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Court says trans people are protected by Michigan’s hate crimes law

Transgender flag being waved in a crowd
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The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that crimes that target transgender people are covered under the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Act, which covers race, gender, national origin, religion or color.

The court ruling comes in a case involving Deonton Autez Rogers and his alleged harassment of a transgender woman in a Detroit gas station. The ruling includes a brief description of the situation that included Rogers’ allegedly verbally assailing the transgender woman, demanding to see her genitalia and ultimately pulling a gun on her. She struggled to get the gun away from him and was shot in the shoulder.

Related: Transgender man named Michigan Teacher of the Year

Wayne County Prosecutors charged Rogers with two counts of intentionally discharging a firearm, ethnic intimidation, and other charges. The District Court upheld the ethnic intimidation charge and sent it to the Circuit Court. However, that court dismissed the ethnic intimidation charge, arguing that transgender people were not covered by the law.

An appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld that decision, but when the Michigan Supreme Court got the case on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its ruling in Bostock v. Clayton Co., affirming that discrimination against transgender people was illegal under gender or sex designations in nondiscrimination laws. The Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals, which reversed its earlier findings and ordered the ethnic intimidation charges reinstated.

The Appeals Court majority wrote that because the defendant targeted the victim solely based on expectations of “how a man should appear or behave,” so the Ethnic Intimidation Act applied.

“In this matter, defendant’s alleged conduct targeted the complainant because she was biologically male at birth, but did not match defendant’s expectations of how a man should appear or behave. Presumably, were it not for the complainant’s biological sex (male), defendant would not have harassed and intimidated her,” the majority wrote.

“Because the defendant allegedly harassed and intimidated the complainant because he believed her to be male, and based his intimidating conduct on that belief, we need not reach the question whether the statute’s use of the term gender in 1988 was intended to include the term transgender. Defendant’s actions were gender-based within the ‘traditional’ understanding of that term, and harassing someone on the basis of their male gender (whether perceived or actual) falls within the prohibitions of the statute.”

“It furthermore would not matter if the defendant had been mistaken in his perception of the complainant’s gender or biological sex, because the test under the statute is subjective; a defendant is guilty of ethnic intimidation if the defendant intimidates an individual ‘because of’ that individual’s gender, whether rightly or wrongly perceived.”

The three-judge panel all reached the same conclusion, although Judge Deborah A. Servitto wrote a concurring opinion strongly challenging the other two judge’s reliance on a 1988 definition of gender and sex, instead heavily relying on and applying the Bostock decision.

The case has been remanded back to the Circuit Court where Rogers will now face Ethnic Intimidation Charges, as well as others related to the harassment and shooting of the victim.

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