In a legislative season characterized by a sickening barrage of anti-LGBTQ proposals, reason and decency prevailed for at least one day in the Iowa Legislature.
Last week, the GOP-controlled Iowa House unanimously voted in favor of a bill to ban the “gay/trans panic defense,” a legal tactic violent criminals use to claim they were enraged to discover a victim was gay or transgender.
Under House File 2503, defendants would not be able to justify a violent crime in court by arguing they were motivated by a person’s sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
It is encouraging to see this bill was introduced by a Republican committee chair, while another Republican and a Democrat worked together to pass an amendment strengthening the legislation. The floor manager, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, called the legal loophole “an unspeakably asinine defense.”
Speaking in support of the bill on the House floor, Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, told the story of Kedarie Johnson, a Burlington teen who was killed in 2016 — shot with a gun and doused with bleach — after two men discovered Johnson had male genitalia. The killers were convicted of murder, but Johnson’s tragic death is a shocking reminder about the necessity of such a bill.
“It’s sad that we have to make it clear that a person’s gender identity or sexual identity is no excuse for violence against them, but we do,” Bennett said.
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This was a welcome contrast to the slew of proposed laws seeking to take away the rights of gay and trans Iowans, totaling more than a dozen bills in the early weeks of the session.
Most of those bills have been withdrawn or failed to advance, but the threats still loom. The Trump administration is chipping away at trans rights, while state and federal judges appointed by Republicans are poised to further dismantle protections for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
It is not enough for decent people to let their colleagues’ most offensive and inhumane proposals quietly fade away in the legislative process. Republicans should join Democrats in forcefully rejecting those ideas and taking proactive steps to protect LGBTQ Iowans from what amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination. Banning the “gay panic defense” is a start.
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