Jackson, MI – A transgender gay-rights activist who was the City of Jackson’s Citizen of the Year is facing charges after he allegedly staged a hate crime against himself by burning down his own home.
“We determined it pretty quickly to be an arson,” Jackson Police and Fire Services Director Elmer Hitt told the Detroit Free Press. “We investigated it over what probably was a year’s time before the prosecutor ended up issuing charges.”
Nikki Joly, 54, spearheaded a movement aimed at passing a city ordinance to protect transgender and gay citizens from discrimination – a measure some citizens strongly opposed, according to MLive.
After the ordinance passed, Joly orchestrated the city’s first PRIDE Parade and Festival, and was ultimately named the city’s 2018 Citizen of the Year.
“There is no space for hate and ultimately, love will win,” Joly told MLive at the time. “I believe that, 99 percent of the time.”
On Aug. 10, 2017, five days after the parade, Joly’s home was set on fire.
His pets – three cats and two dogs – died in the blaze, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“He knows that he is a target. And that is a hard way to live,” his friend, Kim Cwynar, told MLive at the time. “And yet, he perseveres, every single day. Stepping up to the plate, standing up for others, speaking up for others.”
“I was really in shock for quite a while, and I was afraid,” Joly said. “There were plenty of people mad at me. I was called everything but my name. But to take it there? I didn’t understand that.”
Although the home was still standing, its contents were destroyed and the house was uninhabitable.
“It is very humbling when you realize you are homeless,” Joly’s partner, Chris Moore said. “When everything is literally in a box to your left.”
The community rallied around the couple, and donated everything from furniture to Christmas tree ornaments.
Joly received $58,000 in donations, The Detroit News reported.
As investigators pieced together a timeline for the arson investigation, they discovered security footage that showed Joly filling up a gas can prior to the blaze, according to the Detroit Free Press.
He had fuel on his clothing, and smelled of gasoline, a witness said.
Investigators also noticed that photos from the walls inside the residence seemed to be missing.
“The timeline shows a window of less than five minutes for another person to enter the residence, splash gasoline around, ignite the fire and then leave without being scene,” court documents read, according to The Detroit News.
Jory claimed that whoever burned down his home must have been inside the residence while he was there.
Hitt declined to provide a motive for Joly’s alleged offense, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Joly has been charged with first-degree arson, and is due back in court on Mar. 8.