'We're getting the results': Michigan project seeks justice for LGBTQ victims of hate

This story is a companion piece to The Village , the latest season of CBC's true crime podcast  Uncover , with host Justin Ling. The podcast explores the investigation into serial killer Bruce McArthur and unsolved homicides in Toronto's LGBTQ community. Last February, prosecutor Jaimie Powell-Horowitz stood in a small Detroit courtroom and admonished the defence lawyer over his treatment of her witness.It was the preliminary hearing of Albert Weathers, a Michigan pastor accused of murdering a transgender female sex worker named Kelly Stough. Powell-Horowitz suggested attorney David Cripps had crossed a line by asking Kyra Butts, a trans woman and friend of the victim, to list all of the names she goes by."That is extremely insensitive and inappropriate," Powell-Horowitz told the court. "Mr. Cripps is using this as an intimidation tactic. He knows that this witness goes by Kyra. At this point, he's seeking to embarrass and humiliate her."Cripps denied the accusation, but the exchange illustrated Powell-Horowitz's heightened awareness of any line of questioning she thinks could be construed as disrespectful to her witness and the transgender community.Having that awareness is part of her role as a special prosecutor with the Fair Michigan Justice Project , which helps investigate and prosecute cases involving lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, especially when they could be hate-motivated crimes.This mandate has resonance in Canada, particularly in Toronto, after the conviction of Bruce McArthur, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to the murders of eight men, seven of whom had ties to the city's LGBTQ community.The disappearances of gay men in Toronto in recent years had sparked anger in the community. Some felt that police had not taken concerns about their safety seriously enough — the same issue the Fair Michigan Justice Project is trying to address.Jaimie Powell-Horowitz, who was appointed as the special prosecutor for the project, stressed that the goal is not just getting guilty verdicts. (Mark Gollom/CBC)Supporters of the project say it makes it possible for LGBTQ witnesses to feel comfortable enough to testify."Without Fair Michigan, you would not have seen Kyra on [the] stand," said Liliana Angel Reyes, director of the Detroit-based Ruth Ellis Center, which provides accommodation and support services for at-risk LGBTQ youth.The Village, Extra - Trans women of colour in Detroit are confronting an epidemic of violence with the support of The Justice Project, a task force that investigates and prosecutes serious crimes against LGBTQ people. After aspiring designer and dancer Kelly Stough is murdered in Detroit, they take on her case. 47:54Powell-Horowitz told CBC the mission of the project is not just to get guilty verdicts."It's making sure that the people who are dealing with the criminal justice system are treated with respect, and feel like they are listened to."Launched in 2016The Fair Michigan Justice Project was launched in 2016 by Dana Nessel, Michigan's attorney general and the first openly gay politician in the state. In a 2018 interview with  NBC News , she said she formed the group after she became aware of "the exponential rise in hate crimes … especially against the LGBT community."Nessel said "many" of these incidents "were not being solved, not being charged, and certainly, there were no convictions."The Fair Michigan team also includes special investigator Vicki Yost and Julisa Abad, a trans woman of colour and former sex worker who serves as a victims' advocate and the project's liaison with the LGBTQ community.The group claims to have a  100 per cent conviction rate  so far   and hopes to also win the Weathers case.Albert Weathers is accused of shooting 36-year-old Kelly Stough during an altercation in the city's Palmer Park neighbourhood on Dec. 7, 2018. (Mark Gollom/CBC)Weathers is accused of shooting Stough, 36, during an altercation in the city's Palmer Park neighbourhood on Dec. 7, 2018. In an interview with police, Weathers claimed Stough was trying to rob him and that he acted in self-defence. He also told them his gun went off accidentally. The Wayne County prosecutor's office said evidence about the role of Stough's gender identity in her death will be presented in court. Michigan's constitution does not have explicit protections that cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although perpetrators who commit violence against the LGBTQ community cannot be charged with a hate crime per se, Fair Michigan treats the cases as such."Because that's what they are," said Powell-Horowitz.Crimes that Fair Michigan has prosecuted include one in which a man assaulted a victim with a firearm while filming it, stating that he hated gay black men; and a woman who discovered her teenage daughter was seeing another girl and subsequently beat her while using anti-gay slurs.Of the two dozen cases Fair Michigan has prosecuted, half of them involve victims who are transgender women.According to a 2017 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, of the 28 reported hate violence homicides across the U.S. (not including the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando),  68 per cent were of transgender and gender nonconforming people and 61 per cent were transgender women of colour.A view of the Corktown neig ...Read more

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