The first gay man ever to serve on New Mexico’s state legislature is working to abolish the “gay panic” defence as a justification for murdering LGBT+ people.
State senator Jacob Candelaria is backing a bill to end the controversial legal strategy, which claims that discovering a victim’s sexuality or gender identity can cause a state of temporary insanity, leading to violence and murder.
Shockingly it is still a valid defence in all US states except Colorado, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey New York, Washington and Rhode Island.
Candelaria is determined to add New Mexico to that list with his Senate bill, SB 159.
“I’m again sponsoring legislation to abolish this discriminatory defence born out of decades of discrimination and fear against queer families,” he wrote on Facebook on Monday (21 December).
Candelaria first introduced the gay panic bill in 2019 but later pulled it to wait for a “friendlier time” in the legislature.
With Biden’s presidency on the horizon that time is now, “not only because we have more queer people” in the Senate but because “the conversation has evolved”, he told NM Political Report.
It can’t come soon enough for the senator, who was recently forced to flee his home and go into hiding with his husband after he received a series of homophobic threats for criticising a maskless Republican event.
He said he had to “beg” police for protection after being targeted threatening, homophobic phone calls and messages.
“For 33 years I believed that if my family needed help, the police would be there to protect us. For eight years as a senator I thought surely our safety was a top priority,” Candelaria wrote on Twitter.
“Neither of those things hold true anymore.”
Unfortunately SB 159 won’t stop the threats, but it will send a strong message about the bigoted political rhetoric behind them.
“Violence against queer people is much higher than the general population. For far too long, our criminal justice system has been unresponsive to the needs of the queer community and, at times, has been quite hostile,” he said, explaining the importance of the gay panic bill.
“If we’re truly to live up to the belief that every person is equal under the law, then we have to enact this legislation.”