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Holland City Council hears more on the anti-discrimination ordinance, but are they listening?

August 18, 2011

Last night about 40 people showed up at the Holland City Council meeting to continue their effort to get the council members to reverse their decision on including sexual orientation as part of the City’s anti-discrimination policy.

Again, members of Until Love is Equal, Holland is Ready and Holland PFLAG addressed the city council. A few people spoke as business owners to argue that it would be economically beneficial for the City to add sexual orientation to the ordinance. One person stated that most of the Fortune 500 companies in the US have policies that are inclusive in regards to sexual orientation.

Another Business owner, Dottie Rhoades, said that she thinks the vitality of Holland could depend on reversing their decision and stated that although her business is in Grand Rapids such policies have an impact on the entire region.

A woman then read a statement from the owner of Piper Restaurant, a statement which endorsed the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Holland City ordinance.  The statement pointed out that the restaurant has always welcomed gay customers and has even employed LGBT youth.

Bill Freeman (Holland is Ready) then addressed the council and spoke to the council members who voted no for the ordinance. He spoke to the council members who voted no last time and clearly wanted to affirm the yes votes this time by addressing each of the four members who voted in favor of the ordinance.

The next person to address the council was a Dutch National, Girbe Eefsting. Mr. Eefsting wanted to address the claim that the no votes reflected Dutch heritage, which he said wasn’t the case since the Dutch have a long history of tolerance and acceptance. He then read a statement from the Dutch organization the Center for Culture and Leisure (COC):

With this letter on behalf of my organization COC Netherlands – based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands – I would like to express my concern of the fact that the City of Holland, MI continues to keep laws in place that do not protect lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people from being fired from their job or put out of their house just because their sexual preference or gender identity.

We are absolutely outraged over the fact that at the recent occasion to change such discriminatory laws, the city of Holland, Michigan has elected to keep those in place specifically using the argument that it would be against “Dutch tradition” or not reflect the “Dutch heritage and/or values” to update such laws.

COC Netherlands has represented and represents the Dutch lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for over 65 years, making us the oldest LGBT movement in the world.  We are also an international LGBT human rights organization that is actively supporting LGBT activists in over 40 countries worldwide. Having obtained Ecosoc status at the United Nations, we are considered to be one of the most influential LGBT organizations in the world.

Our international support to LGBT communities around the globe is based on the core values of Dutch society. Such values include acceptance, tolerance and protection of vulnerable groups. We are proud to be a fundamental part of the Dutch multi-plural society. Our achievements as a human rights movement and our involvement and participation in society are a true example to the world. It shocks us that “Dutch tradition” is abused by the City of Holland, MI to withhold vulnerable groups from their protected rights by leaving discriminatory laws unchanged!

We widely and explicitly support the aims of the “Until Love is Equal” campaign. We call on the city of Holland to embrace the legacy of Dutch values providing equal rights, protection and opportunities to all!”

A few folks who have supported the City’s decision to exclude protections for the LGBT community also addressed the council. One man said that continuing to address this matter could distract the city from “more pressing issues.”  He also stated that those who continue to push for sexual orientation in the ordinance are engaged in a form of harassment and suggested the City seek a restraining order on people who continue to push the issue.

A Holland woman followed and affirmed that this was harassment and that she believed that God’s laws are against homosexuality and that the council should stick to its decision.

Another Holland resident then said he had invited all the council members to a PFLAG meeting this coming Friday so that they could meet the families who are deeply affected by these kinds of decisions. He believes that people need to study and to learn that we cannot have “policies that are based on fear.”

Another opponent of including sexual orientation in the ordinance addressed the council first by making the claim that homosexuals commit more domestic abuse than heterosexuals. He made such claims without citing one single source. He also cited numerous biblical references, which he claimed condemned homosexuality.

In response to the claims that the LGBT community engages in more domestic abuse, Colette Seguin-Beighley addressed the council. Seguin-Beighley cites the Just the Facts Coalition report from 2008, which contradicts the claims made that gays commit more domestic abuse. Her statement closed the public comment period, which saw 9 speak in favor of sexual orientation being included in the City’s anti-discrimination ordinance and 4 against.

Just before the meeting adjourned Councilman Whiteman said that those who are for the ordinance are predominantly from “outside of this community.” He also says there is no evidence of harm and that he will not change his vote on this matter. The outgoing City Manager also said he would not speak to this issue other than to say people should move on so that other matters could be attended to, which in and of itself was clearly a statement that he was not a fan of a more inclusive ordinance.

To the matter of people not being from Holland who are demanding equality, justice and protection for the LGBT community, this attitude reflects a total lack of the history of struggle in the US. There have always been “outside” interest where injustice is concerned. During the Civil Rights movement racist southern Whites would often cite “outside agitators” as the problem.

