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The Holland City Council is trying to decide whether it wants a toothless policy that states its opposition to discrimination against LGBTQ residents or adopt an ordinance that would allow it to enforce such anti-discrimination measures. Supporters who proposed the anti-discrimination measures protecting LGBTQ residents are leaving no doubt about which option they prefer.
“We want an ordinance so that it can have legal ramifications if people do not follow it,” said Sara Van Tongeren, who has been spearheading the anti-discrimination effort with Out On The Lakeshore Chair the Rev. Jennifer Adams and OOTL Director Jeff Sorensen. “To be honest, I am frustrated they are even thinking of a policy that has ramifications of ‘separate but equal,’ and yet, here we are.”
The council is expected to decide at its 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, meeting whether it will move forward with an ordinance, policy or both. Moving forward with an ordinance would require a second reading and final action at another council meeting, which could be as early as Aug. 5.
Five of eight council members — Jay Peters, Lyn Raymond, David Hoekstra, Nicki Arendshorst and Raul Garcia — and Mayor Nathan Bocks spoke in favor of an ordinance at the council’s July 8 work session. Bocks would only vote in the case of a tie.
Council members Myron Trethewey, Scott Corbin and Quincy Byrd expressed reservations about passing an ordinance rather than a policy. Trethewey voted against an anti-discrimination ordinance when the council voted 5-4 to reject it in June 2011.
But the majority of council members now appear to be in favor of such an ordinance.
“We’ve been talking about this for 10 years and this is the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had in my life that we didn’t pass this 10 years ago,” Peters said at the July 15 meeting. “I know well the impact it has had and continues to have on this community.
“I have absolutely no interest in a policy,” Peters continued. “It is a terrible statement. It falls way short.”
The proposed ordinance would not only add sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity to the list of those protected by the city’s housing ordinance but it would also add disability, education, familial status, height and weight. If a policy were adopted instead of an ordinance, the city would be in a position of being able to enforce anti-discrimination penalties against those listed in the current ordinance but not against the proposed new classes of protected residents.
So it could penalize those who discriminate against residents because of age, race, national origin, color, sex, religion or source of income, but it would not apply to those who discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, disability, education, familial status, height and weight.
“This sends the message that lives have two different values — separate but equal,” Van Tongeren said.
Van Tongeren encouraged supporters of the ordinance to submit public comments in favor at email@example.com. She said such statements would indicate “my life is as equal as those protected” by the current housing ordinance.
She also encouraged people affected by the ordinance, specifically LGBTQ people, to review the ordinance and speak to how it is important to be treated equally. She also asked religious institutions to review it and comment on how it would not infringe on their right to practice religious freedoms. She said people could speak out via the public comment email address, coming to the June 15 council meeting and/or by writing a letter to the editor of The Holland Sentinel.
“We need to keep pushing for an ordinance,” she said. “It is within reach. All we need is five votes for it to pass, but we would love more!”