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This is a project that attorney and Equality Michigan Board Chair Michael Rowady spearheaded along with Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper. Aware of a similar partnership in Wayne County, Rowady recognized a particular need in Oakland, where he lives.
“I know that Oakland County may have a more difficult time in terms of training people on hate crime-related and discriminatory acts in that they might be more hidden and that there’s maybe a higher count, but that they’re just not being policed as effectively,” Rowady said.
Being familiar with Oakland County government and knowing key officials enabled the swift implementation of the new program. It’s something that Rowady discussed with Cooper, who is a friend.
“I said, ‘How would you like to put together an alliance between Equality Michigan and you, where we could be your dedicated victim services providers?’” Rowady said. “She said, ‘Great idea, but I want to go beyond that.’ And so, the two of us hammered out some details in terms of what we could do between the organization and the county to make it a much more tolerant county. But also to provide services to those who have been victims, not just of serious hate crimes, but discrimination. So, we became the architects of it.”
Rowady explained why such an alliance is needed.
“If you have a hate crime that’s being prosecuted in Oakland County, it’s not their entire docket; it might be a small percentage,” Rowady said “It’s a unique problem. And I’ll tell you why: There’s family members that don’t know that the person is gay, or they don’t want it in the press, or there’s certain training or understanding [needed].”
Because further discrimination can occur in the counseling process itself, there is a dire need to provide the victim with proper mental health and hospital care — and this requires specialized services. That’s where EQMI’s Department of Victims Services can step in to facilitate.
Rowady called this “a great achievement for both the county and Equality Michigan,” and that Cooper deserves “incredible credit.” As the dedicated hate crime service provider for Oakland County, EQMI will be working closely with Assistant Prosecutor Tricia Dare, who leads the county’s hate crimes division.
Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter praised the effort, too.
“This is a great example of collaboration to strengthen the services and protections for people in Oakland County,” he said. “I applaud the effort to strengthen justice more fairly across the county.”
In a statement, EQMI Executive Director Erin Knott said that she is “thrilled to announce this bold partnership between Equality Michigan and the Oakland County Prosecutors office.”
“Tragically, members of the LGBTQ community continue to be targets of acts of violence that have killed or seriously injured individuals,” Knott said. “Enough is enough – this partnership will help us provide critical resources to those who are hurting and are in need.”
Cooper’s staff will be specially trained to work with LGBTQ victims of hate crimes. They will also meet with members of EQMI’s Victims’ Services unit to monitor the progress of the program.
“If this could work in Oakland County, then it could be a model for the rest of the state, maybe the whole country,” Rowady said.
He said he’s proud of what he’s accomplished in his second year as chair of EQMI.
“If … this is still in effect in 10 years, I will have done a great service because discrimination against people of color or against minorities who are LGBT doesn’t simply go away over the nature of time,” he said. “You’re still going to need this. If there’s anything that comes of my legacy, hopefully, this will be a big part of it.”