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LGBTQ Michiganders deserve legal protections

flickr user Charlie Nguyen
Hate crime laws in Michigan currently do not extend to LGBTQ people.

I am both a human being and a journalist, and so I’m not surprised by most human frailties. I understand jealousy and greed and theft. I understand get-rich-quick schemes, sexual and romantic desires that aren’t always appropriate, and overeating.

But I don’t understand why anyone would attack and severely injure or kill anyone for their sexual orientation.

Children can be cruel, as anyone who remembers their days on the playground knows. But I’m not talking about them, or about troubled adolescents who are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in to the scheme of life.

We’ve all been there, in one way or another.

No, I’m talking about adults like the ones who attacked, stripped, and severely beata Muskegon teenager last year just because he was gay, or the man who shot a transgender woman in the face in Detroit because of who she was.

I am myself boringly heterosexual, what society considers normal and I consider an accident of biology. That’s the way I was evidently wired by the manufacturer. But I can’t understand why others like me feel justified in attacking those not like us.

What I do know is that a civilized society can’t tolerate this. Yet here’s what I find incredible and obscene. In Michigan, I could be convicted of a hate crime if I were to slash the tires of a black or Muslim colleague and paint racist slogans on their car.

But if I physically assault someone for being gay or transgender, that isn’t a hate crime. It would still be illegal, though it’s taken as a given in the gay community that police tend to do little to investigate crimes against them.

Last year, State Senator Steve Bieda, a Democrat from Warren now running for Congress, introduced a bill to expand current hate crime laws to protect gender or sexual orientation. But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof indicated the Senate wouldn’t even bother to consider the bill. The religious right doesn’t want government to do anything that would indicate sexual diversity is allowed, including protecting victims of hate.

Fortunately, there is a group that does: Fair Michigan, which was founded a few years ago to make sure all women and members of the LGBTQ community have proper legal protection.

They’ve also formed a unique justice project with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, a collaboration focusing on solving and prosecuting hate crimes against people in that community, even though the government doesn’t recognize them as such.

In little over a year, the Fair Michigan Justice Project has taken eleven cases through the courts. They’ve won convictions on every one.

Two nights ago, I was the keynote speaker at Fair Michigan’s annual banquet. I thought it was encouraging that a significant number of politicians were there, including gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar.

Someone asked me how this community could get the legislature to give them their civil rights by adding this community to those protected by the Elliott-Larsen civil rights bill. I told them today’s lawmakers would never do that, but I also said the question was wrong. “You have as many rights as anyone else,” I said. “You just have to make people recognize that you do.”

Which was, after all, the whole point of that other civil rights movement, half a century ago.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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