Michigan Democrat to propose adding sexual orientation to hate crimes law

State Sen. Adam Hollier says all too often transgender people of color are victims of violence which has often ended in their death.

Hollier wants to give them and other members of the LGBTQ community additional legal protections by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Michigan's hate crimes law to include transgender individuals.  

Hollier was joined by fellow Democrat state lawmakers, members of the Detroit Police Department and advocates in the LGBTQ community at a news conference Friday where he announced his plans to introduce a bill.

The Detroit Democrat, who is running for the U.S. Senate in the 13th Congressional District, said the number of attacks and murders of transgender women of color is on the rise.

"We want to make sure victims are not victimized because the system won't protect them," said Hollier. "It empowers police and prosecutors to point out that transgender women of color matter."

Hollier added that the LGBTQ community deserves equal treatment and that public opinion "is on our side." 

But state Senator Jeremy Moss admitted, "It's a big feat to get a Republican to sign on to this."

Republicans control both chambers of the Michigan Legislature.

"We are gathered here to renew the call to protect the LGBTQ community," said Moss Friday. "Time and time again we have seen our community marginalized because we can seek justice.

"This should be a wakeup call to do something about this crisis," said Moss.

Jeynce Poindexter, an activist and advocate for transgender people of color, applauded Hollier's efforts.

"It's really unnerving, bone-chilling and it continues to happen," said Poindexter of crime against members of her community. "It's been swept under the rug so we continue to have these egregious crimes."

Poindexter, who also attended the news conference Friday, said transgender people of color, like others in the LGBTQ community, continue to battle against stereotypes and "fear-mongering" which can put their lives at risk of danger through violent attacks.

"So our lives continued to be harmed," said Poindexter, who pointed to last month's fatal shooting of a 25-year-old transgender person in Highland Park.

The person, who has been identified as Naomi Skinner, was shot to death and her body was dragged into the hallway of an apartment building in the 14200 block of Second Avenue. 

Michael Cortez Norris, 26, of Highland Park, Skinner's friend, was charged in the death of Skinner, who was also a Highland Park resident, said prosecutors. He is accused of shooting Skinner after an argument escalated.

In the past three years, Metro Detroit has seen an uptick in murders of transgender people of color, according to Detroit Police Corporal Dani Woods, Poindexter and others at the news conference.

First Assistant Detroit Police Chief Todd Bettison told advocates "you are not alone" and added that the Detroit Police Department has a special division focused on issues in the LGBTQ community.

Corporal Dani Woods, head of that division, said the LGBTQ community needs to have the same equal protection as others.

"No one is asking for preferential treatment," said Woods Friday. "It's a shame we have to ask for equality. When I take my uniform off, I'm a Black lesbian woman."

An effort to get a question on the ballot to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity failed last year.

Separately, a lawsuit before the Michigan Supreme Court could give clarity over a long-debated question of whether Michigan's anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, prohibits discrimination based on sexual identity. 

bwilliams@detroitnews.com