By Jeremy Martin
HOLLAND- Last month, the Holland City Council turned down an anti-discrimination amendment that would have offered protections to LGBT citizens in housing and employment. But two groups of concerned citizens are refusing to accept the vote, and they’re refusing to let the council forget about the issue.
The groups plan to show up at every single council meeting until they can persuade the council to vote again and pass the amendment.
Kimberly Payne-Naik, a group member of Until Love Is =, said this is the best way to go about getting one council member to change his or her vote. The council voted 5-4 against the amendment at the June 15 meeting.
The amendment would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to other minority groups in the city’s code that are protected from discrimination in housing and hiring. The amendment would offer protections that aren’t offered by Michigan’s civil rights law or by federal civil rights laws.
Until Love Is = has teamed up with another group of concerned citizens called Holland is Ready. The groups think that a two sided front of educating the public and speaking at council meetings is the most logical course of action to take.
When the council voted against the measure last month, it encouraged concerned citizens to let the small city’s residents vote on it. But both groups think putting minority rights in the hands of the majority would be a bad idea.
“It would be fatal to the cause to underestimate the opposition,” Payne-Naik said. “A ballot initiative done too quickly without proper language, process and public education could result in having this voted down.
“A ‘no’ vote would give the council a reason to continue to reject the amendment for a very long time to come, playing the ‘good people of Holland have spoken’ card.”
Council member David Hoekstra is not sure if confronting the city council directly will work.
“I was initially disappointed that the ballot initiative was not pursued and felt some momentum may have been lost, but there may be some hidden value in the extended dialogue,” he said. “We’re hearing personal stories and perspectives that are helping us understand each other. We’re also talking with each other with amazing respect and grace, which will be a valuable element in how we ultimately resolve this.” Hoekstra cast one of the four votes in favor of the amendment last month.
Council member Robert Vande Vusse agrees with Hoekstra that it is important to continue discussing the amendment, but he noted that a re-vote by the council would still have to follow civil procedure and would not be as simple as one council member changing his or her mind.
Like Hoekstra, Vande Vusse originally voted in favor the amendment. He thinks change will come not by discussing the issue with the council, but by discussing it with the general public, face to face.
“My concern is that because, for many, this is an emotionally charged issue rather than being simply a rational one, some may respond in a way that generates more heat than light on the issue. That will only polarize people more than they are already,” Vande Vusse said.
As for Payne-Naik, she will continue to attend council meetings and to educate the public on the benefits of the amendment, but she isn’t entirely sure that the majority of Holland’s citizens are indeed ready for change.
“My skepticism arises from the fact that I was born and raised in this area, and I do know how things work here and who is really in charge – and those who are have very deep pockets,” she said.