By Jim Larkin
Attempts to get an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the City of Holland could well rest on the Nov. 5 City Council election.
All five of the Holland City Council members who voted against such an ordinance in 2011 are up for election this year, and two opponents – 3rd Ward challenger Richard Burlingame and At-Large candidate Donald Martin – are in favor of passing one. Current council members Wayne Klomparens, Jay Peters, Dave Hoekstra and Bob VandeVusse – who are not up for election this year – are all in favor of an ordinance protecting LGBT residents.
So if either Burlingame unseats 3rd Ward Councilman Brian Burch or Martin upsets At-Large incumbent Nancy DeBoer – or both win – the majority of the council would favor the LGBT protections.
Martin, who is openly gay, has stressed that all Holland residents and businesses deserve equal protection under the law. An AT analyst for Johnson Controls and program coordinator for Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP), Martin has a master’s degree from Western Michigan University and is in the midst of earning a master of business administration from WMU.
Martin, 34, teaches the MAS Adelante Youth Program for LAUP and serves on the city’s International Relations Commission and Holland is Ready, a community group that was formed in 2010 to make the Holland area more inclusive of LGBT residents. But Martin is campaigning on more than just LGBT rights.
“I want people to know that this city belongs to the entire tapestry of Holland: for our Hispanic community, our African-American community, our LGBT community, our immigrants, our high school students, for every resident who wishes for the most vigorous and fullest representation that their elected officials can provide,” he said.
DeBoer, who cast a key vote against protecting LGBT residents from discrimination, turned down requests to take part in a Voters’ Guide and Candidate Forum sponsored, in part, by four Holland LGBT groups. But the former music teacher in Holland Public Schools and Hope College, has a well- known name in Holland and has lived in the city for 27 years. She has her teaching degree from Calvin College and has done graduate work at WMU.
Burlingame, 43, said he is running for council because he felt it was important that the city had a choice of candidates after all the divisive issues it has faced in the last three years – including the anti-discrimination ordinance and a more recent incident in which the property of two different black men was damaged. He works for Staffing Inc. at Bilco and expects to receive his associate’s degree from Davenport University this year.
His stance on the anti-discrimination ordinance is decidedly different that Burch’s. He supports protections for LGBT people and wants the ordinance worded so it protects all people.
“Much as the terms ‘race’ or ‘religion’ do not single out any particular groups or individuals, I think that the term ‘sexual orientation’ is the language that I would like to see used,” Burlingame said.
Burch, meanwhile, continues to state that people within the community – not the government — need to make changes to address workplace and housing discrimination.
“A new law, forcing specific behavior, would abruptly introduce a new rule that would unnecessarily put an end to a very productive state and local movements happening to make our community more inclusive,” he said.
Burch works in public relations and has a bachelor’s degree in advertising and promotion from WMU. He serves on the city planning commission and neighborhood advisory committee. In addition to voting against the anti-discrimination ordinance, he also voted in favor of reducing the city’s human relations coordinator to a part-time position.
The only other challenged city council position in Holland is for the 5th Ward, where incumbent Todd Whiteman faces Darlene DeWitt. Whiteman, who was an outspoken opponent to the anti-discrimination ordinance, also did not respond to the Voters Guide request nor participate in the Candidate Forum. DeWitt said in the Voters Guide that “no one should be discriminated against due to their sexual preference or sexual orientation” but then in the Candidate Forum said she was against an ordinance change because “everybody is already included.” LGBT people, however, are not included among the protected classes in the city’s ordinances and policies.
Mayor Kurt Dykstra and 1st Ward Councilman Myron Trethewey are unopposed in the Nov. 5 elections.