ACLU: Crucial Court Cases Are Promising Sign for LGBTQ+ Civil Rights

Trans protection ruling was just the beginning for ACLU's civil rights plans for LGBTQ+ community

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision in People v. Rogers points the way to civil rights protections for Michigan's LGBTQ+ community.

In July 2018, Kimora Steuball, a transgender woman, had a terrifying encounter with Deonton Autez Rogers at a Detroit gas station. Rogers started harassing Steuball when he saw that she was transgender, then shot her in the shoulder after refusing to show him her genitalia. 

Along with two assault with deadly firearm charges, Wayne County prosecutors also brought charges against Rogers under the Ethnic Intimidation Act, Michigan's hate crimes law. However, Rogers argued that the Ethnic Intimidation Act, unlike federal hate crime laws, didn't include transgender people.

When the trial court agreed to dismiss Rogers' charges, Wayne County prosecutors appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which upheld the dismissal, stating that transgender people weren't covered under the Ethnic Intimidation Act under the designated category of gender.

The Court of Appeals reached this conclusion even though numerous federal courts, including the Sixth Circuit of Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Michigan, had already ruled that discrimination against transgender people violates civil rights laws and the term "gender" is synonymous with sex.

The Court of Appeals decision was concerning because the most recent FBI Hate Crimes Report documented that hate crimes against transgender people have increased over the past two years. In 2019 alone, at least 27 transgender or gender non-conforming people were fatally shot or killed.

With that in mind, the case was appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. The ACLU of Michigan, with the National ACLU, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Michigan Supreme Court, urging the Court to reverse the Court of Appeals' decision that transgender people aren't covered under Michigan's hate crimes law. 

In our brief, we asked the Court to consider the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bostock v Clayton County. In this case, the ACLU's friend and client, Aimee Stephens, a successful and empathetic funeral director, was fired for coming out as transgender. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark victory that discrimination against gay and transgender employees is sex discrimination and violates federal civil rights law. 

While the ACLU doesn't support criminal penalties in a legal system that disproportionately targets people of color, we believe that the Court of Appeals' interpretation regarding the hate crimes law would've had harmful implications for LGBTQ+ people seeking civil rights protection.

In light of the Bostock ruling, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeals to reconsider Steuball's case decision. On August 5, 2021, the Court of Appeals reversed its initial decision. It determined that crimes against transgender people are covered under Michigan's hate crime law under the category of gender, representing a significant victory for LGBTQ+ people. This decision is essential for redressing violent incidents against transgender people and providing guidance in a current critical civil rights case — Rouch World v. Michigan Department of Civil Rights

In Rouch World, the Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether Michigan's civil rights laws, which prohibit sex discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations, cover LGBTQ+ people. 

No doubt, the Court will consider both the Bostock legal analysis and the Rogers decision. Bearing that in mind, we believe there is a legal path to finding full civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ people in Michigan, and the Rogers decision is a helpful step along the way.