The word “pronoun” doesn’t appear in the text of Michigan’s House Bill 4474, which seeks to update hate crime provisions in the state, and yet right-wing media have run amok with claims that the bill would impose fines of up to $10,000 for misgendering a trans person.
According to Click on Detroit, HB 4474 aims to extend hate crime protections to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, physical or mental disability, and age. The article explained that someone can be convicted of a hate crime if they do any of the following with malicious intent based on “actual or perceived characteristics” of the victim in those protected classes:
- Use force or violence on another individual.
- Cause bodily injury to another individual.
- Intimidate another individual.
- Damage, destroy, or deface any real, personal, digital, or online property of another individual without the consent of that individual.
- Threaten, by word or act, to do any of those actions.
Right-wing media have latched onto the word “intimidate,” with outlets like Fox News reducing it to someone feeling “threatened by words.” While Fox did address how intimidation is defined by the bill, it made no effort to meaningfully engage with the definition, suggesting instead that it will be weaponized against conservative “expression or viewpoints.” The outlet also quoted one conservative Michigan lawmaker who referred to gender identity as “the gender delusion issue.”
The bill defines intimidation as:
“A willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened. Intimidate does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.”
National Review, which mockingly assigned the state of Michigan they/them pronouns in its headline, did even less to engage with the text of the bill, quoting only the “terrorized, frightened, or threatened” portion of the definition.
Newsweek declared that the law “probably is unconstitutional” in a headline, cherry-picking from a source in the body of the article. A thorough read reveals that the source, Georgia State University law professor Eric J. Segall, explained that his assessment of the pending law’s constitutionality depends on a specific hypothetical interpretation and application of it, and that he personally believed the law should be constitutional.
Newsweek also found a way to work trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney into its coverage of the bill.
Sinclair Broadcast Group conducted a poll using the misguided framing through its weekday program, The National Desk, which syndicated the results to the websites of local outlets owned by the organization throughout the country.
And The Daily Caller’s Chrissy Clark published an editorial bizarrely fantasizing about using the law to target unhoused people, whom she described as “terrorizing, frightening and occasionally threatening.”
As The Detroit News pointed out, conservative outlets peddling misinformation ignored or dismissed a key part of the bill’s definition of intimidation: that it does not apply to “constitutionally protected activity.”
"People can say whatever they want, that 'I feel frightened because somebody misgendered me.' But that's not going to cut it for purposes of this bill,” a Democratic prosecutor in the state told the outlet.
This manufactured controversy is nothing new for right-wing media. Canadian psychologist and Daily Wire host Jordan Peterson captured media attention in 2016 when he made similar allegations about Canadian bill C-16. The subsequent law added “gender identity or expression” to other preexisting anti-discrimination protections, including in the criminal code. As a result, Peterson incorrectly alleged someone could see jail time for misgendering a trans person.