remembering a writer and friend
As more people link to this site, we wanted to make clear that site administrators have not and are not taking a position on Michael Griffin’s motives for murdering Don Belton, nor do we know what Michael Griffin’s legal defense will be.
We do know Griffin told police that the reason he killed Don Belton is because Belton allegedly “sexually assaulted” him. We have also made the point that such excuses are common when a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (GLBT) person is murdered. Many people equate such excuses with a “gay panic defense,” which is a cultural phenomenon and *not* actually a legally recognized defense (though it has had success in courtrooms).
The phrase “gay panic defense” was coined years ago to describe a pervasive phenomenon whereby perpetrators of brutal violence against gay people claim an unwanted sexual advance to excuse their actions. The *legal* way this plays out is usually through a heat of passion or temporary insanity defense.
‘Gay panic’ does not necessarily refer to the actual motives for a defendant’s crime, nor does invoking it necessarily mean a suspect had a personal crisis of sexuality when he committed his violence. It doesn’t even mean a sexual act happened at all. The phrase now tends to reference the ways in which claiming ‘sexual assault’ by a gay person taps into society’s ‘panic’ about gay people, potentially biasing the public and a jury against the murder victim regardless of the facts of the case.
[Atlanta DA Paul Howard once remarked that some of his ‘gay panic’ cases were actually just robberies gone bad, with a defendant invoking a claim of sexual assault only because he knew it could win sympathy with a jury.]
The ‘gay panic’ phenomenon has been so pervasive that we thought it was important to reference in this case. We do not believe there is enough information about the nature of Don and Michael’s relationship or Michael’s claims of being assaulted [we still do not know exactly what Michael Griffin means by his ambiguous allegation]. We think it is important to be aware that this type of claim is common when a GLBT person is killed and should not be blindly accepted as fact nor be considered a justifiable excuse for murder regardless.
We still don’t know the facts of the case. We also have no idea whether ‘homophobia’ was a part of Michael Griffin’s motivations. But we do know homophobia and racism has been a part of the public reaction to the case, in large part because of Michael Griffin’s statement to police.
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The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs exists to track and advocate against violence within and against the LGBT/GLBT communities.
articles on ‘gay panic’ can be found below: