The nine-year wait to pass anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents of the city of Holland is over.
It took a seven-hour City Council meeting that stretched from Wednesday night into early Thursday morning. It took almost evenly divided testimony from more than 60 people, and surviving attempts from some council members to remove the words “sexual orientation, “gender expression” and “gender identity” from the purpose of the ordinance. But in the end, the council approved by an 8-1 vote the non-discrimination ordinance that broadened the list of people protected by it.
Councilmember Quincy Byrd, who expressed concerns about whether religious freedoms were adequately protected, was the lone no vote.
“The question has never been if we should protect the rights of all people of Holland,” insisted Mayor Nathan Bocks. “It’s been how. … It’s time to welcome everyone into the circle.”
That brought a welcomed sigh of relief from the Holland LGBTQ leaders who asked the council last December to approve a broader non-discrimination ordinance that included protections for LGBTQ residents – nine years after the council rejected a similar request by a split 5-4 vote.
“After a long process and a roller coaster of emotions, we’re thrilled that the City Council chose to vote in favor or the proposed non-discrimination ordinance,” said Jeffrey Sorensen, director of Out On The Lakeshore. “This ordinance will protect not only LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, but has also expanded to include several other protected groups as well, including by height, weight, and disability.”
That roller coaster included listening to comments Wednesday from more than 30 residents who insisted that such an ordinance was not needed. Those opposing the ordinance said it would give legal preference to a select group of people, elevate them above others, and wasn’t needed because they said state and national protections were already provided. Other arguments included:
- A mother who said the ordinance would jeopardize her child’s safety.
- Several people who said the ordinance would “open the door” for pedophiles to use it as a tool to prey on children in bathrooms and shower rooms.
- A man who said he couldn’t see people in the “homosexual lifestyle” being in leadership roles and urged the council to use “common sense.”
- A man who warned against the “danger of gender inclusion,” saying it would pave the way to “voyeurism.”
- A man who said by passing the ordinance the council would be responsible for a 250-pound male injuring a 125-pound “gender choice female” in football.
- Another man who said he was opposed to any kind of public display of affection but that public displays of affection by gay people was “even more offensive because it’s unnatural. God didn’t create us that way.”
One woman in opposition to the ordinance wore a “Make America Great Again” cap while another argued against having to wear a mask at the meeting.
“I think you’re all stupid with your masks,” she said.
Yet more than 30 people also urged the council to pass the ordinance and rebuked comments made in opposition to the broader ordinance, which was modeled after one recommended by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
“Trans people are not predators,” said Josh Webb of Holland Township. “They simply want to live their lives like anyone else.”
Psychologist Krista Anderson, who facilitates a Holland area support group for transgender people, said there was “no evidence whatsoever” of transgender people using restrooms to prey on children and added that most avoid public restrooms. Instead, she said, they are the residents who need legal protections.
“Please,” she said, “do what’s right for our city.”
And while several ministers opposed to the ordinance spoke at the meeting, several quoting Bible verses, the Rev. Jen Adams, chair of the Out On The Lakeshore Board of Directors, pointed out that 71 faith leaders representing eight different denominations had sent a letter in support of the ordinance to the council.
“It has been horrifying to hear this stoking of unfounded fears,” Adams said, who noted that transgender people are disproportionately affected by crime and called it “unconscionable to stoke fears” of them.
Councilman Scott Corbin recommended the ordinance be stripped of the words sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. He said the word “sex” included those classifications and to specifically list them would elevate them above other protected classes. But his motion failed by a 5-4 vote, with council members Mike Trethewey, Quincy Byrd and Raul Garcia supporting Corbin’s attempt.
Several council members noted that some of the comments made at the meeting, particularly the fears expressed by many, made them uncomfortable, with Councilman David Hoekstra pointing out that some felt that “justice is good but make sure someone doesn’t get more justice than I do.
“We need to move from being a good community to being a great community,” Hoekstra said. “We have the capacity to be great. We just have to muster the will.”