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Is Grand Rapids an LGBTQ-friendly city?

December 12, 2019

Last month, MLive ran a story about the City of Grand Rapids receiving a high score for being an LGBTQ-friendly city. 

The LGBTQ-friendly status was based on a metric that comes from the national organization, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Below is a chart of how the City of Grand Rapids scored, looking at the following areas: non-discrimination laws, municipality as employer, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ equality.

I found the high score somewhat unbelievable, based on interactions and conversations I have had in recent years with those who identify as LGBTQ, so I sent the MLive article and the HRC scorecard to numerous people to get their response. Here are four responses that I received

Colleen – As an openly gay minister from a liberal church here in Grand Rapids I am contacted throughout the year by teenagers or parents of LGBTQA+ youth. At issue is the teen coming out to their family members and facing rejection. Parents even if they are accepting face being ostracized by other family members, friends and faith communities. Organizations that support homeless youth like HQ and 3:11 Housing report that the high numbers of youth who face housing insecurity are from the LGBTQA+ identities. They are put in crisis because they have been kicked out of their family homes. There is still a deep seeded culture in Grand Rapids that is oppressive to the LGBTQA+ folx. Even an honorable judge recently was singled out by her priest who denied her a sacrament of her faith.

Eight years ago, my wife and I moved here from Boston, Massachusetts. Boston has a long history of being a welcoming city to the gay community. We were in a bit of a culture shock when we first arrived in Grand Rapids. I was repeatedly called a sinner by complete strangers, something I had never experienced before in my life. I appreciate the efforts to be more inclusive but personally I think the HRC 92 out of 100 ranking is extremely premature. We have much more work to do to be a truly inclusive city.

Aaminah – First, it is important to note that the organization that provides this scoring system is a deeply problematic organization with a terrible track record regarding racial justice, engaging in/supporting biphobia, and lack of meaningful support for transgender individuals including erasure of non-binary people. So frankly, their ranking is questionable to begin with. Second, I notice that the two primary areas they are claiming the city has improved is in relation to policing and employment. There are so many things wrong with this focus. To say we have a equality in this city on the basis of the police force now having a liaison and some training is, frankly, horrifying. The GRPD engages in so much inequitable behavior and having a liaison isn’t going to magically transform the nature of policing and the overarching methods. The same goes for these claims about employment that are, frankly, simply false. Having some laws in place doesn’t change the fact that we are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, more likely to be laid off or fired, and unable to seek legal redress for it. Creating a position for a cis, white, gay man to get paid to chair a community relations commission doesn’t mean anything at all. You cannot just create positions for cis, white, abled gay people and call it doing the work on justice. That’s just PR. It’s not substantial change or movement. And all of this is actually perfectly emblematic of the ways that Grand Rapids is NOT a safe, inclusive, or friendly community for LGBTQIA people. Everything that is being used to show growth is only beneficial to a certain kind of lesbian or gay person – not bi/pansexual, not trans, not non-binary, not intersex, not asexual, and not even anyone who is overtly queer. These growth policies absolutely center white and abled gay and lesbian citizens. And I say “citizens” purposefully, because “improved” policing disproportionately does more harm to Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color, and non-citizens are also disproportionately harmed. In fact, this focus on “the police are our friends” has explicitly led to white cis gay individuals and businesses just feeling better about using the police against others in the community. I could name specific examples of how this PR campaign has actively contributed to harm to people in the community who don’t conform to a middle-class, professional, and white, cis, abled set of expectations. Local LGBTQ+ organizations have been undermined by this PR campaign and efforts to “look good” that don’t include actual justice or equity for the most vulnerable, most marginalized, and most impacted members of our community. Looking good shouldn’t be the goal. Actual services, access, and sustainable resources for all LGBTQIA people in the community needs to happen, and it isn’t happening right now.

Raina – Basically, myself and some other activists organized a march for Pride protesting police violence. We rented a U-Haul truck and trailer and made a float. People gathered at Veteran’s Memorial Circle and waited for me to drive the float there. The plan was to have the float lead a march down Division to the gates of Pride Fest. We did the same thing the year before and one police car followed us there without intervening. This year there were numerous cruisers and a bunch of bike cops. As soon as I pulled up, I was warned that I could not lead the march and could drive directly to the gates but only at the speed limit and not impeding traffic. As I was being warned, a couple activists jumped in the back of the trailer. I was told to drive immediately or be arrested, even with people in the back. I began to drive down Division, but I was worried about the folks in the back, so I pulled over to tell them to get out. A cop car immediately put its lights on and pulled behind me. The cop told me I had been warned and told me to get out of the vehicle. She cuffed me and put me in the back of her cruiser. Kylie, who was in the trailer, jumped out and was expressing her concern for my arrest. She was also arrested and briefly resisted. The truck and trailer were both impounded. I was charged with failure to obey and creating a disturbance. Kylie was charged with felony resisting and obstructing.

David – It’s a good first start for demographics.  This just deals with municipal interactions and those possibilities.  It doesn’t seem to ask about interactions in neighborhoods or among individuals, one to one stuff. 

I would want a fuller picture for serious pat the community on the back for being LGBTQ welcoming.   I think the following set of questions need asking:

What support is given to Pride celebrations, LGBTQ history, youth and families.  How many LGBTQ homeless are there, and how many are 14-16, 16-18?   

How many social services agencies are there? i.e. Pride Center, AIDS Resource Center, Red Project, HQ, welcoming, affirming, inclusive faith communities. How many LGBTQ folks were interviewed by HRC? There needs to be a representative sample to test for overall inclusion, support for living, welcome by neighbors or lack thereof. How many members of the LGBTQ community have experienced verbal or physical violence? 


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