A new Senate bill was introduced to the Michigan Legislature in mid-October with the goal to officially include gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes under Michigan’s hate crime laws. 

Currently, Michigan’s hate crime law only enforces penalties for those who intimidate individuals based on “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” The new bill would offer much needed protections for individuals in the LGBTQ community. 

State Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, served two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives before being elected as a senator. Earlier this year, he introduced a bill in the House that would expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, especially with regard to housing and employment. 

“For the last 30 plus years, members of the LGBT community have tried to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes here in Michigan,” Moss said. “I see this new bill that is being introduced is going hand and hand with many of our efforts in legislature to provide equity for the LGBT community in laws that protect other vulnerable populations from either discrimination or hate violence.” 

Moss said he believed it was appropriate to include gender identity and sexual orientation in the definition considering the rise of hate crimes in the LGBTQ community. 

“This would give law enforcement another tool to pursue when they are prosecuting crimes against the LGBTQ community,” Moss said. 

Moss said this bill would hopefully provide more protections for transgender women of color, who are dying and experiencing violence at a higher rate than other transwomen. According to the Human Rights Campaign, there have been at least 22 known deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people in 2019 so far.  Of the 22, at least 17 were Black trans women. 

“Within the LGBTQ community, trans women of color are more targeted for who they are, especially in terms of violent acts against them,” Moss said. “This bill will serve as, hopefully, a deterrent so that people who are targeting people because of their gender identity will face harsh penalties for the acts they commit.” 

Another co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, discussed the issue with Michigan Radio

“What we’ve seen with transgender individuals is that they are being targeted by people who don’t like how they live, and that’s not something that these individuals chose,” Hollier told Michigan Radio. “It’s how they are.”

Moss said his constituents told him personal stories about their issues regarding housing and job security. After introducing the bill in June, he was flooded with stories from those who had been harassed and targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“I heard from a gay man who was being harassed by his roommates and given a list of certain music he couldn’t listen to, rules for visitors he couldn’t have,” Moss said. “And he felt that he was targeted because of his sexual orientation, because his roommates were straight, and they did not want him to have the same privileges. He left the state because of it and found a job elsewhere.”

Moss said Michigan’s lack of protections for the LGBTQ community puts the state at a disadvantage.

“We are not competitive with other states that offer these protections for people in the LGBTQ community,” Moss said. “We need to make sure we are a state that is not only doing the moral thing and protecting people under the law, but also so that we can compete with other states so that we’re not losing our pool of talent because we don’t protect everyone.” 

Moss, the first openly gay person to serve in the Michigan State Senate, said it will take “an educational campaign to get this bill passed.” 

“We’re having these conversations one by one by one to show with verifiable fact that discrimination exists, it is rampant, and it is a problem that we as legislators can resolve,” Moss said. “It’s key to make sure every legislator knows what is going on within their own community and to step up and do something about it.”

Public Policy junior Camille Mancuso, communications director for the University of Michigan’s chapter of the College Democrats, said she thinks this bill will better protect those in the LGBTQ community. Mancuso mentioned several Supreme Court cases, two concerning gay rights and the third concerning transgender rights. 

“I think that including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in Michigan is a really strong step and a strong statement, even if the Supreme court case doesn’t go the way we hope it does in promoting LGBTQ equality, that can still be protected in Michigan,” Mancuso said.

She said Moss’s role in the bill is a good thing, because it encourages including members of minority communities in the process of crafting legislation. 

“I think when bills are drafted to include a certain group like the LGBTQ+ community, it’s not only beneficial, but essential that members of that community be at the center of that discussion,” Mancuso said. “Our organization is happy to see Senator Moss as a key player of this bill.” 

Mancuso mentioned the Stonewall Democrats, a subcommittee of College Democrats dedicated to promoting the inclusion of LGBTQ people, both on and off campus. 

“One of the large events they put on last year was a coming out speak-out, which was a space for any member of the LGBTQ community to come and share their coming out story or their experiences coming out,” Mancuso said. “We’re hoping to put on more events just like that and more advocacy work moving forward.” 

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