2 new laws go into effect to protect LGBTQ rights in Maryland

SALISBURY, Md. – New laws to protect LGBTQ people are going into effect Friday, both in a focus on making sure the criminal justice system is more equitable for victims of violent crimes.

Maryland will now become the 15th state to ban the gay panic defense for murder cases, while also making hate crimes against LGBTQ people easier to prosecute.

“The very existence of a gay-panic defense implies that gay and trans lives are of diminished value and less worthy of protection for violent crime and so it really tells people that are victims of these crimes that they are not going to be taken seriously,” said PFLAG President of the Board Nicole Hollywood.

Hollywood worked with Free State Justice, a legal advocacy organization that worked with legislators to draft the language for Maryland’s law that strikes that defense off the books. The American Bar association found that while its use was rare, murder sentences were dropped to manslaughter more than half the time it was used.

Prosecutors like States Attorney Bill Jones told 47ABC it’s a defense he’s glad he won’t have to hear again.

“It just doesn’t make sense to give someone a pass because they were suddenly triggered because of the discovery of someone’s gender,” Jones said adding “if you kill somebody it’s not a defense that you suddenly discovered someone’s gender was not what you thought it was,” he said. The 2nd law taking effect Friday would allow prosecutors to add Gender Identity as a reason a violent crime can be prosecuted as a hate crime. Hollywood told 47ABC that’s important because of how unfortunately common those attacks are.

“One in five LGBTQ people will be a victim of violence in their lifetime and that number goes to one in four for transgender people labeling these acts of violence as hate crimes send a powerful message to the community,” she said. Jones said more than a massage, it’s a tool that prosecutors can use to get convictions.

“They’ve given us a broad definition and made it easier for us to make those cases and easier for us to protect our community,” Jones said. Those successful convictions for a hate crime mean more time in time in jail on top of the usual sentencing due to the violence being in service of a hate crime. The hate crime label would also make it harder for the cases to be overturned.

“They would likely survive on appeal because as long as a reasonable person would believe that the evidence was related to that person’s gender identity that’s probably going to be sufficient,” Jones said.

Categories: Local News, Maryland