LGBT leader Nikki Joly charged with burning down own house

Jackson, Michigan LGBT+ rights leader Nikki Joly, who was made Citizen of the Year in 2017

Transgender campaigner Nikki Joly has been charged with arson over a fire which burned down his house and killed his five pets.

Police in Jackson, Michigan, initially investigated the August 2017 blaze as a hate crime against Joly, according to The Detroit News.

The police has now charged the 54-year-old LGBT+ rights leader, who was reportedly instrumental in his city passing a ban on anti-LGBT discrimination just months before the fire.

Joly also set up Jackson’s first Pride Centre and Pride parade in 2017. He was named Citizen of the Year by Michigan news site MLive for his efforts.

A Facebook photo of Michigan LGBT+ rights campaigner Nikki Joly

Nikki Joly was made Citizen of the Year in 2017. (Chris Joly/facebook)

A hearing to file motions in the case is set for March 8 at Jackson County Circuit Court.

The fire claimed the lives of two German Shepherds and three cats owned by Joly and his partner Chris, who he has since married.

Local congregation St Johns United Church of Christ, where Joly’s Pride Centre was initially located, started a campaign to raise funds for the couple in the wake of the fire.

Organisers reportedly hoped to collect donations of $10,000, but with the help of other groups, they ended up raising $58,000 for Joly and his wife.

It is unclear what Joly’s motive would be for burning down the house, which police have said he didn’t own and was insured by its owner.

Nikki Joly facing court after an 18-month-long investigation

A police report states that Joly was questioned for four hours by a police detective and two FBI agents two weeks after the fire.

During this time, he didn’t admit to or deny setting the fire.

Police were keen to charge Joly earlier, but prosecutors reportedly wanted more evidence.

“Yes, be angry, be very angry. Use that anger to force good! Use that anger to make change.”

— Nikki Joly on Facebook

Two days after the fire, Joly told his followers on Facebook: “Yes, be angry, be very angry. Use that anger to force good! Use that anger to make change.”

Speaking to police, the activist said that on the morning of the day the fire happened, he bought $10 of petrol to cut his grass, but stopped mowing halfway through because it was too hot.

He added that he went to work before receiving a call from his partner at 1:02pm asking him to pick up her lunch from home and bring it to her.

Joly claimed he returned home, went inside for a minute or two, and left. Neighbours reported the fire at 1:16pm.

Detective Aaron Grove wrote in a police report: “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 seen.”

Joly reportedly told an insurance company investigator that the arsonist must have been in the two-storey, wooden-frame house at the same time as him.

Lab tests by the police found traces of gasoline on the clothes Joly was wearing on the day of the fire.

LGBT+ campaigners upset by arrest of Nikki Joly

Activists in the city have expressed their disappointment at Joly being charged with arson.

Jeff Graves, a local drag queen who took part in a show to raise money after the fire, said that he would try to get his donations back if Joly was found guilty.

“I feel as though I was used for a money scam,” Graves said. “It hurt and it still does.”

“How do you do it to the community you have put so much effort into helping?”

— Travis Trombley about Nikki Joly

Stella Shananaquet, whose son is gay, said that the charge had negated the ways in which Joly had helped the city’s LGBT+ community.

“All that good work is tainted. We know one bad mark outshines a hundred good ones,” Shananaquet said.

“I’m infuriated someone could tear down the community that way.”

Travis Trombley, a gay resident who campaigned for the ban on anti-LGBT discrimination, said: “It’s embarrassing.

“How do you do it to the community you have put so much effort into helping?”