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“Calm Down, Sweetie”

Jim Burroway

July 11th, 2006

Those are the words that led to a bashing.

They are also the beginning of a defense of some sort for the four who were arrested for beat up singer Kevin Aviance in New York on June 10. Aviance bumped into one of the three on the street and said, “Calm, down, sweetie,” which apparently was just too threatening to someone’s sense of manhood:

“I did not hit the guy because he was gay,” Johnson said in his statement. “I just did not want my friend to think … I was a p—y.”

So of course, the only option was for the three to beat Kevin senseless, breaking his jaw and several bones.

This defense is starting to look like a variation on the the so-called “gay panic” defense, which has been used successfully by defendants in a number of horrific cases. In February 2005, Josh Cottrell escaped the death penalty when a Hardin County, Kentucky jury convicted him of manslaughter for killing Richie Phillips, stuffing his body into a suitcase and dumping it into a nearby lake. To win that reduced conviction, Cottrell’s attorney told the jury:

If a man tries to force you to have deviant sexual intercourse, you have the right to use deadly force to protect yourself. … Does putting that body in the suitcase make that kid a murderer? A robber? No, it doesn’t. He has admitted that was the wrong thing to do, but he was acting in survival mode.

However, there was no evidence that Richie Phillips tried to “force” sexual intercourse. At most, there was a mere suggestion. But that was enough, apparently in the minds of a jury, to warrant a reduction in the charge.

The “gay panic” defense has been successfully used to avoid more serious penalties in cases ranging from the Matthew Shephard’s brutal beating and murder (the defendants avoided the death penalty) to the murder of male-to-female transgender Chanelle Pickett by William Palmer (she was beaten and “throttled” for eight minutes and died; he was acquitted of manslaughter and murder, convicted only of assault and battery).

Kevin Aviance was severely beaten — the wire just came off his broken jaw and he will soon be able to eat solid foods — but there is no murder here, luckily. One might argue that the stakes here aren’t quite as high. But if the defendants have their way, merely being called “sweetie” would be a justifiable defense. This sort of defense, when used successfully, opens the doors for all LGBT to be attacked for the smallest provocations — or even the mere allegation of one — and that endangers everyone whether they are gay or not.

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