Homo panic Essay

This essay has a total of 1924 words and 7 pages.


homo panic





Getting Away with Murder Aaron McKinney was recently convicted of second-degree murder for
his role in the fatal bludgeoning of Matthew Shepard on October 6th of last year. During
the opening statements of his trial, McKinney's attorneys argued that a homosexual advance
from Shepard brought back a traumatic childhood experience which triggered "five minutes
of emotional rage and chaos" (Cart "Rests" 1). The claim invoked, which was ultimately
rejected by the judge presiding over the case, is known as the "homosexual-panic" or
"gay-panic" defense. According to the Harvard Law Review, this defense, a manifestation of
the temporary insanity plea, is "premised on the theory that a person with latent
homosexual tendencies will have an extreme and uncontrollably violent reaction when
confronted with a homosexual proposition" (Stryker 2). The homosexual panic defense-based
on the premise that internal homophobia justifies cold-blooded murder-is one of the sad
symptoms indicative of the homophobia that exists in American society today. Homophobia is
one of the few prejudices that is still very visible in modern society. Only recently have
gay rights become a topic of national concern. Thirty years ago, police raids on gay bars
were a fact of life. "You took then for granted," says activist Joan Nestle, a writer and
activist who started going to Greenwich Village bars as a teenager in the 1950s (Swift 2).
So when the patrons of a bar called the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969 fought
back-attacking police with rocks, bottles and fists-that startling act of defiance became
an instant watershed event. Despite the civil upheaval that weekend, "the event that would
become known as the birth of the gay movement was barely covered by the news" (Swift 2).
But the die had been cast and the gay and lesbian movement had been radicalized-new groups
of young, gay men and women formed organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF)
and the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA). The Stonewall Rebellion inspired gays to openly fight
such vicious discrimination; nevertheless, there are far too many atrocities that
currently result from homophobia. Although American society appears to be increasingly
tolerant of homosexuality, there has been a marked rise in hate crimes against homosexuals
in recent years. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reported a thirty-one percent
increase in violence against homosexuals in the past year alone. David Huebner, member of
the Board of Directors of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation believes that
now more than ever, "anti-gay violence continues to be a widespread and profoundly
destructive plague upon the nation" (Huebner interview). Attacks against gay men tend to
be excessively violent and irrational. Motivated by extreme hatred, they are "vicious in
scope and the intent is to kill and maim" (Winer 30). One striking feature of such
hate-motivated homicides is their gruesome nature. Seldom is a homosexual victim simply
shot; he "is more apt to be stabbed a dozen or more times, mutilated and strangled"
(Miller 169). This apparent brutality suggests that the attackers are losing control of
reality, and are therefore suffering some sort of temporary insanity or diminished
capacity. The inability to maintain control is the premise for the homosexual panic
defense. On its face, suffering from any type temporary insanity should warrant the use of
an insanity defense. However, the societal implications in allowing this defense are too
great. Proof of insanity would be far too hard to demonstrate; thus this claim has the
potential to be severely abused (Hunter interview). While it may be that these attackers
have lost their ability to think rationally, by allowing the homosexual panic defense to
bear weight in a court of law, the justice system is not only allowing hate crimes to
exist, but is also excusing these murders. The notion of homosexuality may engender an
unjustifiable reaction within homophobic men. While this is apparent from the many gay
bashing incidents around the country, there is also a study showing a biological reaction
to homosexuality. In 1996, Henry Adams, a psychologist at the University of Georgia,
devised a way to see if gay bashing was related to suppressed homosexual urges. He
recruited a group of men between the ages of 18 and 31, categorizing them as either
homophobic or non-homophobic. They were then shown explicit erotic videos depicting
straight, gay and lesbian sex, during which penile circumference was measured by a
plethysmograph. As a result of the video depicting gay sex, eighty percent of the
homophobic participants showed "moderate to definite tumescense" as compared to thirty
percent of the non-homophobic subjects (Stryker 5). Professor Adams concluded that most
homophobes "demonstrate significant arousal to homosexual erotic stimuli," suggesting that
homophobia is a form of "latent homosexuality where persons are either unaware or deny
their homosexual urges" (Adams 441; "Antigay" 1). The homosexual panic defense is based on
the theory that homophobic men may actually have repressed homosexual urges. Homophobia is
often indicative of self-loathing homosexual feelings; many homophobes subconsciously use
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