really means is protecting black trans women, who are the most vulnerable of the communities we’re trying to protect here,” Titone said at the bill signing ceremony.

Said Soper: “A perpetrator has to be responsible for their own actions.”

Staff writer Jon Murray contributed to this story.