It is true that people from around the country came to the south to participate in the struggle for racial equality, whether that was to participate in the Freedom Rides, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, marches or other forms of civil disobedience. People from all over the country to came to the south to fight the racist Jim Crow laws, laws that denied Blacks basic economic, civil and human rights. If this is the argument of some members of the Holland City Council then history is on the side of those who fight for equality.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2011 4:12 pm

    In regard to Councilman Whiteman’s comment that “there is no evidence of harm” — an argument he is using to continue his opposition to the ordinance — I am both incredulous and outraged.

    Over and over, the Holland City Council has heard about the fear, violence, and harassment that LGBT citizens face. Over and over, council has heard from FAMILIES of LGBT people testifying about the profound difficulties their loved ones face living in a homophobic society where LGBT individuals have no rights. These were heart-rending, often tragic lived experiences that were shared with the council.

    For Councilman Whiteman to say “there is no harm” can only mean that he is evaluating this issue through his own lived experience as a white, heterosexual (my assumption) male who carries all the privilege our society offers. This privilege appears to allow the councilman to ignore the daily struggles lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens face. This privilege also appears to allow Mr. Whiteman to speak about the needs of marginalized communities of which he is not a member.

    If the councilman is truly representing the needs of the citizens, then he needs come to terms with the RESPONSIBILITY that accompanies privilege and vote to protect LGBT people.

    Colette Seguin Beighley
    Director
    LGBT Resource Center
    Grand Valley State University

  2. Christopher Reader permalink
    August 18, 2011 8:32 pm

    It is interesting for the Councilman Whiteman to say that the people interested in this issue are from “outside of this community.” I am a citizen of Grand Rapids, Kent County, West Michigan, Michigan and the USA. I often visit Holland to shop and eat. I attend festivals and cultural events in Holland. I think of Holland as being part of my community, and I am interested in what happens there.

    I wonder when I am part of Councilman Whiteman’s community? I wonder when are LGBT people part of Councilman Whiteman’s community? I wonder if Councilman Whiteman thinks that the freedom riders who protested segregation and discrimination in the south were irrelevant and should have been disregarded because they were from outside those communities?

    Councilman Whiteman clearly needs to rethink his definition of “community.” As for me, when I see injustice being committed against my fellow citizens, then they are part of my community, and I am part of theirs.

  3. August 18, 2011 9:26 pm

    It is shocking, but not surprising, to see City of Holland officials invoke the “traditional Dutch values” line as a defense against their indefensible position. When they talk of “Dutch values” on the lakeshore, they are really talking about “hyper-conservative Calvinist values” which took root here when Albertus Van Raalte settled here with a group of his followers, eventually establishing the Reformed Church of America.

    Van Raalte and his adherents were Seceders. They broke away from the Dutch national church because they disliked its tolerance and liberal social views. There was a separation of church and state in the Netherlands which Van Raalte found disturbing, and he wanted to establish a “godly,” church-controlld government and community in the United States.

    As a result, the people who settled in Holland and other Dutch-founded West Michigan communities were the most conservative people from their mother country. As a result, the RCA and the CRC were founded on principles that make them, in my opinion, two of the most intolerant and narrow-minded churches in North America. And there still seems to be an underlying Van Raalte-esque expectation in Holland, Michigan, than church doctrine should reign in municipal government–going completely against our own nation’s separation of church and state.

    Good for Mr. Eefsting for writing and getting a *real* response from the Netherlands, which has a centuries-old tradition of multiculturalism and tolerance–what a smack in the face that must have been! The Dutch believe in what they call “majority rule, minority rights”–that all groups in the Dutch nation be protected and served regardless of changes in government or legislation. They have a long-standing tradition of human rights. For example, the Netherlands was one of the only countries in Europe that welcomed Jews as citizens and even deposed one monarch who attempted to drive them out of the country.

    In the earliest Dutch settlements in America, such as New Amsterdam, slave owners were legally obligated to help their slaves earn money so that they could buy their freedom, and enslaved people had to be given their own homes and farmland so they could provide for their families, who were legally exempted from slave status. The colony in this way discouraged slave owners from settling there. When the British captured the colony and began governing it as New York, these socially tolerant policies were overturned.

    Those are examples of actual Dutch values. Conterfeit ones are being used as an excuse for hate-mongering and bigotry by conservative residents of Holland, Michigan.

  4. August 18, 2011 10:01 pm

    It’s interesting that the people that oppose the ordinance are accusing those that support it of ‘harassment’, proof that they want them to shut up and go away. I also like that a Dutch National wouldn’t let them get away with the ‘traditional Dutch values ‘ crapola. The letter is a work of art and I can see members of COC Netherlands wondering why Holland, MI is so intolerant.

    Candace E. Chivis
    Kent County Board of Commissioners
    District 17

  5. Brett Colley permalink
    August 19, 2011 12:11 pm

    My deepest thanks to GRIID for covering the activity around this issue. Colette, Christopher, Kate – your replies are so impassioned and beautifully articulated they bring to tears to my eyes. I appreciate you all so much.

Trackbacks

  1. Holland City Council hears more on the anti-discrimination ordinance, but are they listening? (via GRIID) | dbeerthuis
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  4. Holland Hosts Public Hearing on the issue of including LGBT in the State’s Civil Rights Law « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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