Holland Hosts Public Hearing on the issue of including LGBT in the State’s Civil Rights Law
An estimated 250 people showed up in Holland last night to participate in a public hearing hosted by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights on the matter of expanding the 1976 Elliot Larson Civil Rights legislation to include the LGBT community.
It was ironic that the hearing was being held in the Holland City Council Chamber, since just over a year ago, the City Council of Holland voted down a proposal to pass an ordinance that would include the LGBT community in its anti-discrimination policy.
Members of the Michigan Department of Civil Right (MDCR) began the hearing by talking about the process that led them to host a series of hearings this year, which will provide them with public input to be included in a report they will be releasing sometime in 2013.
Members from the MDCR asked people to frame their comments to reflect how amending the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act would “impact your community/neighborhood/family/church/school, change your life or that of a family member, impact businesses or workforce and affect people’s perception of others.”
Some of the people who gave verbal testimony directly addressed the issues laid out by the MDCR, while others came with written statements that only addressed their narrowly held religious views.
There were a total of 18 people who opposed amending Elliot-Larsen to include legal protections for the LGBT community in Michigan. Of those 18 people, 16 were White men, 2 were White women and almost all of them were older residents of Holland.
Many of those in opposition spoke with the same arguments we had heard last year during some of the Holland City Council meetings. Often those opposed would refer to the LGBT community as “homosexuals,” a term that in itself is derogatory and demeaning. Others kept referring to a “gay agenda,” which they believed would mean that it was the desire of the LGBT community to convert straight people to their “lifestyle.”
Other people who were opposed to amending Michigan’s civil rights law did so because they believe that “sodomy was a sin” and that granting civil rights to the LGBT community would “create a slippery slope that would lead to the legalization of rape, pedophilia and bestiality.”
One man, who said he was a father, objected to changing the law because it would mean that “they would have to teach homosexuality in the schools.” Another person in opposition said that granting the LGBT civil rights would lead to children being molested in bathrooms by people claiming to be Transgender. Others kept referring to statistics about how “gay people are more deviant and that gay couples have a high divorce rate.” Not surprising, none of the statistics or claims made by those who opposed amending the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights law provided a credible source. One Christian man even stated that deviancy in gays was evident in Nazi Germany, where some of the worst atrocities were committed by Hitler’s Storm Troops who were known to be “homosexuals.” Not only is this an unsubstantiated claim, it is well documented that the gay community was targeted for repression by the Nazis.
A few of those opposed to granting civil rights to the LGBT community were also claiming that changing the law would take away their freedom. One man even cited New York Mayor Bloomberg’s restriction of large sized sodas as an example of why big government is dangerous.
At one point an older White man, who acknowledged he was straight, stated that he feared that if such changes were made that his beliefs and his freedoms would be threatened. He went so far as to say that he would face retribution, punishment and even be the victim of hate if the LGBT community was granted equal protection under the law. In many ways, this statement reflected the tremendous privilege that straight, White men are generally unwilling to acknowledge they have in this society. To have such privilege – legal, economic and social – and then turn around and claim to be a victim, exposed the banality of those who opposed changes to the state civil rights law.
When it came to those who spoke in favor of amending the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include legal protections of the LGBT community, the comments were undeniably different.
Many people spoke clearly about the actual harm that is being done to those who identify as LGBT. One man spoke about losing his job because he was gay, while other people talked about being harassed, intimidated and discriminated against in terms of housing.
One member of Holland is Ready spoke about how she was not public about her identity at work because of the anti-atmosphere. She said that one day a co-worker saw a gay couple walking down the street and said, “I wish those people would stay in Saugatuck.”
Other people who spoke in support of amending Elliot Larsen said that people have experienced a tremendous amount of homophobia and Transphobia. A woman who identified herself as a mom and in a relationship with another woman said she would have less fear about feeding her family, about where she could get a job, about where she could live, about the climate of the school that her daughter attended, if the civil rights law was changed.
A member of Holland PFLAG spoke about how ignorance is not bliss. He used to hold the same narrow ideas about gay people, until 3 close friends told him that they all had members of their family that identified as LGBT. He said that once the issue became personal, it all changed for him.
A young woman who identified herself as a Christian said she was taught not to judge and that she wants the LGBT community to have the same civil rights protections as everyone else. As a daughter of an immigrant family she said she understood that civil rights should be granted to everyone.
Heather Holt, a member of Holland is Ready, believes that people in Holland do experience discrimination because they identify as LGBT. She has been going door to door in Holland, along with other members and volunteers with Holland is Ready, and heard from most people that they support legal equality.
A woman who has a gay son says that both sides of this issue have fears. “But we are talking about human rights, not special rights.” She doesn’t attend church anymore because her son and her family were rejected by their church ever since he came out.
Another man from Holland said he was fired as a teacher for defending the rights of gay students. He taught at a Christian School, which would not stop the harassment of LGBT students by straight students.
One woman, who identified as bi-racial, criticized those who used the bible and the constitution to justify discrimination. She said she was tired of hearing from White men talking about racial discrimination. “You were probably one of those who supported discrimination against Blacks when they were fighting for civil rights.”
By the time that 9pm rolled around 42 people had provided verbal input into this issue, with 24 supporting the inclusion of the LGBT community in the state civil rights law, while 18 were opposed.
One person told this reporter that she spoke with members of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights afterwards and one of them said, “These were the most vitriolic, moralist comments we’ve heard so far on this issue.” The MDCR held a hearing in Jackson earlier this month and plans to hold others in the coming months. The MDCR also made it clear that people can submit comments electronically by going to this link.
Afterwards we spoke with one of the organizers from Holland is Ready, Lindsay TerHar, about the group’s work and her assessment of the public hearing.