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The Dartmouth
April 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

New Hampshire State House passes House Bill 315, eliminating ‘gay panic defense’

Following the passage of the bill, student and faculty LGBTQ+ advocates shared cautious optimism about improving the safety of LGBTQ+ communities.

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On June 29, New Hampshire House Bill 315 won passage after debate in the State House. The bill outlawed “gay panic defense” — a legal strategy in which a defendant uses avictim’s identity as an LGBTQ+ individual as a basis for defense in a homicide case. 

Along with Massachusetts, New Hampshire is the only other state in New England that had yet to ban gender identity as a basis for defense. The bill does not tolerate lowering a defendant’s charge through claiming provocation, insanity or self-defense due to discovering someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.  

Across campus, student leaders and faculty shared shock over the delay in the New Hampshire State House outlawing “gay panic defense.” Vice president of Within, an on-campus LGBTQ+ activism group, Rosario Rosales ’25 said he was “shaken” that New Hampshire is only now outlawing this legal defense. 

“I only very recently heard about this bill, which says something,” Rosales said. “Whether that be an organization or as an individual, it shows how important it is to raise awareness about these topics because I was so surprised and caught off guard that this defense was legal.” 

According to the New Hampshire Bulletin, the defense is not readily used in New Hampshire, thus the passage of the bill is much more symbolic. State representative Shaun Filiault, I-Cheshire, one of the main sponsors of the bill, changed political party affiliations from the Democratic Party to an Independent because he believed Democratic party leaders were not supporting the bill enough. 

“This is about valuing queer life as much as we value every other life,” Rosales said. “Moving forward from the bill, it’s definitely become apparent that we, as an organization, need to reach out to resources on campus to promote the safety of marginalized identities on campus.” 

Sonia Meytin ’26, the Within’s treasurer, said they were also surprised by the recent passing of the bill,  in addition to outcries from those in the State House who opposed it.

“Initially, I did kind of have that response like, ‘Wow, you know, I didn’t know my life was in danger in this way,’” Meytin said. 

According to Meytin, members of the State House who presented backlash against the bill were not necessarily promoting “outright homophobia” but “worried” that the bill would infringe on the right to self-defense. Though Meytin believes these worries are “unfounded,” the reasoning did “alleviate” the initial shock of finding out about “gay panic defense.” 

Eng-Beng Lim, a women's, gender and sexuality studies professor, said that backlash against legislation like House Bill 315 is “nothing new.” 

“This is part of the bigger trend of litigating against queerness and transness, whether you’re looking at the anti-trans bills that are proliferating across the country or the ‘Don't Say Gay’ bills in Florida. ” Lim said.  “The backlash to outlawing the gay panic defense ban represents a kind of sex panic.” 

According to Lim, part of this larger “trend” is recent Supreme Court rulings “against homosexuality.” On June 30, one day after House Bill 315 won passage, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. In a 6-3 opinion, the Court said that website design company 303 Creative does not have to make websites for homosexual individuals who are  in disagreement with their beliefs. . 

“Sexuality has been deployed as a wedge issue as a way to galvanize folks who are predisposed to homophobia or transphobia in the first place,” Lim said. “And to use sex panic as a way to justify any number of legislation or court rulings against sexual equality.” 

Within the broader rollback of LGBTQ+ rights country-wide, Lim applauded the passage of House Bill 315. According to Lim, the legislation is a “long time coming.” For Rosales and Meytin, however, the bill is only the beginning of making queer communities safer across New Hampshire. 

“The context of this bill relates more to how a person is treated in court after the crime has been committed, rather than preventing the crime in the first place,” Metin said. “For this bill specifically, it doesn't really feel like it's become any more safe than it was previously.”

Rosales called the bill to be more “retroactive than preventative.” 

“If something bad happens to me because I'm queer, then I will get more justice to my name after the fact, but there is no actual preventative measure to make sure that I don’t get hurt in the first place,” Rosales said. “That’s probably the scariest part to me, especially with the growing national trend towards restricting LGBT rights.” 

Still, in a comment to the Valley News, Representative Filiault claimed that the bill puts LGBTQ+ people on “equal footing” with others under New Hampshire law. 

“It’s exhausting, honestly — knowing that this aspect of my identity can place me in harm’s way.” Rosales said. And “I’m sure that is the case for a lot of students on campus. Half of us probably don’t even know that before this bill, our identity could be weaponized against us in this way.” 

As leading LGBTQ+ activists on campus, Rosales and Meytin said they are using this small victory to continue their advocacy and promote the safety of queer students on campus. 

“What matters is how we are going to move forward from this,” Meytin said. “We have to ask ourselves: How can we organize to protect our communities and reap the benefits of this bill?” 

According to Lim, the long-standing “gay panic defense” has not had just legal, but also cultural ramifications — and so will its elimination. 

“This is about the protection and the preservation of compulsory heterosexuality as the only way to imagine life,” Lim said. “So, anyone who is threatened by this kind of identity ‘deviancy’ thinks they are justified in using violence or any number of ways that might take care of the problem. The bill will be a cultural adjustment, even if the defense is rarely used.” 

Rosales and Meytin said they hope the State House continues to advocate for LGBTQ+ safety and rights through legislation. 

“We have to stay vigilant both in our physical space and also in this legislative sphere,” Rosales said. “This is barely the beginning of promoting equality in queer communities.”