Target: Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York
Goal: Ban legal defense which argues that killing gay and trans people can be justified because of their sexuality.
James Dixon recently acknowledged his guilt in the killing of Islan Nettles, the transgender woman whom he dragged to the pavement and beat until she was brain-dead. Dixon’s guilty plea and the potential 25 year sentence he faces represent a modicum of justice for his victim. The proceedings that lead to Dixon’s guilty plea, however, are a travesty.
According to The Root, it has taken three years to bring Islan Nettle’s killer to justice. In fact, Dixon was not charged until March 2015, nearly two years after he savagely beat Ms. Nettles. In addition to the slow progress of the case against Dixon, he told prosecutors that he felt Nettles’ transgender status threatened his masculinity. By invoking fear of transgender people to justify his attack, Dixon conjured the rudiments of a so-called “trans-panic” defense. According to the LGBT Bar, in a gay or trans-panic defense, “The perpetrator claims that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explain – but excuse – their loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT victims, these defenses imply that LGBT lives are worth less than others.”
Thankfully, Dixon’s appeal to bigotry was unsuccessful. However, it is disturbing that it remained open to him as a defense. The American Bar Association has long called on governments to ban the use of gay and trans panic defenses, and California has actually enacted legislation to that effect. Tell Andrew Cuomo to follow their example and ensure that LGBT status can no longer be a pretext for violence in New York.
Dear Governor Cuomo,
James Dixon recently acknowledged his guilt in the killing of Islan Nettles, the transgender woman whom he dragged to the pavement and beat until she was brain-dead. While his guilty plea and the 25 year sentence he may face represent some modicum of justice, it has been too long in coming. It took prosecutors almost two years to charge Dixon and, when they did, he tried to justify his brutal attack by claiming that Ms. Nettles transgender status threatened his masculinity.
That claim is the core of a so-called “trans-panic” defense, in which an attacker “claims that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explain – but excuse – their loss of self-control and subsequent assault of an LGBT individual.” We can be thankful that James Dixon’s appeal to bigotry failed, but the fact that he was able to make it is a disturbing reminder that LGBT status can still be used as a pretext for violence in New York.
Follow the recommendations of the American Bar Association and the example of California: ban gay and trans-panic defenses.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Fry1986