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Michigan Lawmakers And Prosecutor Want To Add Sexual Identity To Hate Crimes Definition

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A teen was recently attacked in Muskegon County.  Officials say it was because he’s gay.  Now some prosecutors and lawmakers are calling on the legislature to expand the state’s hate crimes law

It’s currently a two-year felony to intimidate or harass someone on the basis of things like race and religion.  But sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t on the list.  A bipartisan bill would add those factors. 

“We need to recognize that person who commits a hate crime often thinks or at least pretends that they are speaking for others,” said Senator Steven Bieda (D-Warren).  He’s a bill sponsor.  “This legislation is about saying they do not speak for Michigan.

Bieda said there has been a rise in hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.  In the Muskegon County case, a male teen was lured to a location where he was stripped of his clothing and assaulted.  Officials say the incident was recorded and posted on Facebook.

D.J. Hilsonis the prosecutor for Muskegon County.  He said the Legislature needs to act.

“This is a real issue, it needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed very quickly and not get caught up in the politics or the moral issues that sometimes people creep up when we have these conversations,” he said.  “We’re talking about real people, real victims, who need this protection.”

Similar bills have been introduced before and failed.  SB 121 is currently waiting for a committee hearing in the Senate.  A spokesperson for the Senate Majority Leader, who also chairs the committee the bill is in, says there are no plans to take up the bill. 

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—Cheyna Roth is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

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