Erin Wilson is a Grand Rapids resident who formed Until Love Is = after Holland’s City Council voted against housing and hiring protections for LGBT residents. The group has received an outpouring of support, and its Facebook page has more than 2,600 supporters. The group has also started a boycott of Holland businesses that do not support the anti-discrimination ordinance.
1. Why did you found Until Love Is =, and what do you plan to do with all of the support it’s gained?
After the June 15 vote, I felt a mix of distress and just anger that there was this effort to send us backward in West Michigan. It was an affront to people I care about deeply and are vital to the recovery of this region. I was trying to convert sadness into constructive action. Thankfully, thousands of people agreed with me.
It’s inevitable that this vote will be harmful to the city of Holland and the region as a whole. And so a boycott in that sense was an accelerated example of that the harm. Businesses do a lot for a city and can play an important role in the civic leadership and the shaping of a city. But it’s gone beyond just that tactic. Now we’re using the city council meetings as one process by which we can represent the contingency that supports a revote.
2. Your group, and a couple of other groups of concerned citizens, plan to attend every city council meeting until it votes again on the issue. How’s that going so far?
Last night (the first meeting after the June 15 no vote) there was a consistent and sobering fear-based tone among all the people who were against doing this. They were mostly older and white, while the side that was pushing for a re-vote had students, young residents, disabled people, minorities, clergy, community leaders and more.
We don’t want to monopolize the time at the meetings; we know city council members have a lot of things to get to. But as the opposition continued to come forward with really dark premonitions about what would happened if the council re-voted in favor, we continued to send people up to speak. Just so that it didn’t misrepresent the overall feeling in the region. We didn’t want to hold back and let those voices that were fear-based continue.
3. So do you think you’ll get one council member to change his or her mind and vote again? The vote failed 5-4 last month.
I watched the faces of the council members last night. There was one longtime Christian Reformed Church clergy member who told a very moving story of having all the same views of the people who voted against the ordinance for many years until his own son came out. He talked about coming to grips with that and having to choose whether or not you’re going to cast somebody out or embrace them. He had a major catharsis. He encouraged the council members to also consider changing their minds. People like that who live in Holland who have led their churches for decades – that’s a big deal and I could see that resonating with the council members.
4. How’s the boycott going? Have businesses voiced their support?
Really well. We’ve reached out to businesses to tell them how easy it is to be exempted from the boycott, and also how they can get promotion. We’ve seen people go to the supporting businesses by eating out on a night when they wouldn’t have usually gone out to eat, and definitely wouldn’t have gone to Holland, but they made the drive to support those businesses. By and large those businesses that have come out in support of Until Love Is = have benefitted, and they have expressed that to us.
Some people looked at the boycott as a heavy-handed measure. But all businesses have to do is email us and display a half-page sign that lets people know they support all customers from all communities. And that’s it.
5. So what’s next?
We’re hoping to get more people to speak in favor, and to get some national attention too. It seems like a small-town issue, but it transcends that on every level and it really should be a concern.