Ban on 'gay panic defense' again moves forward in Iowa House

The Iowa Capitol in Des Moines (Steve Pope/Freelance)
The Iowa Capitol in Des Moines (Steve Pope/Freelance)

Legislation “short-circuited” by COVID-19 has been reintroduced that would prevent a defendant from using a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity as a mitigating factor if charged with murder or any violent crime.

House Study Bill 11 was approved unanimously by the House in 2020, but the Legislature suspended its session a week later because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was never taken up by the Senate.

“As I said last year, it is absolutely insane to think you could kill someone simply because of their sexual orientation,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who again is managing the bill. In fact, he called it an “unspeakably asinine defense” last year.

The Judiciary subcommittee voted unanimously Thursday to move the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee.

The so-called “gay panic defense” has been used successfully in other states, Keenan Crow of One Iowa told the subcommittee Thursday.

In using the gay and trans panic defense, defendants have argued their violent actions were justified by learning another person’s sexual orientation or sexual identity or by a non-violent pass or come-on from a LGBTQ-plus person.

A motivation for the bill was the case of a Kedarie Johnson, a gender-fluid Burlington teenager. A man who intended to have sex with Johnson before discovering Johnson had male genitalia was convicted of first-degree murder after Johnson was shot twice, his head covered by a garbage bag and his body doused with bleach.


Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, supported the proposal although she doesn’t think current Iowa law allows a person to legally kill another “based only on their sexual orientation.” But, she said, “there’s certainly nothing wrong with clarifying that or being a little redundant on such an important issue.”

Wolfe said she has been approached by people of color who would like similar legislation addressing race-based attacks.

“Anytime a group of people gets singled out as somehow being more likely to do something bad or people (are) entitled to act badly toward them based on their identity, that’s not good,” Wolfe said. She did not offer an amendment but said it might be worth discussion.

No lobbyists have registered in opposition to the bill. County attorneys and trial lawyers, however, are “undecided.”

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