Michigan's approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues has been the subject of national headlines as of late -- from a controversial anti-bullying law to a notorious Christmas carol debacle.
Now a more troubling set of claims has emerged, with a group of LGBT rights advocates alleging that gay men in Kent County are being targeted by police officials for behaviors that would be deemed acceptable for heterosexual couples.
As MLive is reporting, a group which includes a board member of Equality Michigan says that 33 gay men in county parks were arrested last year under the state's soliciting and accosting statute, which states that "anyone who invites another person in a public place to commit prostitution or any other lewd act" is guilty of a crime. Yet, sources claim, about half of those arrests involved two men merely speaking to undercover deputies or making casual contact like holding hands.
“In these cases, it’s the officers who are making the approaches,” Miriam Aukerman, West Michigan staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which is investigating the allegations, is quoted as saying. “It’s the officers who are doing the accosting and soliciting...it’s legal to go to a park, a bar or a restaurant and say, ‘Hey, would you like to go to my place?’ We want our parks to be safe places for everyone and that includes gay people who are merely flirting.”
Others noted that the arrests had "devastating" consequences for many gay men, some of whom were closeted about their sexuality.
Still, as the Associated Press noted, Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma brushed off the criticisms. "We do not arrest anybody, male or female, for holding hands," he said. "We’re not devising some situation where we’re picking and choosing...it’s a state law."