• The Affirmations LGBTQ+ community center in Ferndale.

Michigan LGBTQ+ Leaders Receive Hate Letter, FBI Notified

By |2021-05-07T10:10:50-04:00May 4th, 2021|Michigan, News|

At least seven LGBTQ+ leaders across Michigan received the same flyer sent by mail in mid-April. With the title “Prophecy: The Punishment of My Gay People,” the letter quoted several Bible verses. All of the letters were postmarked San Diego, but it was confirmed by an FBI agent that a postmark does not necessarily indicate the origin of a piece of mail.

Joe Schoch is the newly elected president of the Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor. He received the letter at his home.

“I expect this kind of stuff to happen in our line of work and our advocacy,” Schoch said. “And, in fact, these things underscore the importance of the work that we’re doing.”

Still, Schoch had concerns.

“As I kind of sat down with it a little more, as it digested a little bit more, again with the home address and stuff like that, you start thinking about things,” Schoch said. “…in today’s society with COVID, with political tensions, with the insurrection — all that stuff — I didn’t want to not report it, because you just never know [how] that one letter, [how] that one thing, is going to set off something bigger and unexpected.”

Joe Schoch. Courtesy photo.

Because of that, Schoch contacted Mary Abouljoud, the FBI community relations specialist overseeing Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community. She works out of the FBI’s Detroit location. He also contacted his local police department as well as Ann Arbor’s and the state authorities. All were quite supportive, he said, particularly the representative from the FBI.

“I wanted the local police to know more for awareness,” Schoch said. “I wanted the local police to know who I am, what had happened, so in case … one of my neighbors did call the police, that there was some kind of backstory, some history in that record there. So they know that this is more serious [and] respond accordingly — whatever that means to them.”

Schoch emphasized that although it was alarming to receive the letter at his home, he was not scared away from his work, and, in fact, it only encouraged him to get back to work.

“I was originally motivated to get involved in activism and the Jim Toy Center after the Pulse shooting,” Schoch explained. “I went in knowing that I wanted to create safe spaces; I wanted to create safe community — that’s been my passion and goal in this work. And again, [the letter] underscores the need for this.

He also highlighted that just because it’s 2021, there’s still issues that “need to be discussed around race; around sexual orientation; around diversity, equity and inclusion” and this letter highlights that fight’s validity.

“And if it helps to raise awareness to the local authorities, to federal agencies about how we’re supported and that we’re not alone in all of these fights, that to me was a fairly positive outcome,” he said.

Dave Garcia received the same letter at the Affirmations LGBTQ+ Community Center, where he is the executive director. He said he’s been the target of this kind of thing before — be it letters or phone calls — and he wasn’t fazed. However, because of the protest outside the center just one month prior and because he soon discovered others had received the flyers that even made it to some individuals’ homes, it was a bit more concerning.

“We’ve got a lot more important things to do than be distracted by this kind of attack,” Garcia said, citing the food donation, HIV testing and COVID-19 vaccination programs that Affirmations provides. “At the same time, I certainly recognize, especially for young leadership across the state, when you get one of these for the first time … it can be a bit jarring.”

Dave Garcia. BTL Photo: Andrew Potter.

Garcia encouraged anyone who feels threatened to contact the FBI. He said the Michigan Community Centers Network, the coalition of leaders of LGBTQ+ centers across the state, would be meeting via Zoom videoconference with the FBI on April 29. Representatives from statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Michigan were invited as well.

“There are a lot of us who are getting older now, like Curtis [Lipscomb, executive director of LGBT Detroit] and myself and others who have been in this movement for a while. And we’ve seen this for decades,” Garcia said. “I want the younger generation of leaders just coming up, if they read stuff like this, I don’t want it to discourage them. In fact, it should encourage them to get involved and do the work that is needed.”

Pride Source followed up with Garcia after the Zoom call with the Michigan Community Centers Network and the two FBI community relations specialists. It went well, by all accounts.

“They spent a lot of time explaining the difference between a hate crime and what is free speech and what is a threat; how to recognize the difference,” Garcia said. “I obviously knew that stuff, and this letter that we got, like I said before, was not a direct threat.”

However, the FBI made it clear that whether it was hate speech — such as letters or protest signs broadcasting hateful messages — or a direct threat against one’s life, it’s important to report it.

Garcia said that because the Michigan LGBTQ+ community center network had been established, the FBI was able to meet with the leaders of the centers as a group and introduce themselves. They also offered active shooter drill training for the centers, some of whose leaders took them up on the offer.

Finally, Garcia recalled that one result of the recent protest outside the center was $10,000 in donations for Affirmations.

“A letter like this, use it to your advantage,” Garcia said, quite seriously. “We used [the protest] to say, ‘Hey, while we’re giving out food and clothes, trying to help the community, we’re dealing with this kind of continued harassment from so-called Christians and we need your support because this kind of thing continues to happen.’ So turn it around and use it as a positive.”

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist.