The Michigan State Police (MSP) has added a hate crimes category for attacks against people based on their gender identity, department spokeswoman Shanon Banner confirmed Tuesday.
Attorney General Dana Nessel praised the decision — which went unannounced by the State Police itself — in a statement last Friday. According to Nessel’s office, the MSP added gender identity to the list of hate crimes in April.
The attorney general’s press release states that the change brings Michigan in line with standards from the FBI, which has tracked gender identity and sexual orientation hate crimes since the adoption of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, according to the FBI.
“The Michigan State Police is taking an important and necessary action by including gender identity as a hate crime category in its crime reporting,” Nessel said in a statement. “This added requirement goes a long way toward providing a voice to a community that has long been silenced, overlooked and degraded.
“This new datapoint will shed light on the types of hate crimes the transgender community faces,” she continued.
Prior to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the FBI included categories for hate crimes fueled by race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and ethnicity, but not gender identity.
Banner said the agency had considered the change since November 2017, during a broader “rewrite” within the Michigan Incident Crime Reporting unit that began in August of that year.
State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), a candidate in the 6th Congressional District, said the new category is “incredibly important.”
But he said lawmakers also need to update state laws to make it easier for prosecutors to go after people who commit hate crimes based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
“We would need to update the Ethnic Intimidation Act to be explicit about sexual orientation and gender identity,” and offer “recourse in the law, and the prosecutors and police have more opportunities to seek justice.
“This is an area that still a lot of people have a lot of learning left to do,” Hoadley said.
LGBTQ rights groups lauded the change, but said there’s more work to be done, such as expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, called the new MSP category “a positive and important step” for the agency.
“We’re going to have a better understanding of the impact on a community that already experiences a disproportionate amount of violence, discrimination and harassment,” Knott said.
Advocates tracked at least 26 transgender people murdered across the nation in 2018, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ rights group.
In 2019, Paris Cameron, a 20-year-old Black transgender woman, was fatally shot in her Detroit home along with two gay men, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“Well I think it’s long overdue, and it’s a step in the right direction but we’ve got a lot more work to do,” said Roland Leggett, chair of the Michigan Democratic LGBT & Allies Caucus.
Leggett said the “additional tool” will help police track violence against transgender people and hopefully build trust with law enforcement in a community that experiences “more violence and murder than any other demographic in the country.”
Crimes that are “anti-transgender” and “anti-gender non-conforming” fall under the FBI’s gender identity hate crime category.
Crimes motivated by hatred of men, women or sexual orientation fall under a different category, but the FBI also counts crimes against transgender individuals in a broader category that includes anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender crimes.
Crimes against LGBT (the FBI does not include ‘queer’ in this category) people rose from 1,178 offenses in 2014 to 1,303 offenses in 2017, according to FBI data.
According to separate FBI statistics, hate crimes, more broadly, have risen in Michigan by 30% between 2016 and 2017.
With more than 1,000 hate groups active across the country and 31 in Michigan, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center report, Nessel created a dedicated hate crime unit within her office to investigate and prosecute such cases.
Fifteen Michigan hate groups were active in 2014, the SPLC report said.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) also announced plans in February to create a hate and bias database in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 people dead.
Nessel has said she believes President Donald Trump’s rhetoric is “a huge factor” fueling the number of hate groups and hate group activity across the country.