Michigan Equality, the only Lansing-based LGBT activist group in the state, unveiled an online resolution last week as part of Independence from Hate Crimes and Hate Speech month.
Michigan Equality announced a new educational campaign designed to address the growing issue of hate motivated crimes and violence earlier this month, declaring July Independence from Hate Crimes and Hate Speech month.
Hate crimes against Michigan’s LGBT community have increased 133 percent, according to a new report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Prevention.
Every week, Michigan Equality will feature articles, blog posts and new programs designed to help people talk about hate crimes and hate speech. In the fall, they will host a series of community workshops thanks to a generous grant from the Arcus Foundation’s Gay & Lesbian Fund.
Now, the group is asking citizens to sign an online resolution rallying against hate crimes and the root causes of hate speech.
The resolution reads:
We, the voters of the State of Michigan, support the consideration and passage of an inclusive Hate Crime Act.
We understand that Michigan currently has an ethnic intimidation act on the books. The change that we ask in the current legislation is an amendment to the law, now a new law. Nor is it solely about gay rights; it’s about being able to live without fear.
We propose that this amendment to the Ethnic Intimidation Act would not only extend overdue protections to lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender persons who are victims of hate crime, but it would also help the law enforcement community use the law more frequently.
Today we stand united against Hate Crime and pledge to confront bigotry in any shape it forms.
“This resolution is important because it connects citizens to action,” said executive director Derek Smeirtka. “Each person who signs the resolution is promising to support legislation to expand hate crime laws as well as to confront hate speech when and where they hear it. I am reminded by the old line, ‘the only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to remain silent.’ We are asking Michigan residents, gay or straight, black or white, immigrant or resident, Christian, Jewish or Muslim, able or disable, to clearly say that hate is not a Michigan value.”
The current hate crimes law, called The Ethnic Intimidation Act, currently requires the following criteria to be met:
A person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if that person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person’s race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, does any of the following:
– Causes physical contact with another person.
– Damages, destroys, or defaces any real or personal property of another person.
– Threatens, by word or act, to do any aforementioned act described, or if there is reasonable cause to believe that the act described will occur.
Michigan Equality and a coalition of groups are working to change the law to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Michigan Equality would also like to see the two-year prison sentence for those found guilty of violating the act changed from a concurrent sentence to a sequential sentence.
Smiertka clarified that most hate speech is a Constitutionally-protected right, and Michigan Equality would fight for the right of individuals to speak their minds on any subject. However, allowing another their Constitutional right of speech does not excuse the other from exercising their own Constitutional right of expressing an opposing viewpoint.
“We are proud to have the right to free speech,” said Smiertka. “While opponents of hate crime laws will claim differently, we do not want to criminalize ministers or throw people of faith in jail for their religious beliefs. We support their right to disagree with us. But we also assert our rights to vocalize our opposition to their beliefs.”
“For too long,” Smiertka said, “the state and nation have been divided by hate speech rhetoric and, in some cases, violence. It is time for fair minded people – the vast majority of America and Michigan – to voice their opposition to hate speech in daily life, from the pulpit to the school yard.”